Over a decade after its original release, the former Xbox-exclusive psychological thriller Alan Wake is finally finding its way onto PlayStation consoles as Alan Wake Remastered. For existing fans, this is an opportunity to soak in the nostalgia and revisit a beloved title from yesterday that now looks better than ever. But PlayStation owners who were used to experiencing world-class third-person narrative adventures first seen in Alan Wake in 2021 might scratch their heads wondering what all the fuss is about.
The game begins with a dream sequence – an opportunity to teach you how combat works without being quite as blatant as just frankly saying it’s a tutorial. Once it’s out of the way, the story starts right: Alan Wake, a thriller writer suffering from writer’s block, travels with his wife to a log cabin in Bright Falls, Washington. She hopes the picturesque setting will get his creative juices flowing, and maybe it will, but not in the way she thinks.
Things get mad when Alan unnecessarily berates his spouse for buying him a typewriter to cheer him on, and then as soon as you can say, “Hey Alan, calm down, it’s just a typewriter,” his wife gets away from his wife took mysterious powers. Our protagonist then wakes up behind the wheel of a car after an apparent accident. Was it all a hallucination? Was his wife really taken? Is she still alive? Why are the people in Bright Falls so strange?
All of these questions and more become the driving force of the game and its most powerful card. It has a Twin peaks Atmosphere, with creepy characters who, despite seeming friendliness, rub you the wrong way, and a secluded wooded landscape far enough from a large population center to worry that all kinds of terror could unfold before help arrives . The game is even broken up into different chapters like a TV show, complete with an unnecessary “Before …” at the beginning, a title screen and music at the end.
In terms of atmosphere, Alan Wake really stands out for the most part. Unfortunately, playing Alan Wake is a pathetic, boring affair, and so most of the parts between the standard pieces are likely to leave many players frustrated. The fight is so terrible that it would actually be better if most of it wasn’t included. As you wander from one cookie cutter location to the next, you will encounter waves of copy-paste baddies who require almost identical tactics to defeat repeatedly and forever.
Their main enemies are The Taken – people who have succumbed to an evil force called The Dark Presence and are now out for blood. To defeat the possessed, you will have to point your torch at them to clear them of the protection provided by darkness and then they will be vulnerable to gunfire. So basically torch and shoot, then torch and shoot again. If this were a five minute distraction in a more narrative game, it would work fine as a tempo change, but as the main thrill of the experience, it’s boring and repetitive beyond measure.
Worse, with fights this monotonous, you don’t fear fights because they’re tense or scary, but because you’re so sick of them and just want to get to the next story beat. Alan Wake’s six chapters (and two bonus chapters included in this remaster) each last about 2-3 hours, but could be half as long and twice as good. Fighting never gets more interesting than in the tutorial, and then it’s rubbish.
The monotony is not at all aided by a lack of variety in the enemies or the places you visit or the tasks you have to perform. You know that in games where you can come to the door and can’t open it because there is no power so look for the generator to start it and then have to go all the way back? It’s a trick as old as the mountains – it gives you something to do to add more playtime. You do that over and over again here, in the same lifeless forests, fighting the same enemies, and it sucks.
The repetition in Alan Wake sometimes borders on self-parody. Virtually every chapter starts with you somehow parting with everyone, losing all of your gear and getting lost in the woods. It just happens over and over again. If a chapter starts with you going to your next destination in a car, you are probably wondering how long it takes for the car to go off the road and get lost in the woods again. and you will be right.
So it’s safe to say that we don’t particularly like Alan Wake. But for all the negativity regarding the gameplay aside, if you’re the type of person who plays games for their storytelling and atmosphere, there’s a lot to like about the game. If you push the difficulty down too easily and just try to get through the shootouts with as little effort as possible, you probably have a better time than us, but it’s hard to recommend as a total package or for action fans.
Remedy did a good job remastering the adventure for modern consoles, but the changes are mostly cosmetic, unlike the recently released gameplay overhaul of the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Character models are being upgraded over those from the original game and the shabby product placement is gone. For PS5 gamers, load times are lightning fast, which makes Game Overs less frustrating than they otherwise would be, and there’s a new audio commentary for the super fans.
While we’re trying to end on a more positive note, it should be mentioned that the soundtrack to Alan Wake is absolutely standout. The original music makes a great addition to the action and scary situations you find yourself in, and there are also some excellent licensed songs that are used sparingly throughout, by artists such as Nick Cave, Roy Orbison, and David Bowie. So at least listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.
For existing fans, this no-frills remaster is the best way to experience the 2010 game on modern consoles, but much of the title just won’t hold up in 2021. Without nostalgia, Alan Wake won’t work as a horror because it’s not scary, as a thriller because much of the game is fantastically boring, or as an action game because the battles are uninspired and repetitive. There’s an interesting central secret here, but like Alan Wake himself, you’ll have to go through Hell to find it.