There’s a very good reason why Remedy has never been able to escape from the shadow of Alan Wake. It’s the Finnish studio’s best game, its most accomplished and its most inspired. On the surface, Alan Wake could be written off as a basic survival horror/action game. A weird experiment from the team that made Max Payne and a rip-off of Twin Peaks. And it is all of those things.
But it’s also so much more.
It’s a character study of a flawed man desperately trying to right the wrongs of his past. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris. It’s a story about the five stages of grief and the very human responses to each of them that can dramatically impact a person’s life.
It’s also a batshit insane story of good versus evil set in
Twin Peaks Bright Falls by way of Stephen King. Alan Wake is pulpy and ridiculous, bizarre and otherworldly, dramatic and serious and funny and stupid all at the same time. It’s the kind of video game I wish developers made more of. And now, 11 years later, Alan Wake is still one of the greatest games ever made, even better than it was, thanks to a loving remaster.
Alan Wake Remastered Review
In case you missed Remedy’s seminal work in 2010, Alan Wake stars the titular novelist in the middle of a slump. Having come off a successful run of novels, Wake hasn’t written a thing in two years. In that time, his relationship with his wife, Alice, has suffered and Wake himself, has become withdrawn, bitter and angry. At Alice’s behest, the two travel to Bright Falls, a small town in the Pacific Northwest, to try to recharge Wake’s batteries and get the creative juices flowing again.
Things do not go as planned.
Those who’ve played Alan Wake before will be familiar with the story beats and the overall plot and those who haven’t shouldn’t have any of the surprises or suspense ruined. So to that end, I’m not really going to delve much into the actual story except to say that even after 11 years and multiple playthroughs, Alan Wake is still as thrilling, surprising and suspenseful as ever.
There are many layers to Alan Wake’s narrative and even today when I played through again for this review, I discovered new elements to the story and I saw things from a brand-new perspective, which shed new light on Alan Wake and made me love it even more. The more you play Alan Wake, the more you come to understand it, but the more you realise you still don’t quite have a grasp on. It’s brilliantly written in that way. It keeps revealing more of itself, even when you think you’ve seen all there is to see.
The remaster has done wonders for Alan Wake. The improved textures, character models and lighting make this 11-year-old game look immaculate. Sure, ok, it doesn’t look like something that’s been made and released today but it still looks pretty damn good. The improvement to the visuals can most readily be seen in Wake’s character model. Where before stood a blocky man with a plastic mullet, now stands Alan Wake in all his visual splendour. The texture of his jacket and hood, his stubble, the brightness of his flashlight; all of the main features of Wake look fresh and new and thanks to the remaster, the contrast between light and dark has never been stronger.
Shadows move and shift across the game world in ways that just weren’t possible in 2010. They’re far more menacing and sinister and the entire world of Bright Falls feels like a place ripped straight from the pages of Wake’s manuscript. You never truly feel safe until it’s daylight and even then, the over cheery, technicolour daytime in Bright Falls has a Stepford falseness to it; the veneer of purity but you can tell something’s not quite right.
Thanks to the remaster, Alan Wake truly feels like a game set in two worlds, a game of two halves and because of the visual glow-up, the story is even more impactful.
So the story and visuals hold up. But what about the gameplay? Is Alan Wake still a good game to play?
Ok, yes, Wake still jumps like his gumboots are stuck in the mud and he has the cardio of a pack a day Horizon smoker but burning the darkness away from the Taken then blasting them with your gun is every bit as enjoyable as it was a decade ago. Making use of Wake’s flashlight as the aiming reticule (and thereby keeping the HUD clean) is a masterstroke especially as it serves both a visual and gameplay purpose. Even on easier settings, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the Taken and have to resort to a flare or flashbang. These tools have also benefitted from the remastering and now, the visual effects are superb.
Lighting up a flare and holding it up engulfs the screen in bright, reddish light, forcing the Taken back and giving you much needed time to catch your breath. Never feeling safe in Alan Wake has a lot to do with the Taken. No matter how many guns and items you have, no matter how many Taken you’ve killed, they still keep coming and you never, ever feel as though you’ve quite got a handle on them. It’s a brilliant bit of balancing by Remedy. Ensuring you’re never quite able to become a god-like combat champion and instead, always feel on the back foot really helps sell the predicament Wake finds himself in.
The dark presence is always encroaching on Wake and no matter how far he runs or how much light he finds, he’s always on the verge of being plunged into darkness.
Being a remaster as opposed to a remake, Alan Wake Remastered is the same game that was released in 2010. You still collect coffee thermoses, listen to the local radio, watch Night Springs on TV and dodge attacks in slow motion, only now you do it in much high resolution with visuals that keep up with the soaring heights of the narrative.
Alan Wake Remastered also bundles in both pieces of DLC, The Signal and The Writer, which continue and expand Wake’s story beyond the main game’s ending. You’ll also have access to the origin commentary track as well as a brand new one recorded by Sam Lake in 2021. The commentary from Lake is short and often purposefully vague, but it adds plenty of context and shines a light on some interesting developments within the Remedy Connected Universe.
Alan Wake might be over 10-years-old but it stands alongside the likes of Ocarina of Time, Skyrim, Halo and Half-Life 2 as one of the greatest pieces of art within the medium. Now that it’s been remastered, everyone has a chance to travel to Bright Falls and experience Remedy’s masterwork.
Alan Wake Remastered was reviewed on PS5 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.