Alan Wake 2 looks good. Really good. Good enough to rival even the stellar Resident Evil remake series in terms of its survival horror prestige. The original Alan Wake has written itself into the heart of both horror fans and narrative game lovers over the 13 years since it was released, and effortlessly gets included in best Xbox 360 game plaudits from consumers and critics alike. So why did it take over 10 years for a sequel – a proper sequel, at least – to manifest?
“Alan Wake always felt like a special project,” Remedy Entertainment creative director and lead writer, Sam Lake, tells me. “We always had plans to do more of it. We had a concept right after the first one, and the timing clearly wasn’t right. We ended up taking some of those ideas – in much smaller scope – and used them in American Nightmare.”
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was a downloadable follow-up and spin-off to its predecessor, far smaller in scope than the original game, and with an experimental and off-the-wall story. Par for the course with this developer, then. But it wasn’t a proper sequel, and in the years since it arrived on the Xbox 360, fans have been clamouring for something more full-fat. And, at the Game Awards 2021, the fans got their wish.
But, behind the scenes, Sam Lake had already tried to get Alan Wake 2 off the ground three other times. “In the pitch of Alan Wake, back then, after American Nightmare, there was this idea of using in-between game episodes of live action to tell the story,” Lake explains. “That’s something that Microsoft, back then, was really impressed with. But Microsoft was not so keen on more Alan Wake. So that idea turned into Quantum Break, instead.”
There’s another Alan Wake 2 connection to Quantum Break, too, in the form of Kyle Rowley – the game director on Remedy’s latest, and lead designer back on the controversial, cult Xbox One game that experimented heavily with live action interludes. But, even after making this new IP and satisfying Microsoft’s desire for multi-format media, Lake was still itching to make Alan Wake 2. Per Rowley himself, “[Lake’s] been wanting to do this for 13 years!”
But something more action-focused and more open-ended came next, instead. Alan Wake fans despaired as Control was announced in 2018 and Remedy (keen to experiment with time- and cost-saving development techniques with this ‘New Weird’ curio) got the game out the door in 2019.
“After Quantum Break, we created a version of Alan Wake 2 that was more action-focused and less linear, and we ourselves ended up thinking that this approach also didn’t feel very Alan Wake,” says Lake. “So we took some of these design ideas and created a new IP around them, which is Control. And because that Alan Wake connection already existed, we wanted to set both games in the game universe.”
Control was a hit – and you’d never be able to tell this triple-A hit was developed in three years on a relatively modest €30 million budget. With little references to Alan Wake dotted around the imposing brutalist trappings of The Oldest House for the eagle-eyed, it was clear Remedy was cooking something up – doing the groundwork for something big. Something characteristically weird.
“All the pieces fit, bit by bit: Control had elements of Alan Wake, it had a connected universe, we got the publishing rights to the original game back, and we were able to create a remaster for a wider audience. And we knew we were making a sequel. All of these things really set it up. That’s why that second DLC [for Control] was such a crossover; we knew we were working on a sequel, and we wanted to set it up.”
Remedy has learned a lot in the interceding 13 years between Alan Wake games. It’s learned how to lower production costs, it’s learned how to shorten development times (Alan Wake was seven years, Quantum Break was five years, Control was three years), and Lake has had the time to really reflect on what he wants Alan Wake 2 to be.
“I have to say I’m so happy that none of those [initial four] concepts that we had for Alan Wake 2 ended up being a full game,” he laughs, after taking us through this labyrinthine timeline. “Because with this one, I feel, we found so many new ways – so many new and exciting, interesting ways – of telling the story and creating this game. I’m happy that we have to wait over 10 years to get started!”
From what I’ve seen so far, Alan Wake 2 will deliver on everything I want from the series; part-Scandi crime thriller, part-Midsommar mind-fuck, and 100% Remedy ‘New Weird’, it’s set to deliver on a promise the studio has been trying to fulfil for 13 years.
Alan Wake 2 is out October 17, and will be available digital-only on PS5, PC, and Xbox Series X/S.