Last week, a fairly significant video game anniversary passed most of us by. Not Pac-Man’s birthday, the iconic, eternally hungry yellow blob turning 40-years-old on May 22. But May 14, 10 years since the release of 2010’s Alan Wake. Aka modern gaming’s never-explicitly-asked for Stephen King simulator. Aka Remedy Studios’ hyper detailed love letter to director David Lynch’s hugely influential, episodic fever dream Twin Peaks (with barely subtle nods to the Finnish studios’ love of The Twilight Zone, Lost, The Shining and H.P. Lovecraft peppered throughout too). Aka one of the very best action adventures that could be enjoyed on gaming’s seventh generation of consoles (as long as that console was an Xbox 360, for whom the IP was an exclusive; Alan Wake is a throwback to times when Microsoft would really fight for its user base…). It’s an anniversary worth taking notice of.
Despite the game’s notoriously troubled development – having decided on an open world approach for Alan’s debut adventure, Remedy famously binned three years of development, added a rod of linearity and finished the thing just shy of five – Alan Wake was one of the 360’s finest moments. The idea of Alan-as-sandbox is intriguing, yet strange given the central character’s occupation and the points the game wants to make about narrative.
I haven’t played Alan Wake in a long time now, probably not since I finished it, and yet recently I’ve found his story – best-selling (albeit terribly dressed) thriller novelist becomes embroiled in a mystery concerning his wife’s disappearance during a retreat in the small, Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, Washington – at the forefront of my mind. A few hours after I finished this piece, I was perusing Xbox Game Pass to see what had been added to the service within the last few days. And there was Alan Wake. Which is a very Alan Wake thing to happen.
Not that I knew that was coming – and so why has Alan Wake been so often on my mind? That’ll be Remedy’s most recent release, 2019’s Control – a title that I think needs only the slightest of tweaks, that being the level of difficulty being taken marginally down during a handful of infuriating, late stage boss fights, and it’s a perfect video game. Control in fact, is one of those releases where you’d swear blind that actual magic can be found within the code.
As strange, slow burn, mystery adventures go, I can’t think of many games I’ve enjoyed more. It is once again completely in thrall to Twin Peaks – more in terms of tone than content this time around – as well as the film Inception (2010), again, Lost, the books Borne (Jeff VanderMeer, 2017), Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer, 2014) and Mark Z. Danielewski’s incomparable 2000 puzzler House Of Leaves. Someone on the Remedy art team definitely has some books on Brutalist architecture overdue at their local library, too.
From what I remember (though I’ve got no reason not to revisit now), Alan Wake isn’t a perfect video game. Our hero is much more Dan Brown – no, more Richard Madeley fronting a tense segment of the Richard And Judy Book Club – than he is ‘The King Of Horror’. The story is also ridiculous, encompassing some of the worst traits the fantasy genre has to offer. Does something within Alan’s story just not make any sense? Don’t worry, fantasy can free you from any story arc that’s long since stopped making any sense, so frequently adrift is Alan’s orbit within the universe the game exists in. And so why does Alan Wake deserve a tenth birthday present?
Well, its ambition is the equal to its flaws. It’s extremely enjoyable. Genuinely scary; in the woods, in the dark, where every branch and every shrub looks like foe. It weaponised the use of light in a way I’d never known in games before it. Alan’s dipshit-agent-cum-best-friend Barry steals the scene of everything he appears in.
Control is a game that contains an entire sweet shop of Easter Eggs dedicated to Alan Wake. Whether these details were always intended to be found in the later release – or, as I suspect, were retconned cleverly in later when the team could see their intellectual universe expanding – the two games make sense being now conjoined. (In truth, all of Remedy’s games are intertwined with other curios from their other games – the Max Payne series (2001–2012), Quantum Break (2016) – but nothing one the scale of their most recent game. Which is perhaps, logical; Alan Wake concerns a huge, unexplained paranormal incident). Control explores the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a secret US government agency tasked with containing and studying phenomena that violate the laws of reality.
To date, Control has seen one bona fide DLC release, March’s ‘The Foundation’, but it’s strongly rumoured that there’s another, entitled ‘AWE’ to follow. Of course, any Control player will know that construct of letters is the acronym ‘Altered World Event’, the obtainment and confinement of which forms the Bureau’s principal reason for existing, but there’s plenty of potential within them that the DLC is specifically Alan Wake related. And, y’know, the sleeve has got a big bloody lighthouse on the cover…
Alan Wake never got the sequel many expected he and it would have. The stories say that Remedy jumped right on it upon closing their book on the first game, got distracted, made a strange zombie wave shooter thing called Alan Wake’s American Nightmare for Xbox Live Arcade in 2012, then moved onto Quantum Break. I was never especially bothered we didn’t get to see another game with him at the helm. Nice guy, not charismatic enough to keep my reading in the long-term. No Dean Koontz.
After immersing myself in the shared world of Control for months now, I can’t say I feel the same anymore. Control is such a good game – and one that really does suggest that Remedy are a studio in rare form right now – that the idea of taking the core wonder of Alan’s first outing, but refracting and correcting its mistakes and making something that accentuated the many things that made Alan’s outlet so enjoyable all those years ago? It’s time Remedy. It’s time.
Alan Wake is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360.