Alan Wake 2 is the first survival horror game from Remedy Entertainment. It's a creative departure which has had major ramifications on every aspect of this long-awaited sequel: combat, pacing, story, structure, and tone. Creative director Sam Lake says that the genre switch was ultimately born out of a simple desire: "We wanted more variation."
Alan Wake is a product of its time, something which was brought to the forefront in its recent remaster – every story beat is interspersed by combat, the mechanics of which barely evolve across its runtime. It's something Remedy's senior leadership is cognizant of now. "We felt that the gameplay of Alan Wake could have more depth to it, that it kind of repeated itself," says Lake, adding, "we also wanted to be more ambitious with the story. For Alan Wake 2 to embrace a more expressive set of combat systems, and deliver on a more ambitious narrative frame – two protagonists, separated by the influence of the Dark Place – something had to give. "We were looking at how we can find ways of achieving both."
"As a genre, survival horror has less combat. It's less action-y and has more anxious atmosphere building, which means that when combat does happen it's a bigger event. We also wanted more depth to it. Resource management and the strategical side to combat also comes from the survival horror genre, so that fits with the slowed-down pacing. You're not just rushing forward with big explosions, so it allowed us to kind of pace [the combat] more with the story."
Principal narrative designer Molly Maloney is quick to stress that "It's not necessarily that there's less combat" in Alan Wake 2, but rather "the feeling that the combat is different. Combat is designed to support the horror aspect. It's more impactful, strategic, and desperate. It can be really hairy sometimes."
A better blend
You can get a sense of that from the Alan Wake 2 gameplay demo shown during Summer Game Fest. Special Agent Saga Anderson dual-wields a flashlight and a firearm, just like Alan did all those years ago in Bright Falls, but the camera is pulled in closer to her shoulder. Enemies are weightier, and less eager to have the protective shroud of darkness singed away by torchlight. This decision to make more impactful combat systems has also allowed Remedy to rethink the way it delivers narrative beats.
"By slowing down the gameplay, because it's more of a horror, allows us on a world-building level to focus on the details," explains co-director Kyle Rowley. "This also helps us with the fact that we are trying to tell a horror story, and the gameplay then is not fighting that. Like, I'm not constantly fighting enemies and then getting a bit of story."
"It's a more cohesive package. That was something we were very much aware of from the first game; where it was story, then a lot of combat, and then a bit of story. Here we're trying to meld the story with combat and with exploration. We have cinematics, there's live action, all in a slightly more cohesive way."
"As you're figuring out the story and piecing together clues, these are all now actual gameplay," Lake teases. " So you are actively playing the game while experiencing the story."
Alan Wake 2 is one of our most anticipated upcoming horror games and it's set for release on October 17, 2023, for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X.