Alan Wake Remastered review: Bringing a great game back into the light

The layer of polish helps this dark mystery stand the test of time.

Alan Wake Remastered
(Image: © Epic Games Publishing)

Alan Wake, both the titular writer and the game, are going through a fascinating journey. While long lauded among the best works of storytelling prodigy Remedy Entertainment, it never saw the same commercial success, spending years as something of a cult classic. Now that it's back through Alan Wake Remastered, I hope some people who skipped out take the plunge with its revival.

Rough around the edges as it was, Alan Wake remains a personal favorite of the Xbox 360 years. It weaves a dark tale of nightmarish writing coming to life, a story both far-reaching in its terrifying scope, yet oddly personal in its characters. I loved it all those years ago and going through Alan Wake Remastered only cemented that feeling.

This remaster doesn't go quite as far as I'd have liked in some ways but the core story remains riveting and the gameplay holds up. There's a lot of Xbox games dropping this fall but if you've never played Alan Wake before, or you're a veteran pondering a return trip to Bright Falls, this isn't one to miss.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Epic Games Publishing. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Alan Wake Remastered: What I liked

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There are two camps of people that might be interested in Alan Wake Remastered: curious newcomers and those who have played it before. For the sake of the former, I'll keep everything ahead spoiler-free, as the story is paramount to what makes Alan Wake so memorable. The events unfold around a burnt-out mystery writer, worried he's already past his prime, unable to pen anything new since his last huge book.

On a getaway vacation in the calm Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, his wife Alice goes missing, and Alan loses a week of his memory. He keeps finding pages of a manuscript that seem to have been written by him, while contents of those pages seem to be happening in front of him. That's only the beginning of a descent into horror, as there's darkness following Wake, both alive and very, very hungry.

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CategoryAlan Wake Remastered
TitleAlan Wake Remastered
DeveloperRemedy Entertainment
PublisherEpic Games Publishing
GenreThird-person shooter
Xbox VersionXbox Series X
Game Size38.6GB
Play Time12 hours
Xbox Game PassNo
Launch Price$30

At its core, Alan Wake was and still is a third-person shooter. You collect various guns, flares, and flashbang grenades, using light, = often in the form of your trusty flashlight, to strip away the shadowy armor of the "Taken." If the darkness isn't removed from the Taken — people, animals, and objects that completely succumb to the dark — they can't be stopped. Your batteries are every bit as valuable as your bullets.

I previously wrote about how Alan Wake Remastered is a chance for newcomers to experience an overlooked classic, and every word of that rings even more true at launch. Drawing on other works like the Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, and the tales of Stephen King, Alan Wake delves into horror by presenting a very personal, grounded world. The people Alan converses with by day might become bloodthirsty, hollow shells by night.

Alan Wake is a personal tale of burnout, desperation, and hope, something that sticks with me now more than ever before.

This tension is woven into the gameplay, as any source of light becomes a literal beacon of hope, a refuge from the unending hordes of Taken. In a genre of games where horror is dominated by zombies and other monsters, the unearthly void that is Alan Wake's terror just stands out as truly unique. Alan Wake is a personal tale of burnout, desperation, and hope, something that sticks with me now more than ever before. Alan Wake was one-of-a-kind back in 2010. Years later, that unique balance still works just as well as before.

I also have to mention the score, which includes several stellar licensed tracks, including some particular standouts from Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall.

Alan Wake Remastered Shotgun (Image credit: Windows Central)

Alan Wake Remastered Light Safe Haven (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The game's story is divided into eight "episodes," with the first six composing the original game, and the final two being post-launch DLCs that were later available. Using this episodic structure, the game's pacing remains particularly strong. The game doles out combat encounters and the story reveals at just the right rate, with the documents you find providing excellent foreshadowing of what may come around the corner.

As far as technical improvements go, this is explicitly a remaster, not a remake. There's a slate of components that are polished to provide a smoother experience. The resolution is vastly improved over the original Xbox 360 release while running at 60 frames-per-second (FPS) on the latest consoles. The world environment is certainly a tad dated but it still looks good, with the thick fog and crisp Pacific forest providing a solid backdrop to the horrors lurking in the dark.

However, the character models and lip-syncing see incredible improvements, all vastly superior to the original version of the game. There's more detail and expression on everyone, with mouths actually matching recorded dialogue, though it does mean we get less of Alan's iconic slack-jawed look.

Alan Wake Remastered: What I didn't like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While just being a remaster is fine, there's definitely a sense that more could've been done for Alan Wake Remastered. A lack of proper HDR support and ray-tracing is a particular shame as the game already features such dark, eerie scenery that more striking contrasts would've been a natural fit. It's not a dealbreaker but if you've played the game on PC before, you've already experienced it at a higher framerate, which is one of the major improvements here.

A lack of proper HDR support and ray-tracing is a particular shame.

The gameplay is similarly fine, though it's also a shame that Alan's jumping remains as clumsy as ever. Allowing him to pull himself up or refining the jumps a bit would've made the game's (thankfully rare) platforming sequences much more palatable. Alan also still runs out of breath very quickly while sprinting, something that isn't too bad during normal gameplay but definitely can become a headache when you're heading off the beaten path to find more collectibles.

Alan Wake Remastered: Should you play it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're in the camp that never played Alan Wake before, grabbing this remaster is just a no-brainer. The story and characters are every bit as gripping as before and while the gameplay may not reach the heights of time-bending adventure Quantum Break or the surreal world of Control, it's strong enough to keep up with the horror tale being told.

For anyone that has played Alan Wake before, especially on PC, the somewhat limited technical improvements make it a bit harder to justify. However, if you're wanting to jump into Alan Wake in 2021, it's worth the time and money. It's no secret that Remedy is working on another title with Epic Games, and now is the right time for players to jump back into the dark lake of Alan Wake. The implications of the story have long gone unanswered, and like any good horror story, that's for the best.

Now, bring on Alan Wake 2.

*Alan Wake Remastered is set to launch on Oct. 5, 2021 for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC, PS5, and PS4.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.