For a game that’s nearly a decade old and didn’t sell all that well at launch, Alan Wake still carries a fervent fandom. Remedy can’t do much of anything online without hearing from inquiring fans who wonder aloud, “yeah, but what about Alan Wake 2?”, but this week, its seventh studio release, Control, hits stores. It’s meant to be the first of several titles from the Finnish games house where the turnaround is quicker than its previous five-plus year development cycle, taking just two years from start to launch day.
It’s also much more than that, however. Control doesn’t just kick off a new, more expedited workflow for Remedy, it also brings out into the open the first undeniable evidence that it has a bigger picture in mind for its story-rich video games. Like Marvel began to lay the foundation for its crossover events of the century a decade ago, Remedy also began plotting out a connected world with 2010’s Alan Wake, and with Control, the Grand Remedy Universe – or the RCU, if you will – begins to come into view.
While Control tells its own compelling story that stands alone as a tale worth the time of Remedy’s fans or anyone with an appreciation of AAA games with the freedom to get bizarre, perhaps the most exciting element of the 25-hour game is just how much world-building it does. In brief, Control’s world is one and the same with that of Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and even Max Payne. For lame business reasons – Remedy doesn’t own the rights to Quantum Break or Max Payne – Control mostly focuses on its connections to Alan Wake, but those connections go far beyond fun Control Easter eggs. They are, in many instances, fully fledged plot points that would bridge the gap from the first game to whatever may come later. Here is every knot Remedy ties between Control and Alan Wake, and what they mean for the future of Remedy’s shared world storytelling.
Night Springs was rebooted by the FBC to introduce paranormal concepts to the public
Control goes wild with collectibles, offering somewhere around 200 of them in total. They take many forms, including partially redacted documents, tape recordings, and training videos not coincidentally reminiscent of the DHARMA Initiative from Lost. The first of them that starts to connect some really exciting dots is an internal memo that discusses the FBC’s media disinformation campaigns, like a Coast to Coast-style radio show called America Overnight that invites the tinfoil hat community to call in with their strange disturbances. These in turn help the bureau track down leads on new Objects of Power (items touched by the parallel dimension called the Astral Plane) and new Thresholds (places of power where the doors to the Astral Plane are strongest).
The memo says this program has been very effective, but importantly notes they’ve been doing something similar with Night Springs, the Twilight Zone homage first seen in Alan Wake, with lesser results.
A second document found much later in the game also points out how the show ran originally just as a legitimate program, but the FBC rebooted the series after it had been off the air “for a few years now” in order to introduce paranatural concepts to the general public. In the real world, this is also a common conspiracy view of news reports of UFOs. Some people believe they’re shared with us in order to soften the blow for when we find out once and for all that aliens exist. One thing these documents can confirm for us is that in the world of Control, Alan Wake exists.
All those coffee thermoses in Alan Wake actually did have a purpose
Like Control’s hero Jesse Faden, Alan Wake was no stranger to collectibles lying all around his world, glimmering for attention. Over the years, the one variant of Wake pick-ups that never ceases to be chastised are the Oh, Deer Diner coffee thermoses. In 2010, they seemed pointless. Few could assign them purpose in any way outside of them being perhaps a reference to Twin Peaks, one of the game’s major influences.
It’s very likely Remedy didn’t know their purpose at that time either, but nine years later, the studio decided to humorously retcon a reason for their existence: they’re Altered Items. Unlike Objects of Power, which are the most dangerous items touched by the Astral Plane, Altered Items have been manipulated by the “other side” but don’t seem to pose any unique threats. They’re still observed and contained by the FBC, but it’s like the difference between being in prison and being in solitary confinement. The coffee thermoses are in the general population of certified weird stuff but they’re not so carefully quarantined. One collectible document explains that these thermoses promise fresh-brewed hot coffee no matter how long ago it was poured. Now that’s a lucrative superpower.
More importantly, the same document goes on to mention Alan Wake and even hints that he was once an unwitting member of the Prime Candidate Program, the same program Jesse is revealed to be a part of that surveils people with a curious bond to the Astral Plane. It also calls Bright Falls and Cauldron Lake “known sites of a recurring AWE” or Altered World Event. AWEs are scenarios where the Astral Plane and its Objects of Power disrupt our world on a grander scale. It’s these events at which the FBC shudders and where they’re needed the most. The threads are tying more tightly now.
This House of Dreams ARG lives again
Way back in 2012, when no one outside of Remedy knew what its next project would be, Remedy began an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that existed within the Alan Wake universe. If you’re unfamiliar with alternate reality games, think of them as mostly-online scavenger hunts that pretend we live in the same world as a media property and can even interact with its characters. They can get really intricate. For Alan Wake, the ARG was a blog from a woman named Sam who wrote on This House of Dreams about strange dreams she had been having in her new home in a town called Ordinary. She dreamed of a diver and later found a strange shoebox in her house. One day, she dreamed of people in jackets that said “AWE” who came and confiscated the shoebox. When she awoke, she could no longer find the real shoebox either.
This ARG was never acknowledged by Remedy much over the years, but it didn’t forget about it. On a whiteboard in the research division of The Oldest House you can read more about this shoebox, Sam, and what it all meant. Remedy even gave Jesse the same hometown as Sam, though she gets her own disastrous Altered World Event backstory separate from Sam’s missing shoebox.
The Old Gods of Asgard, Thomas Zane, and Dreams of a Diver
Several less consequential references further bind the worlds of Alan Wake and Control together. The Old Gods of Asgard, the in-universe rock band performed by the real-life Poets of the Fall (whom also perform a song in the game under their real moniker), can be heard throughout Alan Wake, and they also feature in a cool late-game moment where Jesse uses the mysterious janitor’s Walkman to help her navigate an especially tricky part of the FBC headquarters known as The Oldest House.
Another collectible document, a letter written to the American Psychiatric Council and presumably confiscated by the FBC, details a recurring “intensely vivid dream” that revealed a small, empty town with a lake at its center and shadows of people muttering odd things. The dreamer was awakened by a bright light, much like Alan is when Thomas Zane calls to him in his dreams. It’s obviously an allusion to Alan Wake, though for all my obsessive nerdiness on this subject, I couldn’t find any hints about the letter’s author, Richard Bowker. Googling the name points to a real-life award-winning sci-fi author, so maybe that bit is just an Easter egg for someone on the Remedy team.
Even Jesse herself seems to be a fan of Tom Zane’s poetry, though when she recites it to some sort of FBC interviewer on an old audio log, the interviewer says no poet by that name exists. She says there is however a foreign filmmaker who moved to the states in the sixties who goes by that name. What Remedy is hinting at in this moment, I can't yet figure out. Has reality been altered in such a way that decades previous are changed? If so, that’s another inroad for the time-traveling Quantum Break to make more sense as part of the Grand Remedy Universe too, though it already confirmed as much in its own runtime with several Wake references and its “AWE” street art seen all throughout the story.
Jesse’s brother Dylan is well-versed on the grand Remedy universe
About two-thirds through the game, we meet Jesse’s brother Dylan, who isn’t doing so well. He speaks cryptically of his dreams – people really like their dream diaries in Remedy’s world – and at one point tells Jesse about an entity he calls Mr. Door who comes from the Astral Plane. Door tells Dylan of “many worlds, side by side, on top of each other, some inside of others.” He continues more directly: “In one world, there’s a writer who wrote a story about a cop. In another world, the cop was real.” The first reference is obviously to Alan Wake himself, who was made famous by his Alex Casey crime novels, which themselves were meant to be an allusion to Max Payne. The world in which “the cop was real” is presumably then Max’s world, connecting even this more grounded Remedy story to their more recent bizarro plots.
What I’m less confident about but more intrigued by is what Dylan says right after that. “Door said he himself was in all of them at the same time, endlessly shifting between them.” This sounds a heck of a lot like the oft-cited but hardly seen entity that exists outside of time in Quantum Break. At the end of that game, we receive a major hint that Lance Reddick’s character Martin Hatch may have been such an entity, or perhaps the only one. This makes Dylan’s monologue special in that it may be the first and only instance of a Remedy character alluding to all four of its connected universes at once.
The events of Alan Wake are a confirmed Altered World Event investigated by the FBC
As referenced earlier, the events experienced by Alan during his “vacation” in Bright Falls are considered an Altered World Event – a recurring one, no less – by the Federal Bureau of Control. But two late-game documents found in the Prime Candidate Program halls give fans the biggest info-drop of the whole game by specifically detailing the fallout from Alan’s two weeks in Washington.
As of the events of Control, Alan is still missing, as well as Dr. Hartman and Special Agent Nightingale. Alice was found and interviewed by the FBC, and suffered from memory loss. Alan’s light switch, his “clicker,” is also considered an Object of Power. The entire event was tipped off to the FBC by the father of Sheriff Sarah Breaker and, as the document stunningly reveals, “ex-bureau agent,” Frank Breaker.
If you recall in Alan Wake, Sarah has Barry Wheeler, Alan’s agent, alert a select number of people in Bright Falls via phone and deliver a code word: “Night Springs.” It seems this emergency response action is what got the FBC to the corrupted logging town, though they were unable to find Alan amid the turmoil.
It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean
Alan’s famous last words have been understood to mean the rabbit hole of the Dark Presence goes well beyond Bright Falls, though we’ve never received the proper sequel to divulge more on that. 2012’s XBLA semi-sequel Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was interesting but doesn’t answer many questions and every nod seen in Quantum Break is about as unhelpful. Today, almost a decade later, Remedy has either planned for their Grand Universe from the beginning or retconned it all so well that I can’t honestly tell the difference. In a media landscape obsessed with crossover events like the MCU, could we someday get a complete Remedy crossover video game? Maybe that’s too ambitious or even undesired. The shifting controls and mechanics of such a game sound like a nightmare.
Still, for the details-obsessive fans who once and always pleaded for an Alan Wake sequel, it seems Remedy is finally ready to stop beating around the bush. With Control, Remedy has come out and stated it plainly; this is all the same world. It now owns the Alan Wake IP, having purchased it from Microsoft earlier this year. Time will tell what it is able to include from its other previous games, but Remedy's intent going forward is obviously to connect them all in a way video games have never done before. Though Alan himself may still be submerged in the shadows of Cauldron Lake, fans of the studio find themselves diving into the ocean of the Grand Remedy Universe.