Remedy hasn't been shy about saying that Alan Wake 2 is the studio's biggest and most ambitious game ever. That much is evident from the sheer scale of this project, with Alan Wake 2 not only featuring three large hub areas in the Pacific Northwest region but also the fact that it introduces an entirely new playable character alongside the titular writer – Saga Anderson, a seasoned FBI Agent with a penchant for solving difficult crimes. This new co-protagonist is the focus of my hands-off preview of Alan Wake 2, with Remedy introducing us to its new co-protagonist with a playthrough of an early part of the game.
We're in Cauldron Lake, a familiar location for those who've played Alan Wake before, but it's looking nothing like I remember it. It's utterly gorgeous, with the forest brought to life with autumnal hues and a sky that suggests a storm is inbound. It's moody-looking and it's immediately very Alan Wake. It's looking very, very pretty running on a PS5 dev kit, and it only gets more visually impressive when later it begins to pour with rain. Alan Wake 2 isn't holding back when it comes to looking every bit new-gen.
It's all in the mind
The graphical prowess doesn't consume my attention for long because Saga and her partner Alex Casey are already moving through the trees discussing the manuscript page they found stuffed inside of a murdered colleague, Agent Nightingale – a returning character from the original game. As the pair decide to split up, in true horror movie style, Saga's given a few dialogue options to explore with Casey. It's the first sign that there's more depth to our new detective than the Alan Wake 2 trailers so far have suggested, but shortly afterward (and with a single button press) we're transported to Saga's Mind Place: a mental construct that takes the form of a physical room where we can analyze clues and profile subjects in private.
It's simultaneously very Sherlock Holmes, perfect for Saga's character, and a complete surprise. So much weight has been placed on Alan Wake 2's shift to a survival horror game that the discovery of another gameplay strand is a pleasant shock. Along the back wall in the Mind Place there's a case board, where you'll be able to manually place clues you've found as you investigate the areas around Bright Falls. It's early in the game, but it's already a busy board with questions scrawled on Post-Its sitting between evidence photos, Polaroid snaps, manuscript pages, and other notes, with red thread plotting lines of investigation and questioning. It's only through adding to this case board that Saga will be able to start making deductions and obtain new missions quests, so you're going to spend a lot of time here.
The Mind Place has other features too, including a space to rewatch cinematics, re-read manuscript pages, or profile subjects by using Saga's expert deduction techniques to get inside their heads – allowing you the opportunity to experience what they've seen and heard. Doing so can apparently be key to making a breakthrough in a case, which only serves to highlight just how integral the detective gameplay is to Alan Wake 2's narrative.
Saga's an interesting character in that way, particularly as she offers her own kind of narration for events to complement Alan's writerly overtures. She's relatable, asking the kind of questions I'd expect to be asking myself as I play the game, and offers newcomers to the series an easy onboarding experience. She's not familiar with Alan Wake's previous adventures, the horrible things that have happened in Bright Falls, or any of the literal darkness that hangs over the place. When Alan's been in the Dark Place for 13 years, he's not going to be the most relatable of narrators, so Saga's here to help.
It looks fascinating to piece together, even from the brief look we're given during this preview. Not only is the Mind Place literally putting the psychological in psychological survival horror, but it's also offering a completely different perspective on the Alan Wake sequel than I'd ever expected. It's cerebral, filled with puzzle-solving, but also smart, interesting commentary that makes me want to pore over every conversation option I can find so I can gather every piece of information possible.
A torch and a pistol
But, it's not all about detective work, as Saga is introduced to the horror elements of Alan Wake 2 pretty quickly. Although this isn't a hands-on demonstration it's clear that some of the combat DNA from the first game is present here. Just the way Saga moves feels reminiscent of Alan's movements from the first 2010 original, but Saga will also need to use her flashlight to cleanse the cult members of the darkness that corrupts them before shooting them. Although Remedy tells me it didn't want to go full-on body horror and gore for this sequel, you can see blood pooling on the enemies where your bullets hit them, which is a new addition.
The combat has deliberately been scaled back for Alan Wake 2 to provide a better sense of dread, and to make the gunfights you do have feel more impactful. In the 30 minutes we're shown from the game, Saga doesn't take on more than a few enemies at a time, with each encounter feeling a little more unique and occasionally jump scare inducing – particularly when a stag-mask-wearing bursts through a wall seconds after a real deer lurking in an old general store makes Saga herself jump.
The demo section eventually builds to a showdown with the same Agent Nightingale they had on their autopsy table hours earlier. It's a lengthy, intense fight that involves repeatedly cleansing Nightingale of his corruption and utilizing as much of Saga's arsenal as you can – including using your torch to break free of grapples, or hurling flash bangs to create some distance between the threat. It's the only boss-esque fight that I'm shown during my time with Remedy, but based on what I also saw in the PlayStation Showcase gameplay trailer, it seems indicative of some of the pivotal one-on-one encounters that should be expected from the game. Apparently, Nightingale is an example of an Overlap Guardian – a boss figure you'll have to defeat within spaces where the Dark Place and reality grow closer together in order to push back floodwaters from each of the hub areas.
As you'd expect from the survival horror genre, your inventory is going to be very important here too. Ammo is scarce, and you've also got to manage your inventory slots in a way that is very reminiscent of Resident Evil. Healing used to come from standing in patches of light, or Safe Havens, and although they return they'll only boost you from a critical health state, which you'll then need to top up with painkillers or other health items from your inventory. Both your inventory and your weapons can be upgraded though, with special Break Rooms that you discover giving you the option to store away anything you don't need. At one point we have to solve a small puzzle to unlock a gunstore to retrieve a shotgun, so it's looking likely there will be multiple weapons to grab over the course of the game too.
I do love the fact that in each of these Break Rooms you'll discover will have an 'Oh Deer Diner' thermos pride of place. These blue icons aren't a collectible this time around but rather a manual save point for the game, and also often a marker that offers you the choice to switch to playing as Alan – or vice versa. Although we're not shown any of Alan's gameplay in the Dark Place, we're told that you can choose when to switch between the two narratives, and although there are only certain places you can make the switch, you can play their stories in any order you wish.
But for now, I'm desperate to see more of what Saga will discover. With talk of interviewing Bright Falls residents – some of which we'll be catching up with after a 13-year hiatus – and the ability to discover plenty of content not tied to the critical path, Saga might be the secret side of Alan Wake 2 I never knew I needed.
Alan Wake 2 is due to drop on PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC on October 17,2023.