‘Alan Wake Remastered’ review: a classic renewed for another generation

"In a horror story the victim keeps asking why, but there can be no explanation and there shouldn't be one"

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here are things I feel developer Remedy Entertainment probably would change about Alan Wake given time and budget, yet Alan Wake Remastered serves as a reminder that sometimes it’s best to not tinker with things too much at all. Make no mistake, a decade later this title is still a classic worthy of spending many an evening pushing through, but it’s also still not without faults.

Narrative-wise, Alan Wake is a fairly impenetrable experience. In the moment you’ll have a decent understanding of what’s going on, enough to get scared, but not enough to ever fully comprehend things. Coming back ten years later, with further context delivered by Control’s AWE expansion content and even the quasi-sequel Alan Wake’s American Nightmare I finally felt like I had a better working theory of what was happening, or had happened, once the credits had rolled.

In fact, playing both of those other games makes the story of Alan Wake itself make more sense, and coming back to it all this time later, armed with the knowledge of what was going to happen, I had light-bulb moments, which is a testament to how well written it is. Sure, it’s bizarre and, at times highly pretentious, but I have to credit the story because it holds up well and is a reminder that the “Remedy Weirdness” has been around for some time now. Scattered throughout the world are pages of a book Wake doesn’t remember writing that can’t be described as “foreshadowing” because they quite literally tell you what is going to happen next in the story. It’s a weird experience but brilliant despite and because of it.

Alan Wake Remastered - arriving at the Diner
Alan Wake Remastered. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

Ultimately, Alan Wake Remastered is a third-person narrative-based shooter, thrusting a fiction-writer into a bizarre world where he has to suddenly fight off the darkness, both literally and figuratively. Wake is armed, predominantly, with a flashlight to “stun” the darkness and open it up to taking damage. Human-shaped enemies will lurch violently at you through the darkness, their wispy translucent figures twitching and convulsing as they attack. They will throw axes from afar, or might appear from the woods causing a cinematic camera spin to reveal them, while a string section pulses horror-tinged high notes to alert you to the danger.

Once you’ve shone your light on them, that’s an opening to use whatever firepower is on offer. Pistols, shotguns, rifles, and the fantastic flare gun (which is always in short ammo, because it’s both a light and a gun) are offered up, and you’ll find them like metaphorical beacons of light in the darkness. You’ll need to replenish both your munitions and flashlight batteries on a regular basis, but the combat is spaced in such a way that you’re never far from a handy light source with a supply box on it, or one of the hidden caches that will net you a decent power-weapon and a refill of batteries.

In some ways, Alan Wake Remastered is a reminder of how games used to be made. The time between encounters works, but it’s also hugely on the nose to have a box of goodies after each fight. While the entire story will have your palms sweaty thanks to the tension never letting up, eventually you do come to an agreement with the title itself. As though you’ve had a conversation whereby you’ve said: “Look, I’ll be scared and on edge, but you give me ammo when I nearly run out, okay?”, and it always does.

Alan Wake Remastered - man versus machine
Alan Wake Remastered. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

That’s not to say it’s ever bad, or dumb; merely of its time. It looks fantastic, even in a year where some truly stunning games are being released, as long as you don’t look too closely during the daytime sections. The faces and animations are just off: there’s no way to dress it up. In broad daylight, while the environments themselves are detailed to an acceptable level, the faces have been worked on, but still don’t look right. At night (where the majority of it takes place) it doesn’t look out of date on the PlayStation 5 at all. Shadows and lighting have always been something developer Remedy has been known for, and Alan Wake Remastered shows that as a studio it was the master of both, even in 2010.

Fans returning to Alan Wake might be hoping for some changes, but really, it doesn’t feel like that’s what this remaster is for. The text and mini-map are smaller and tucked better into the corner, but the controls are still a little strange. Wake’s torch basically is the camera, and this makes for some awkward aiming, though there’s a decent aim assist when it comes to actually shooting. The PlayStation 5 DualSense is used sparingly but it is noticeable throughout, offering feedback to the movement and combat.

Strangely, Wake never feels like he’s in the right place. You can click the right stick to change which shoulder the camera is hovering over, but at times it feels overly cinematic; too intent on showing you how great it looks and not making sense due to it. At one moment, Remedy is clearly playing with the camera to show off a movie-like feel, but this actually pushes Wake halfway off-screen. That means the character you are playing as, and controlling, is barely in frame.

Alan Wake Remastered - Deerfest shootout
Alan Wake Remastered. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

Both of the included extra episodes flesh the narrative out a little bit, but can also just cause more confusion. It’s a tremendous value proposition, mind you, with loads of collectibles strewn about the world. I still feel, even ten years on, collectibles in this kind of game devalue the atmosphere slightly, but there was no chance they were going to be removed, even if the in-game marketing deals with Energizer and Verizon are gone.

But atmosphere is what Alan Wake Remastered is all about. Entire “Twin Peaks” style TV-shows made for the in-game televisions to play while you just stand and watch make Bright Falls feel a unique and real location that existed before you booted the game up. The bizarre “End of Episode” and “Previously on Alan Wake” vignettes have remained in place, reminding everyone of the game’s TV show stylings – which Remedy explored in depth with Quantum Break, their next title.

Alan Wake Remastered is a cult classic for a reason. Ten years later, with updated visuals, there are no more cracks showing than existed for the original release. PlayStation owners finally get a chance to see how the “Remedy Cinematic Universe” truly began, and while Alan Wake 2 will need to make small changes, here’s hoping everyone’s favourite writer will be back in a new game real soon.

Alan Wake is available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X on October 5. We reviewed it on PlayStation 5.

The Verdict

Alan Wake Remastered is still a fantastically playable game a decade later. With updated visuals, all the DLC, and some small tweaks, it’s a chance for newcomers to find out what the fuss was all about, and for fans to conveniently play a classic through again armed with knowledge from the more recent games in the developer’s oeuvre.

Pros

  • Looks and sounds fantastic
  • Wonderfully weird and charismatic
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Story is confusing
  • Camera controls are clumsy
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