Back in 2008, I can still remember a younger and less jaded version of myself glued to computer screens obsessing over six still images meant to advertise the upcoming Alan Wake. The game, at the time, was stuck in development hell owing to the team’s desire to make it far different from their previous title, Max Payne. This hurdle proved ultimately insurmountable, considering the size and finances of the, at the time, relatively small studio. That being said, the game looked like it made massive strides on their previous franchise, and I was confident Remedy Entertainment was going to deliver yet again.
In my mind, they did, but lackluster sales forced the team to move on from our favorite writer despite plans for a sequel. However, this turn of events didn’t kill the company. They moved on to new projects, made new partnerships, and even saw their Creative Director briefly appear in Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. All of this eventually culminated with Remedy purchasing the rights for Alan Wake from Microsoft, all but confirming the company had plans for him in the future. Anybody that continued to play their games, all featuring similarly bizarre elements, started to slowly see a fleshed-out Wake-Verse.
It was no longer a lake; the Alan Wake Universe had become an ocean. Hell, they even managed to slip in the vague connections between Alan Wake and Max Payne though they could not embrace them by name due to Rockstar and Take-Two still owning Max, lock stock, and two smoking, slow-motion barrels. Remedy Entertainment may have done a great job of representing the game that changed their trajectory within the industry, but there was nothing they could actually do to quell the fire there was for a sequel. Any gamer can tell you how that feels, to fall in love with a character, a setting, a narrative, with nothing else being able to substitute for it. That was why The Game Awards 2021 meant a lot to a lot of gamers, including myself, when Alan took center stage after such a long wait.
While it is never a good feeling waiting for a sequel that will never come, and an even worse feeling learning that said sequel could have become a thing and somehow didn’t, Alan Wake 2 is as bizarre a case as something associated with Remedy could be. And in truth, Alan Wake returning now is the absolute best case for the series. From one Alan Wake fan to all the others, let’s discuss why waiting over a decade for the game was something we should all be thankful for.
It will happen again, in another town, a town called Ordinary.
While we never got an ‘official sequel’ to Alan Wake up until this point, fans of the series might remember a continuation to the story in the form of American Nightmare. I say it this way because Remedy seemed to have forgotten when they remastered the original game this past October! I digress. This game gave us a look at Alan Wake shortly after the conclusion of the base game. We finally were given a look inside the darkness and how he can craft, create, and even alter his world, and the world outside it through his writing. These themes run deep throughout the rest of Remedies-connected games, but what people often forget is ‘This House of Dreams’.
In 2021 this innocuous blog appeared online and chronicled a young woman named Samantha as she purchased a new house and began to renovate it. Of course, things turned a little creepy as she discovered old things in the attic and tried to track down their owners. Eventually, a blog detailing a dream Samantha had in which a diver (Major Tom) and another person (Wake himself) relay a message to her. Remedy Creative Director, Sam Lake, confirmed the blog was theirs with a tweet, stating that it would occur in Ordinary again, which was the town where the blog was set. The same statement could also be found, hidden in the American Nightmare DLC.
Remedy fans might recognize the town of Ordinary as the hometown of Control lead character Jessie Faden, but in 2012 she wasn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. In actuality, this was supposed to lay the foundation for the first attempt at an Alan Wake 2, with the game’s new location being that of Ordinary. When that did not pan out, the location was repurposed, and extremely well. A driving force for the character of Jessie was to recover her brother, who was being held at the Federal Bureau of Control after an event in the small town grants them powers. While the timeline became a little wonky, with the event occurring to the Faden’s happening 10 years before This House of Dreams, those who have played the games know that time is more abstract of a concept.
Speaking of time, Alan Wake 2 was supposed to have a heavy reliance on time mechanics. It never came to pass what those time mechanics were intended to be in the flushed-out form. Naturally, after the first pass at Alan Wake 2 fell through, these ideas ultimately landed as a major part of their next game, Quantum Break, which literally revolves around time travel. This turn of events was something even Sam Lake, at the time, seemed ok with. He stated to IGN that:
Then coming out of Quantum Break, we created a new concept for Alan Wake 2 that was very different. And we were looking at it and talking about it with potential partners…and ultimately we concluded that this doesn’t quite feel like Alan Wake.
Before American Nightmare, a small team created a concept for Alan Wake 2, but when they realized that would not go forward, some of those ideas went into Quantum Break. These same ideas were re-used and scaled-down, for American Nightmare.
This isn’t that uncommon when it comes to games either, as any Devil May Cry fan may know. The thing here is, being unable to make Alan Wake 2, when Microsoft eventually did pull the plug, allowed them to take a side road when they used those ideas in a new IP that wasn’t bound by what felt right in terms of its nature. This also meant the team got to develop a brand new game, learning lessons along the way, that could be applied to other projects in their future. Quantum Break had its issues when it was finally released, and the live-action show that acted as a companion to the game was not the greatest idea, but let’s be fair here, much of the criticism of the game echoed that of Alan Wake and felt in line with what players might have expected. That being said, it is still worth a playthrough if you have not yet tried it, and its story is still very good.
Taking CONTROL of their IPs
Shortly after Quantum Break, Remedy broke from Microsoft, opting to go multi-platform, which they had not done since working under Rockstar. Despite issues Remedy had with the way Microsoft marketed certain games, both companies are on good terms, and working together on Crossfire X. It would be unfair to not point out, however, that Remedy was losing a major potential audience within their partnership, which resulted in two games that had sold under par. That’s why it was such a big deal to see the next game from the studio, Control, showcased on the PlayStation Stage at E3. Remedy had partnered with 505 Games, whom they just doubled down on with an even bigger partnership, to make a multi-platform title.
As stated above, Alan Wake was a massive part of Control, featuring massive amounts of Easter eggs, but it was also clear that Control was a quasi-sequel in its own right. Players could find memos that explained the events that occurred after the first game in more detail, and Wake himself makes a very brief cameo. All of that was problematic, though, since Microsoft still owned the right to the franchise, which meant they needed to get those rights. They eventually did. There was already a plan to revive the Wake brand since that was now to become synonymous with Remedy if it was not yet. A minor interaction had a major effect, as players could understand them wanting to own the IP, but it was completely pointless if there were no plans to pursue it, so in a way, this exchange confirmed Alan Wake 2.
Of course, it also could have been just to remaster the game as they recently did. As noted, Microsft owned the rights for years, and while the game was available on PC, it was never available on PlayStation until this past October, which makes now a great time to play the game. This release served multiple purposes. Control sold very well by the end of 2020, which means there will be way more fans of Remedy, but there will also be tons of new audiences wondering what their hardcore Alan Wake fans (like myself) were always talking about whenever they talked about this callback or that reveal. Not only that, there were now a lot more people with their eyes on a potential Alan Wake 2, not relegating the sequel to the minimal exposure that the original received.
It is also important to touch on the experimental nature of Control. Make no mistake, Metroidvania is a term that is almost unavoidable in the video game industry and ranks right up there with Roguelite, Roguelike, and Zelda-like in terms you grow tired of hearing. In most cases, however, these terms tend to be common in the Indie genre. The genre can be described as a game that revolves around a large area that can be explored, with many areas locked behind skills and items that need to be found later. Control is a rare example of a AAA non-sidescrolling title that uses the formula and does so to great effect. The biggest limitation in the game is that it all takes place within an office building that does little to change as you progress. This becomes irrelevant as soon as the shooting begins since, from start to finish, control is fun as hell. Remedy wanted to try new genres and blend different elements, a willingness this follow-up already sounds posed to continue.
This story is a monster. And monsters wear many faces.
While Remedy had been moderately successful prior, with a well-liked franchise in Max Payne already under their belts, going into Alan Wake they were a relatively small company that had yet to receive the recognition they had today. Imagine the company they might be if the original Alan Wake 2 was the game we got. Would they have eventually moved away from Microsoft? Would they have experimented as they did with Control? Would they have partnered with 505 Games and become a studio with multiple teams and multiple projects? Or, more importantly, would Alan Wake 2 have even been good? I like to believe it would have but, as much as I was always a fan, I trust the Remedy of today far more than the Remedy of the past.
This is not, and has not, been a case of just not getting around to it. For a while there, they could not make an Alan Wake 2 as Microsoft, even right before the split, showed no desire for it. Similar to the directors of Film Noir that helped inspire their first narrative game (yes, I didn’t forget that their first game was Death Rally) the studio had to get creative due to limitations placed on them at the time. And they did, every single game they put forward may not have been perfect, but they showcased a willingness to evolve and experiment. Along with that came far better graphics and far more fluid gameplay, showcasing that they have improved across the board.
This, of course, brings us to the last stop of this tour, the Alan Wake 2 that sits before us. Remedy has announced that this will be their first take on the Survival Horror genre, marking a drastic departure from the original game. While Alan Wake was indeed a horror game, it focused on action and moved at a pretty fast pace. This new genre choice is perfect for a few reasons, with the first being that Remedies take should be awesome given how well they have adapted to other genres, see Control above. Survival Horror has also become far less used, with even Resident Evil, the game the term was coined for, having a successful outing in the genre with Resident Evil 7, before returning to a more action-oriented focus with Resident Evil 8.
This genre could use a good jolt of life and Alan Wake 2 looks poised to offer the jolt it needs. Survival Horror games also have a passionate fanbase that might not have been fans or even tried the original, but they will definitely look their way when Remedy finally showcases the game. Overall, though, the genre matters less than the developer’s journey. In one popular TikTok trend, instead of tracing a straight line between A and B, the line becomes a jagged mess around B before reaching it in the longest way possible. Yes, Remedy took some detours, but with Control, we finally saw the studio get the public acknowledgment I feel they deserved years ago, from the industry as a whole and not just a passionate fanbase. Alan Wake 2 is poised to capitalize on that momentum in the best way.
Never in my life, and I mean NEVER, have I looked at a game and not wondered what could have been. I think back to Final Fantasy XV, a game I did enjoy, but having followed it since day one, I knew what the finished product was missing, or supposed to be. It leaves a hollow feeling in you, watching old trailers that are just video memories of a project that doesn’t exist anymore, and isn’t what you should have gotten. In the case of Alan Wake 2, I look back at what was said and what was intended, and I think the current plan sounds far more enticing than what I was asking for. Alan Wake is back! After all the waiting, wishing, hoping, and begging, Alan Wake is finally back! And I could not be more excited for what Remedy has in store!