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What to know about Alan Wake 2 if you haven’t played the first

It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean

A bearded Alan Wake wearing a black suit in Alan Wake 2 Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games Publishing
Toussaint Egan is a curation editor, out to highlight the best movies, TV, anime, comics, and games. He has been writing professionally for over 8 years.

It’s been over 13 years since Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment’s psychological action-thriller about a writer trapped in a horror story of his own creation, was first released for Xbox 360. Despite the game’s critical success and cult following, plans for an immediate sequel to Alan Wake were stymied by the original’s disappointing sales. Now, after more than a decade, Alan Wake 2 is nearly upon us. This is cause for celebration for fans of the original game, but for anyone else, they might be left wondering what all the hubbub is about.

“We are not expecting everybody to do homework if they have not played the original game,” Remedy creative director Sam Lake said during Thursday’s Summer Game Fest presentation, emphasizing that Alan Wake 2 is both a sequel and a satisfying stand-alone experience. While you may not have done the homework, we here at Polygon certainly have.

If you’re looking for a quick and breezy rundown of what happened in Alan Wake, what to expect from Alan Wake 2, and how exactly this game exists as the centerpiece of the so-called “Remedy Extended Universe,” we’ve got you covered. Here’s the what you need to know before Alan Wake makes his long-awaited re-emergence from the depths of darkness.

What happened in the original Alan Wake?

In the first game, players assume the role of Alan Wake, the bestselling writer of a series of crime fiction novels centered on a hardboiled detective named Alex Casey. Alan is suffering from a two-year period of writer’s block and, in an attempt to get the ol’ creative juices flowing again and patch things up with his wife Alice, goes on a trip to the small town of Bright Falls, Washington for a short vacation.

After acquainting themselves with the townsfolk, Alan and Alice arrive at their lodgings: a cabin situated on an island in the middle of a volcanic crater lake known locally as Cauldron Lake. After settling in, Alan and Alice get into an argument over the latter’s attempt to arrange a meeting with Dr. Emil Hartman, a psychologist who specializes in working with patients with careers as artists. Alan storms off, only to hear Alice’s screams as the sky darkens and the cabin is descended upon by a violent flock of birds. Alan arrives just in time to see Alice fling herself into Cauldron Lake before diving in after her. Here’s where things get weird.

Alan Wake shines a flashlight at a group of axe-wielding assailants in Alan Wake: Remastered. Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games

Alan wakes up behind the wheel of his crashed car on the outskirts of Cauldron Lake, with no idea how he got there or how much time has passed since. As Alan attempts to find help, he finds himself stalked by members of the town who seemed to have been possessed by some strange, shadowy presence. Along the way, Alan discovers manuscript pages scattered around Bright Falls, seemingly written by himself, which seem to predict the future before it happens. Journeying across Bright Falls in search of answers and evading capture by a rogue FBI agent named Robert Nightingale, Alan learns that after he dove into Cauldron Lake to save Alice, he was transported to an extradimensional realm known as The Dark Place (Think Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge, but more incorporeal). There, Alan was possessed by a supernatural entity known as the Dark Presence, which forced him to write a manuscript for a horror novel titled Departure in exchange for Alice’s safe return. The Dark Presence feeds off of the creative energies of writers and artists in order to manifest itself in the physical world. Alan managed to rouse himself from his fugue and escaped from the lake after being imprisoned there for a week, which is just before Alan wakes up in his car.

With the help of a group of allies, including his publicist and best friend Barry Wheeler, Bright Falls Sheriff Sarah Breaker, musician brothers Odin and Tor Anderson, and a lamp-touting old lady named Cynthia Weaver (think Twin Peaks’ The Log Lady), Alan returns to the depths of Cauldron Lake and manages to defeat the Dark Presence, freeing Alice from its clutches. Unfortunately, Alan himself was left stranded in the Dark Place… where he has been ever since. Oh, and the Darkness spawns a murderous doppelganger of Alan named Mr. Scratch that just wanders the world wreaking havoc and tormenting Alan’s loved ones.

Alan Wake 2 acknowledges the passage of time

Alan Wake walking through a dark city surrounded by billboards of a horror movie titled “The Cult” in Alan Wake 2. Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games

Alan Wake 2 takes place 13 years after the in-game events of Alan Wake. Obviously a lot has happened in the world since, and this new game explicitly acknowledges the passage of time. Set in present day, Alan Wake 2 follows the story of not only Alan Wake as he once again attempts to escape the Dark Place, but also a new character in the from of Saga Anderson, a talented FBI agent who arrives at Bright Falls to investigate a series of murders — one of which includes former FBI agent Robert Nightingale at the hands of a mysterious cult with apparent ties to the Dark Presence.

Alan Wake 2 will be a survival horror game

While the original Alan Wake could be described as an action-adventure shooter with strong horror elements, Alan Wake 2 is a full-blown horror game. Players will switch between the perspectives of Alan Wake and Saga Anderson at various points in the story. The emphasis on horror is clear from the gameplay seen at Summer Game Fest, as Saga Anderson faces off against a hulking, trench coat-wearing figure with a deer mask who is possessed by the Dark Presence from the first game.

We see Saga alternate between firing on the assailant with her pistol and using her flashlight to burn away at the shield of darkness surrounding their body, similar to the first game, but we also see hints at new mechanics as well, such as Saga recovering a severed heart at the bottom of a freezer and collecting it as evidence.

Alan Wake 2 is directly connected to the events of Control

Jesse Faden aiming the service weapon at a enemy possessed by the Hiss in Control. Image: Remedy Entertainment/505 Games

Alan Wake 2 and Remedy’s Control exist in the same shared universe, but the connection between the two runs much deeper than that. During the second DLC expansion for Control, an add-on known as AWE, players control protagonist Jesse Faden as she explores the Investigations Sector of The Oldest House in search for answers regarding an “Altered World Event” (aka AWE) connected to Bright Falls, Washington — yep, the setting of Alan Wake. Over the course of the expansion, Jesse not only faces off against a monstrous version of Dr. Emil Hartman, but uncovers pages from a manuscript presumably written by Alan Wake which suggest that the events of Control were in fact a story written by Alan Wake as a way of escaping the Dark Place organically reifying himself back into reality after the events of the first game. In other words: Alan Wake created the world of Control in order to get back to his own reality.

Control’s AWE expansion ends with a cutscene where Jesse is notified that a new Altered World Event has been detected in Bright Falls, this time dated “a couple of years in the future.” The events of Control take place in and around Halloween 2019, which suggests that the AWE detection at the end of expansion refers to the events of Alan Wake 2. Whatever happens in Alan Wake 2, Alan himself will likely play a major role in the story of Control going forward, to say nothing of his possible role in the events of the upcoming Control 2.