Alan Wake Remastered review – Remedy’s reawakening
The makers of Max Payne and Control revive their former Xbox exclusive, a third person shooter with a Twin Peaks vibe.
Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment has been making video games for over 25 years now, with their breakout hit being 2001’s Max Payne. After Max Payne 2 they sold the franchise to Rockstar Games and it was then a seven year gap until Alan Wake, which at the time was an Xbox 360 and PC exclusive. So it’s not too hard to imagine where the idea of a novelist going on holiday to escape from a bout of writer’s block might have come from.
Since both are third person shooters named after their protagonists, Alan Wake and Max Payne have a lot of similarities, but the two games are very different in tone, as Remedy attempted to adopt a more serious approach to its writing and characters. How successful they were is still a matter of debate, even if the impressively high production values remain beyond criticism.
The story begins with Alan and his wife arriving in a small US town, clearly meant to be reminiscent of Twin Peaks. After picking up the keys to their cabin from what looks like the old woman out of Silent Hill, Mrs Wake gets abducted and Alan finds out the island the cabin is on sunk 40 years ago. And so begins a story whose influences are purposefully obvious in terms of video games, TV, and horror writers such as Stephen King.
The literal start of the game is a dream sequence in which the basic control and combat mechanics are explained. The problem with this (apart from it looking exactly like the rest of the game and not like a dream at all) is that the combat introduced in the opening few minutes barely changes one iota right up until the end of the game.
Much like the more recent Control, almost all the bad guys are just possessed humans, who in this case can’t stand bright light. To beat them you shine a torch at them to burn off the excess ‘dark presence’ and then… just shoot them. Even though they’re ordinary, blameless people.
The only enemies that aren’t possessed townsfolk are the odd flock of birds and a small line in demonically possessed furniture and vehicles. You can use flares and flashbangs to take out whole groups, and shotguns and a limited use flare gun are introduced later, but essentially your abilities are frozen in stone from the start.
To make matters worse, the setting is almost exclusively dark woodland. The combat is perfectly entertaining but the complete lack of any sort of variety is perverse. This is not to suggest the game is poorly made or that Remedy is being lazy, as there are still some memorable set pieces, such as where Alan and a friend use the pyrotechnics from a stage show to fight off a huge wave of enemies.
That doesn’t change the combat in any way though, and you’re still in the middle of a forest, so all the cinematic (or rather televisual) presentation – including chapter endings accompanied by some excellently chosen licensed music – is wasted on a game that constantly seems to be treading water.
The story is clearly meant to compensate for the repetitive gameplay but all it comes down to is a simple tale of yet another incompetent ancient evil. For a game based on a novelist the writing is worryingly hackneyed and made to seem even more so by an ever present narrator.
The characters are thinly sketched cliches that you never care about and at times the dialogue is awful, especially one cringe-inducing scene where Remedy use a secondary character to start name-checking their favourite authors in the most inorganic way imaginable.
The game’s also extremely easy, both in terms of the combat and what amounts to puzzles. You’re always told exactly where to go and what to do, often with help from the narrator, like: ‘The Viking ship looked huge and powerful, almost like a battering ram’. This in a small barn whose only useable object is a switch that clearly controls the battering-ram-to-be.
In terms of the remaster this is, perhaps appropriately, a very straightforward affair, with 4K support and a 60fps frame rate. Little else has changed though, other than improved character models and the removal of the tacky product placement from the original. You get the existing DLC as well, but the only new content is a commentary track by co-writer Sam Lake.
Far too easy and repetitive to be scary and too ineffectual and predictable to be treated as a serious narrative, Alan Wake was only a middling success when it was first released and it’s only now, after years of trying, that Remedy has managed to gain the funding for a sequel – although it hasn’t been officially announced as yet.
Given how much Remedy has improved with Control, which is technically set in the same universe, Alan Wake 2 is still something to be excited about, but this remaster is not. It’s inoffensive entertainment for a few hours but if you’re playing late at night you’re more in danger of nodding off than being scared or enthralled.
Alan Wake Remastered review summary
In Short: The original was always highly simplistic and repetitive, and neither the passage of time or being in 4K can do anything to improve this disappointingly trivial actioner.
Pros: As long as none of the characters are talking the game maintains a creepy atmosphere and the presentation still impresses after all these years.
Cons: Repetitive almost from the first instant, with no variety in gameplay or enemies. Equally basic dialogue and plot, with no real puzzles.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: D3T and Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: 5th October 2021
Age Rating: 16
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