Year:  2023

Director:  Sam Lake, Kyle Rowley

Rated:  MA

Release:  Out Now

Distributor: Remedy Entertainment

Running time: 15-25 hours

Worth: $19.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Intro:
… one of the most vital, unique and exciting video games not just of 2023, but of all time.

On any objective metric, 2023 has been an amazing year for video games. In the last twelve months alone, we’ve had the Resident Evil 4 remake, the Dead Space remake, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Diablo 4, Street Fighter 6, Starfield, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Baldur’s Gate 3 and Spider-Man 2. That’s not even mentioning the cadre of excellent smaller titles like Sea of Stars, Dredge and Lies of P. Basically, it’s been a tsunami of quality AAA bangers and AA belters, but surely, it’s over, yeah? There couldn’t be another legit Game of the Year contender this late in the day?

Right?

Enter Alan Wake 2, the sequel to Remedy’s cult hit from 2010, to slap your expectations silly and offer one of the most vital, unique and exciting video games not just of 2023, but of all time.

Alan Wake 2 is a survival horror that splits the narrative between two very distinct characters. First, there’s Saga Anderson, an intuitive FBI agent sent to the small town of Bright Falls to investigate a bizarre murder and a bunch of strange, possibly supernatural, shenanigans.

Secondly, we have the titular Alan Wake, a famous horror author who seems to be stuck in a surreal realm comprised of many of the very stories and tropes that he writes. Alan needs to escape this bizarre realm before his own creative output begins to infect the real world.

These two plot strands slowly begin to link up and blend together, culminating in a mind-bending story that manages to be engaging, thrilling, tense, perplexing and surreal.

Gameplay-wise, Alan Wake 2 isn’t a million miles from Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space. You play in the third person perspective, have a limited inventory, need to constantly manage ammunition and healing items, and solve puzzles under duress. Where the game differs from its peers is in the investigative aspects. Saga, for instance, has a Mind Place where she can assemble clues or theories and interrogate the psyche of various suspects. Alan, on the other hand, has a board where he puts together plot beats and scenes, many of which can change the fabric of reality in the bizarre Dark Place in which he finds himself, quite literally rewriting his own circumstances on the fly. The net effect of this emphasis is that while combat and exploration are important, you’ll find yourself paying an unusual amount of attention to the details of the story and the interactions with other characters. It’s a good thing, too, because while the narrative is fascinating and nuanced, the combat is meat and potatoes. Perfectly serviceable, often enjoyable, but hardly revelatory.

No, what makes Alan Wake 2 such an exciting prospect is the way it effortlessly changes genre, tone and even medium in a wild roller coaster ride through the very nature of storytelling itself. It manages to be lofty and cerebral at the same time as being edge-of-your-seat exciting and often (particularly in Wake’s section) bloody scary.

In terms of tone, Alan Wake 2 feels like you’re playing through a season of True Detective directed by David Lynch with Stephen King brought on to write every episode and Thomas Ligotti providing script editing duty. It’s a dizzying experience at times, with some truly iconic moments (including a musical number that has to be seen to be believed) and a pervasive sense of tension and intrigue that will make your 15-20 hour playthrough feel like a compelling fever dream.

In a year that has already featured superb survival horror games, Alan Wake 2 somehow manages to claw its way to the top of the pile and sets a new standard for video game narratives to boot. If you’re even a casual fan of genre works, weird fiction or just generally being creeped out, do not sleep on Alan Wake 2.

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