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Alan Wake 2 – The brilliant sequel to a cult classic

15

GG Vol. 

23. 12. 10.

***You can see Korean version of this article at this URL:
https://www.gamegeneration.or.kr/article/36aa6690-bf8c-4d72-ab97-33b03e4db055

Alan Wake 2. The long-awaited sequel to the 2010 game that follows the protagonist of the same name, Alan Wake, who is a bestselling crime fiction author. The first game takes place in a fictional city of Bright Falls in the northwestern United States of America. Alan suffers from the infamous writer’s block and decides to travel for a vacation to Bright Falls with his wife Alice. They end up residing in a cabin on an island in the middle of a lake. However, after a nightmarish evening and a fight with his wife, Alan wakes up in a car he does not remember driving off road, or how he got there. The locals tell Alan that there has not been cabin in the lake for decades, and this marks the beginning of the spiralling story where Alan tries desperately to find his wife. Things get complicated when hallucinations and events of a book he does not remember writing start to come to life around him.


Alan Wake 2 continues the story of the writer who has been trapped in an alternative dimension for over a decade navigating a warped version of New York City. He attempts to escape back to reality by writing a story involving an FBI agent Saga Anderson, the second protagonist of the game. Saga’s story takes place in the very same Bright Falls. Things turn to worse when different versions of Alan work against him and it is up to the writer to destroy them before they inflict too much damage and terror in the real world.

Both games belong to the genres of third-person shooter and survival horror, somewhere between Resident Evil series and Silent Hill series in its tempo and pacing with action scenes.


Before we delve a bit deeper into the Dark Place that has Alan trapped, I shall talk more about the developers of the Alan Wake series, Remedy Entertainment (henceforth Remedy), and their impact on Finnish games industry.

 


Remedy Entertainment – from Death Rally to first Alan Wake


Remedy is a Finnish powerhouse with multiple massively popular game franchises and releases. With first game published all the way back in 1996, Death Rally, Remedy has been very well-known developer in Finland and globally. What really helped Remedy to become so powerful could be attributed to luck to some degree, but even more should be attributed to their ambition to push not only the gaming as experience but themselves with design decisions.


The lucky part? Death Rally was published by Apogee (later 3D realms) who also published Duke Nukem 3D around the same time. The popularity of Duke Nukem 3D helped Remedy to be part of a big publisher to ensure the future of the company. Death Rally managed to sell over 100 000 copies in the late 1990s, and that was more than enough to pave way for the next chapter for Remedy, Max Payne.


Max Payne was released in 2001 and was the first massive international success for a Finnish game development team and truly started the shift of working on games from being “just for the nerds” to “a career to be taken seriously”. Max Payne is most known for its film noir style of storytelling and setting, but even more Max Payne is known for its “Bullet Time” mechanic where player can slow time and aim faster than their opponents. In 2002, Remedy sold the rights to the game series to Take-Two Interactive for ten million dollars, while Rockstar Games would publish the sequel The Fall of Max Payne in 2003. The games have sold reportedly over eight million copies, further ensuring the legacy of Remedy and Max Payne as the important events in Finnish game industry.


With the tonal change and de-stigmatization regarding video games, more opportunities started to rise for those interested in studying and making games. There have been video games as topic for courses and classes in higher education institutes (HEI) in Finland ever since 2003 with multiple HEIs offering degree programmes focusing on video games at all levels from Bachelor’s to Master’s and all the way to doctorate degrees. The success story of Remedy is not the only catalyst for video games and gaming becoming so permeated in everyday life in Finland, but it is the first one to gather sizeable international attention. The history of video game industry in Finland goes back to the 1980s when hobbyism towards programming and the rising popularity of game consoles, and later in the 1990s Personal Computers (PC), gave birth to the “demoscene” (computer art subculture) that is still active. Programmers turned their hobbyism and experiences partaking in demoscene into a business. The very first development groups that started from demoscene with successful games are Bloodhouse (known for their Stardust and Super Stardust games) and Terramarque, who fused later to Housemarque. Housemarque is still going strong as their latest game, Returnal (2021), has been a commercial success. Further success stories from game companies, such as Remedy and Housemarque, have ensured that game industry, education, hobbyism, demoscene and gaming as career are still surging onwards with no end in sight.


After Max Payne, Remedy spent time to develop new game ideas and after two years in 2005 Alan Wake was born. Microsoft Game Studios was chosen as the collaborator. The game was finally published in 2010 for Xbox 360, and somewhat later in 2012 for Windows PCs. Alan Wake did not sell as many copies initially as expected, but the game has since sold over four million copies and has become a cult classic in survival horror genre.


In many ways Alan Wake was intended to be the opposite of Max Payne as Remedy wanted Alan’s story to focus more on the narrative and atmosphere than action. Not only that, but Max Payne was a cop which is suitable career for action, whereas Alan as an author is rather atypical choice. Further, the first Alan Wake is structured like a television program with episodic storytelling and progression. Remedy has said that they felt Alan Wake to be first season with the downloadable content to work as a bridge to what lies beyond the conclusion of the game.


 

After Alan Wake – from 2010 to 2023


In retrospective it might be easy to say that Alan Wake was impactful enough to warrant a sequel soon after its release in 2010, but metrics that mattered to the publisher, namely sales, weren’t enough to justify a direct sequel at the time. Further, Microsoft reportedly wanted a new intellectual property (IP) focusing on interactive storytelling. So, back to the drawing board for Remedy to start the process from the scratch.


In 2013 Remedy announced Quantum Break to be released in 2015 but was delayed avoiding competition with exclusive games set to be released for the Xbox One only. Quantum Break shifted the focus from dark and harsh environment to a cleaner science fiction where events take place in the 2010s. Quantum Break is about a time travel experiment gone wrong bringing a growing fracture in time while an existence threatening the end of the world looms around. The protagonist must use their time control abilities to prevent that. As is the case with previous games from Remedy, the game is also third-person shooter with further focus on action than Alan Wake.


Remedy advertised Quantum Break as an “entertainment experience” and “transmedia action-shooter video game and television hybrid”. This means that Quantum Break incorporates a live action television show to be watched at certain points during the game play, called “junction points” in-game. The television show reflects the choices player makes and sets the stage for the next episode in the game. The gambit of doing two side-by-side productions for the same entertainment artefact paid off as the game received positive reception with its story, gameplay, visuals, and the performances of actors being praised. However, the inclusion of television show to be so closely interacting with the game was something that garnered rather mixed opinions. But that is the price to pay when you truly push the creative boundaries which Remedy is known for. Quantum Break was the best-selling new IP published by Microsoft during Xbox One console generation until it was eventually broken two years later by Sea of Thieves.


After Quantum Break, Remedy separated from Microsoft and had their initial public offering (or stock launch) in 2017. The publishing rights to Quantum Break are still owned by Microsoft, but Remedy acquired the publishing rights to Alan Wake from Microsoft in 2019. The first new IP after this decade long partnership with Microsoft was a project called P7. At the same time Remedy announced that they were developing a story mode to the sequel of Crossfire by Smilegate.


This shift in company practice from a partnership deal to a publicly owned company meant that project P7 needed to be developed more efficiently and in shorter amount of time to prevent the delays and inflation of the development costs. Alan Wake took seven years to publish and Quantum Break five years. Remedy managed yet another success story by completing the project P7 in three years. This project has become known as Control (2019). Control shifts the focus again, but this time the shift happens in how the game world reacts around the player rather than tonal change in story telling.


Control focuses on the protagonist, Jesse Faden, exploring the paranormal headquarters of a secret U.S. government agency Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), called the Oldest House. Jesse is the new Director of the Bureau and must utilize various abilities and interact with the environment to defeat enemy only known as the Hiss that has invaded and corrupted reality. FBC studies Altered World Events and collects Objects of Power from these events inside the Oldest House, which itself is an Object of Power. The Game starts with Jesse arriving to the headquarters to seek answers related to her brother after a prior event in their youth that led to the brother being kidnapped and an Object of Power claimed by the FBC. It is up to Jesse to prevent the spread of the Hiss outside the Oldest House, understand what Hiss’ aims are and where her brother is. The town where she lived with her brother was called Ordinary.


Control, like so many previous titles before by Remedy, was met with a commercial and critical success with its storytelling, world building, audiovisual presentation and the characters being praised. Even though Control has its contained story, literally in more than one way, its world is shared by a certain writer trapped in their own Dark Place, after all.

 


The plunder of CrossfireX


Before the massive success of Alan Wake 2 gets the spotlight it much deserves, there is one very, very important lesson Remedy had to learn from. That is the development of the story mode to the CrossfireX (2022) that Remedy worked on since 2016 as another project alongside Control. Short story short, Remedy missed the mark with the story mode massively even after that long time in development with reviews reporting bad pacing and tempo and shallow characters. Essentially many other game development studios could have done the same as Remedy did. The “mark of Remedy” was not in the story.


What did Remedy learn from this? I strongly believe it is about playing to your strengths as studio and keeping your identity, rather than trying to play into others’ hand. However, the silver lining is that CrossfireX was shut down after mere sixteen months in May 2023 after its release in February 2022. The game is dubbed to be a massive misfire with awful controls, bland story mode, and very cliche multiplayer experience that didn’t reach its target audience in the Western markets. In the West, the first-person shooter genre is dominated by Call of Duty, Halo, Overwatch, and Battlefield, and it would have required more than an amazing story by Remedy to get a sizeable enough market share.

 


Bringing it all together for Alan Wake, again


After this both short and lengthy history of Remedy’s past games, it is time to return to one version of our reality in this current time. The sequel to Alan Wake and why everything written above matters.


Much like Bethesda has its imprinted style, so has Remedy. In Alan Wake 2, Remedy successfully incorporates lessons learned from their previous games with continued passion to push the boundaries of what games are and how they are experienced. The Remedy style of episodic gameplay is present, and so are intersecting timelines and character stories. Furthermore, the player has the freedom to choose the order they engage in the stories being told, and the exploration of the perceived reality being shifted when one is going through their Dark Time.


Alan Wake 2 continues the story of the author who has been trapped in the Dark Place for thirteen years. Alan feels that the only way for him to escape back to the real world is to write a horror story that takes place in Bright Falls where the events of the first game took place. The game combines survival horror and crime investigation game play styles with Remedy-esque focus on detail and storytelling through atmosphere that is always uneasy.

One of the ways Remedy is pushing the medium of episodic presentation of games further is the given freedom in which order players want to complete the stories being told. The initial start and the eventual end are using forced perspective of Saga Anderson and Alan, respectively. These two separate stories will become intertwined with each other increasingly as the game progresses over its roughly twenty-hour duration.


The success of Alan Wake is yet another feather in their cap, as Remedy truly shows through Alan Wake 2 that they have learned their lessons and are building upon their strengths. It is joyful to see the passion to provide entertainment experience through quality game play and storytelling in Alan Wake 2, while the developers are experimenting with various puzzles and honing certain experiences to build upon for future games.


2023 has been a massively successful year for gamers with numerous amazing games released which each would have won numerous awards in any other year. Alan Wake 2 being released late in 2023 and still it managed to be nominated in eight categories for the 2023 Game Awards ceremony and won the Critics’ Choice Award at the Golden Joystick Awards 2023 earlier this year. The only game to rival Alan Wake 2 in this behemoth of a gaming year is Baldur’s Gate 3 in the number of nominated categories. Remedy went all out on Alan Wake 2 and that shows, and it is very delightful to see. Remedy is brining high quality survival horror to the front pages and setting the trend of their future with this sequel. This will bode only good news for Remedy and the Finnish game industry because the continued success of Remedy in the post-covid era shows that with proper development environment and direction of resources amazing things happen.


In a world filled with scummy monetization practices, Remedy shows that when passion and love for games is given time and space to flourish, the success is nothing but guaranteed. Remedy is one of the flagship companies turning the ship from live services to complete packages and complete entertainment experiences. A feature-complete game is more wanted and treasured by the players than a shiny skin of a horse for more than half the price of a sixty-dollar, or nowadays seventy-dollar, game.



The Future, The Present and The Past - Remedy Connected Universe


Finally, or another beginning. What complicates the storytelling of Remedy games is the confirmation of Remedy Connected Universe becoming canon in Control’s second expansion called “AWE” that features our dear writer, Alan Wake and the Dark Presence. However, in the base game of Control, players can find documents that FBC has been made aware of what is going on with and around Alan Wake. The creative director of Remedy, Sam Lake, made it clear that Control and Alan Wake games share the universe and Control: AWE was merely the first crossover.


Sam Lake has mentioned earlier that they have at Remedy had the idea of connected universe for multiple years and through Control and Alan Wake they can finally utilize that aspect. Alan Wake 2 fully embraces this connection with FBC and what happens in the Bright Falls. Safe to say that Saga Anderson’s career as FBI agent gathers certain attention further pulling these universes together as she works to investigate and solve the murders in Bright Falls.


Further connections between these worlds are in place and two of them are present in the spin-off Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. Namely, the town called Ordinary (see above about Jesse’s past) and another character that is quite head-scratching to deal with. Oh, and not to forget about Ahti, the FBC’s janitor having good times in Bright Falls.


Remedy has confirmed to be working on the sequel to Control, and it can be assumed it further combines the workings FBC and Jesse to the ones of Saga and Alan. How? Who knows currently, but right now you can immerse yourself to Alan Wake and Saga Anderson in a fantastic survival horror game that does not let you go from its grasp. Be ready, be prepared, and don’t burn your light too fast. One of the best horror games in years is here and its a testament to Remedy’s learned lessons and utilizing their own strengths to new heights.

 

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(Postdoctoral Researcher)

PhD, MSc, is postdoctoral researcher whose recent work has focused on the avatarization of our analog cultures as they inevitably turn into digital cultures. Special focus has been on avatars themselves, usage of avatars in their different contexts including multiple online video game genres. He has approached avatars through the types of capital, or resources, they have. His recent works in progress continue to explore the cultures of MMOs, and game accessibility and inclusivity at large.

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