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Alan Wake, played by a live actor, sits at a desk typing Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games Publishing

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Alan Wake’s half of Alan Wake 2 is very Alan Wake

Remedy Entertainment’s sinister sequel gamifies the writing process

Alan Wake has been trapped in the Dark Place for 13 years. He’s ditched his slouchy hoodie for a button-down, but kept the funny jacket with the old-fashioned elbow patches. Inky hair frames his face as he wanders through a hostile dream world, clutching a puzzle-solving lamp and a revolver. This is the other side of Alan Wake 2’s story, running parallel to FBI agent Saga Anderson’s Pacific Northwest trek to investigate a series of ritualistic murders.

A new preview we recently checked out focused on Wake’s portion of the game, set in the Dark Place, which appears to Wake as a hard-boiled vision of the Big Apple. New York is Wake’s former home and the setting of the Alex Casey crime novel series that gave him his reputation as a writer. While there, Wake needs to leverage his power to rewrite reality and escape this place to reunite with his wife, Alice, but it won’t be easy, given that his surroundings are actively working against him.

The Taken return from Alan Wake as flickering silhouettes that wander the Dark Place, which you must expose with your lamp before disposing of the bodies beneath. “Have you lost the plot?” they’ll sneer as they throw you to the ground. Adding to the paranoid atmosphere, illuminated Taken often look like Wake, and non-hostile entities called Fade-Outs follow you, taunting and goading you into wasting precious light or ammo. Subtle cues differentiate them from the base enemies, so perceptive players can pick their battles.

Alan Wake 2’s combat is Remedy’s take on Resident Evil 4, with an over-the-shoulder camera, heavy recoil, and a lifesaving dodge. Alan Wake’s worst quality was its tedious combat, where hordes of Taken would constantly surround the player and club them to death. In the sequel, the Taken appear slower but more erratic and deadly, lurching and teleporting toward Wake to catch him off guard.

A zoomed-out street scene shows Alan Wake standing in the rain Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games Publishing

There also seems to be an inventory system, with Wake picking up a health item from a subway locker during the demo. Near the Thermos, which you’ll use to save, an interactive shoebox appears in Alan Wake 2’s break rooms, which may be a lore-friendly storage solution or a means to transfer items between the two protagonists.

That old trope of narrative graffiti is given a refresh to show how the Dark Place is manipulating Wake and impeding his escape. From the blunt “Don’t Write” and “You Die Here” to the “Return” and “Initiation” tags that taunt Wake about the parts of the monomyth he is yet to actualize, there’s a sinister breadth to the Dark Place’s forces of coercion. Nearly every piece of Dark Place copy, from the infographic posters to the text on subway cards, has some mind-tickling reference to dialogue from the first game that hammers home Wake’s indoctrinated state of confusion. Throughout the 40-minute hands-off demo, my eyes were darting around constantly, trying to catch every word.

The Dark Place is something of an open world, with an on-screen pointer guiding Wake toward erratic light sources, which you can then store in Wake’s Angel Lamp. Remember the Clicker, the severed light switch from the first game? The Angel Lamp is what used to be attached to it. Indicated by a bulb symbol on-screen, Wake can transfer captured light charges to other locations to solve puzzles. Hold the A button and a trash pile becomes a subway entrance, and so on.

The puzzling gets even deeper with the Writer’s Room, a pocket dimension Wake can dip into at any point that takes the shape of the study in Bird Leg Cabin, where Wake found himself trapped at the end of the first game. The Writer’s Room is similar in function to Saga Anderson’s Mind Palace, but instead of a case board we have a plot board complete with hastily pinned cue cards. By nervously exploring its corridors, Wake can find story threads or “Echoes” in the Dark Place and use collected nuggets of information to rewrite scenes, opening new pathways in the environment.

Inside the subway entrance, the Caldera Station scene’s blocked exit could be altered with the Missing FBI Agent cue card, clearing the way and adding a bloody trail, finessed by an overlain typewriter animation. There is always only one correct answer, but trying every option will yield extra bits of lore.

Curiously, “Initiation - Draft 1” appeared at the top of the plot board in our demo. The implication of a numbered draft system might suggest that we could be unlocking and revisiting areas with new information to arrive at a final manuscript, similar to the looping approach to the “rewrite reality” mechanic seen in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.

Elsewhere in our preview, Wake comes to a green room for a late-night talk show called In-Between with Mr. Door. Confused, he interacts with a TV set, and we cut seamlessly to one of Alan Wake 2’s live-action sequences. Like a Lynchian Letterman, David Harewood’s Mr. Door asks Wake about his new novel, Initiation, “an auto-fictional thought experiment” that Wake is sure he didn’t write, or at least hasn’t yet.

Harewood’s malevolent performance (and an Easter egg in 2019’s Control) indicates that Door has omniscient knowledge of the Remedy Connected Universe. He taunts Wake about how “meta” it is for Wake to suggest that the world of the book overlaps with reality. “Are we all in your story, Alan?” he says, sledgehammer primed on the last few bricks in the fourth wall. Following our preview, creative director Sam Lake explained that Remedy wants to keep players “off balance” as Alan Wake 2 blurs the line between mediums. This tracks, as there were points in the demo where I wasn’t sure if I was looking at Ilkka Villi (Alan Wake’s likeness) or Alan Wake.

Keen to play a part in this disarming atmosphere, Lake appears in Alan Wake 2 as Alex Casey, the protagonist of Wake’s crime novels, seemingly brought to life by the Dark Place. Casey is a detective with Lake’s face, Max Payne voice actor James McCaffrey’s voice, and Max Payne’s clothes, completing a tongue-in-cheek referential trifecta. And in this twisted mirror of New York City, he’s investigating Wake and the mysterious Cult of the Word.

A zoomed-out shot shows Alan Wake looking at photos on a wall Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games Publishing

Then there’s also another Alex Casey, an FBI agent played by Lake and voiced by McCaffrey, who is assisting Saga Anderson with her investigation into an analogous Cult of the Tree, in what we’ll cautiously call the real world, for now. Even Shawn Ashmore, the actor who portrayed Quantum Break protagonist Jack Joyce, popped up as a new character called Tim Breaker, a man found deep in the Dark Place subway building a map to a dream. Tim’s last name allows for a potential connection to Sheriff Sarah Breaker from Alan Wake and her father, Frank Breaker, a former Federal Bureau of Control agent.

Fortunately, you won’t need to know your Sarah Breakers from your Jesse Fadens if you want to play Alan Wake 2. Lake and game director Kyle Rowley pointed out that the philosophy behind building the Remedy Connected Universe is that everything within it needs to feel contained.

In Control, Remedy introduced the Oceanview Motel, a Place of Power that acts as a sort of nexus for the Remedy Connected Universe. One door leads to Control’s Oldest House, and another, denoted by a spiral, leads to Alan Wake in Control’s AWE DLC. The motel has four other doors, ostensibly teasing Remedy’s future projects, which include Control 2, Condor, and Vanguard.

The motel’s appearance in Alan Wake 2 was confirmed by the game’s latest trailer, so I asked Lake if we will be able to explore it in October. “This is a Remedy Connected Universe experience, so Alan Wake and Control are part of it,” Lake said. “We have versions of certain elements coming into play, Oceanview being one of them, and you get to visit a Dark Place version [of the motel] and explore plenty.”

As we reach the end of our demo, Wake plunges deeper into Caldera Station, its architecture transforming into a Daedalian maze, like the Otherworld of Silent Hill. Bone-chilling scratching sounds eke out of corners as the darkness itches across its floors. Wake passes ax-man murals before an encounter with a familiar corpse on an altar, and a Pacific Northwest forest begins to bleed into the concrete mausoleum.

A hotline rings, and Saga Anderson’s voice pierces the veil. Wake speaks to her, begging for help across this bridge between realities. In response, Wake’s old apartment building rises from the rubble in the Dark Place, providing the next objective. His tormented tenure is far from over.

Remedy has entered into the unreliable narrator olympics with Alan Wake 2, and the result looks to be like a dream that you wake up desperate to understand.

Alan Wake 2 will be released Oct. 27 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Alan Wake 2’s release date. We’ve updated the story with the correct date.