This is a spoiler-free review of Alan Wake Remastered
When Alan Wake launched in 2010, it presented Xbox 360 players with a unique third-person action-horror experience, the likes of which we haven't seen since. The title garnered great reviews, and is regarded as a cult classic nowadays, as are many other Remedy Entertainment games. Understandably, when rumors of Alan Wake Remastered began circulating towards the beginning of the year, there was a lot of excitement among consumers. Now that it's available on consoles and PC, how does it stand the test of time? Read on to find out.
Alan Wake is heavily inspired by important works of fiction by Stephen King, episodes of The Twilight Zone, the show Twin Peaks, and much more. The town of Bright Falls seems like a harmless setting for a game, but there are a lot of mysterious forces at play. While Alan questions his sanity, a Dark Presence has plans of its own. You'll have to explore the world to unravel this supernatural mystery.
Story and gameplay
For those unfamiliar with Alan Wake's gameplay, the title relies on traversing contained environments, looking for pages of a mysterious manuscript, while using light — and firearms — to fight shadow creatures. The namesake character awakens from a car crash to find that his wife, Alice, is missing. During his search through a Twin Peaks-like town, Alan encounters a number of quirky characters who guide him on his journey. You explore dark forests and remote cabins along the way. Alan Wake is a linear game, but encourages you to venture off the beaten path to find hidden supplies and collectibles.
You have to constantly scour for resources in order to stay alive. It seems like an endless number of shadow figures attack you at any given time, so it's best to stock up on batteries and bullets. Once in a while, you'll come across a flare gun. Since light is the primary weapon against the dark creatures, you can use it like a grenade. It's so satisfying! Additionally, walking into the light also heals you and acts as a safe haven.
In order to take out these foes, you have to focus your flashlight on them and then shoot when they're disoriented. Remedy is known for its stylish action sequences, and Alan Wake is no different. After almost every kill, you're rewarded with a gorgeous slow-motion effect when the beasts dissolve into thin air.
The lines between dreams and reality are blurred in this game. At any given time, you'll be hard-pressed to ascertain the truth. This is why Alan Wake is such a compelling experience in my opinion. It's hard to put the controller down once you pick it up because you want to know how it ends.
I originally played Alan Wake in college and was enthralled by the story. It got my heart racing because it was terrifying. However, playing it again a decade later made me appreciate it even more because there are a lot of Easter eggs and other secrets that I missed the first time around. Plus, the visual upgrades and smoothness that Alan Wake Remastered offers gives long-time fans a reason to go back.
As mentioned above, Alan Wake contains numerous Easter eggs. While there are too many to list because the game takes inspiration from so many different forms of media, there are a few that stand out the most. The first is a scene during a cutscene where a deranged lunatic tries to murder you with an axe. The way the clip plays out looks exactly like Jack Nicholson in The Shining trying to kill his wife by breaking down the door.
The second, and most significant one, has to be the fictional Night Springs show in the game. It's identical to The Twilight Zone in every way. A narrator who's clearly imitating Rod Serling presents strange scenarios and talks about the lessons learned. The music and visuals are also similar.
It's details like these that give Alan Wake a new layer of depth. It's clear that Sam Lake and the original development team put a lot of effort into making sure the game paid homage to iconic pop culture moments.
Performance and visuals
Alan Wake Remastered looks great on modern displays. The game appears to be running at a high resolution and 60 frames per second (FPS) on Xbox Series X. According to the title's website, the render resolution is 1440p, but with post-processing effects to enhance the image quality. During my roughly 13-hour playthrough, I didn't encounter any noticeable FPS drops, and the bugs were limited to audio being out of sync during cutscenes. Luckily, the team has assured me that there's going to be a patch to address this close to launch.
The game looks sharp and smooth on a 4K TV, and features high-resolution textures to match. It's hard to tell that it's just rendering at 1440p. However, some last-generation relics remain. For example, the ground is flatter than usual where there isn't any foliage. The overall aesthetic reminds you of an experience like Dark Souls Remastered or Mafia II: Definitive Edition. The visuals are crisp, but they lack the complexity found in other remasters like Diablo II: Resurrected or even native Xbox One games like Far Cry 5.
Alan Wake Remastered brings new face models and that really enhances the experience, especially during cutscenes. Everything looks much more detailed, which adds to the immersion. However, during gameplay, the lip-sync is quite basic. There's definitely an unresolved dichotomy between the two which can be a little jarring to witness, especially during the opening scenes of the game.
Alan Wake Remastered, just like the original, relies a lot on contrast — a dance between light and shadow — and would've greatly benefited from high-dynamic-range (HDR) lighting. This feature is missing from the remaster. In my opinion, Remedy should've gone the extra mile to enable HDR on Xbox Series X because it would've elevated the visuals even further. With that said, the contrast is still great, but you're left wondering about what could've been.
The same goes for ray-tracing support. According to Remedy, adding HDR or ray tracing "would've taken resources away from other critical areas." This is understandable since it's a $29.99 game, but you're still competing against other titles out there, especially other remasters. Given the quality of Remedy's past endeavors — and the high visual bar the studio has set with Quantum Break and Control — I was expecting more. I realize this is an unreasonable request, however, other teams have done it. For example, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a remaster but overhauls the original's Xbox 360 visuals in a striking manner. It looks like a completely different game.
Overall, the changes are such that it might seem as though Alan Wake Remastered merely exists to generate hype for the franchise as a whole. It's unclear if there's a proper sequel in development, but given the fact that Remedy now owns the rights to the series, the chances are high. It may depend on how well Alan Wake Remastered sells.
The environment plays an important role in building suspense and concealing secrets, including enemies. When you're exploring the forests surrounding Bright Falls at night, you'll notice that there's a dense fog that hampers visibility. The darkness coupled with the fact that you can't really see that far into the distance creates a tremendous amount of tension. For me, this was the most harrowing aspect of Alan Wake. Then again, I'm frequently scared while watching horror films.
The remaster's clearer visuals help ease some of that tension, but the gameplay still manages to maintain most of it. There's nothing worse than running low on bullets and having to take on half a dozen creatures in a closed-off intersection. Do you run or do you fight? That's the question you'll have to answer during almost every combat scenario. If you choose to engage every enemy, you may not have enough resources to tackle the next area. This can lead to a lot of challenging situations.
The music is another important component of Alan Wake. It's not an afterthought like many titles and suits the mood of the game perfectly. Usually, it's slow-paced, but when an unexpected event occurs, whether it's birds flying away or a mysterious force destroying a park ranger's outpost, the score changes to one that's equally dramatic. The action and sounds have a high degree of cohesion.
The Finnish band Poets of the Fall contributed to Alan Wake's music and they did a phenomenal job. In the Alan Wake universe, they're referred to as the Old Gods of Asgard. However, this collaboration wasn't without its controversy.
In May 2017, Remedy announced that Alan Wake would be delisted from all platforms because of expiring music licenses. However, a year after this announcement, the title was available again for purchase. It's unclear what behind-the-scenes negotiations took place, but that incident gave everyone a scare. It's great to see that the music is available in this remaster.
New content and lingering issues
Alan Wake wasn't a perfect game when it launched a decade ago, and some of the original's problems still plague the remaster. For example, the voice acting is either superb or questionable. The main characters do a great job, but when it comes to smaller roles, they just aren't as believable, especially when some individuals are crying out in pain.
For example, Alan's friend and agent, Barry Wheeler, sounds natural during his hilarious interactions with the writer. But a character like Rusty, the Elderwood National Park Ranger, feels forced when he's injured and terrified. Alan Wake features a lot of unnerving moments, and this is where even main characters like Alice don't deliver a convincing portrayal.
Alan Wake is a writer, so it's understandable that he can't hold a weapon properly. A lot of the input lag issues seem to have been resolved from Xbox 360 given the bump to 60 FPS, but aiming and shooting still isn't ideal. Unlike recent Remedy titles, shooting feels clunky and you waste a lot of bullets. Even taking your time to line a shot — if an enemy's far away — doesn't offer any reprieve. The controls need to be a little tighter because opening cupboards and turning on devices also feels imprecise.
Alan Wake featured good gameplay due to its unique using-light-to-weaken-or-kill-enemies mechanic back in 2010, but aside from the natural reduction in input lag the boost to 60 FPS offers, there aren't any noticeable quality-of-life changes. Alan Wake Remastered doesn't really need tweaking due to the quality of the original, but I would've liked to see Remedy tighten the controls when it comes to interacting with objects.
Alan Wake Remastered contains The Signal and The Writer expansions. They don't offer a concrete resolution to the events of the base game, but provide some more insights into the mind of the protagonist. You'll probably have to play Alan Wake: American Nightmare — a standalone sequel — through Xbox Backward Compatibility to get a complete understanding. Nevertheless, they enhance the value of the package that costs just $29.99 on all platforms.
There's also developer commentary from the game's writer and director, Sam Lake, included, so you gain additional insight into the development process. This can be toggled from the menu. Existing fans will have a blast listening to Lake discuss the atmosphere, environments, and mechanics of Alan Wake Remastered.
The original Xbox 360 version required only 6 GB, but the Xbox Series X version comes in at around 39 GB. This is mostly due to the high-resolution textures and audio files. Storage space on current-generation consoles is a precious resource, so it's important to be cognizant of this issue.
The product placements have also been removed so you won't see any Energizer batteries and Verizon billboards. All of them appear to have been replaced with generic versions. I viewed this as a positive because it's less distracting. You can just focus on the narrative of Alan Wake Remastered instead of questioning why he's using an obscure VZ Navigator.
Alan Wake Remastered is an excellent game, but mostly because the original was simply incredible. However, when it comes to re-releases, it's important to take into account what changes have been made and how it stacks up against other remasters. This is where Alan Wake Remastered slightly suffers.
I don't think the upgrades are significant enough, and those expecting a next-generation version will be disappointed. While the game runs at 1440p 60 FPS, it lacks HDR and complex lighting. Luckily, the higher frame rate makes aiming your flashlight and shooting enemies more precise.
The thrilling story is the reason you should pick up Alan Wake Remastered if you haven't played it already. If you really loved the original, then this version is the best way to experience the cult classic. I was just hoping for a visual upgrade close to Control or Quantum Break given Remedy's focus on quality and pushing the envelope.
Usually, it's easy to offer a recommendation, but with this game, it's a little tricky. It all depends on what you're looking for. To me, playing Xbox 360 games on a 4K display is too distracting. I'm a stickler for resolution so Alan Wake Remastered is the best way for me to experience this classic. However, that may not be the case for everyone. I'd definitely recommend picking it up if you've never played Alan Wake, but if you have and don't really care about resolution or frame rate, then the Xbox 360 version is still a blast through backward compatibility.
You can purchase Alan Wake Remastered from the Microsoft Store or the platform of your choice for $29.99. The game launches on October 5, 2021 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.
Epic Games Publishing provided a review code for Alan Wake Remastered. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.