For a game as couched in flashbacks and retrospective narration, there’s something that feels entirely appropriate about Alan Wake getting remastered and re-released – it’s a chance to take another look at a story that always wanted to leave people searching for answers.
Remedy Entertainment, the game’s developer, has dropped back into the shadowy world it created all the way back in 2010 and remastered it for most modern platforms – including PS4 and PS5 releases that mark the first time it’s been playable on PlayStation hardware. How does Alan Wake Remastered hold up to the ravages of time, though?
A murky tale
It’s great fun sinking back into the mysterious climes of Bright Falls again after so long. Alan Wake, the player-character whose name graces the game’s title, is a celebrated mystery writer that Remedy is pretty clearly placing in the Stephen King bracket of fame and fortune.
He’s got writer’s block, though, so is taking a trip to the middle of nowhere to switch off, along with his wife, who’s coincidentally and totally phobic of the dark. Plagued by nightmares and visions, it isn’t long before Alan’s wife disappears in extremely weird circumstances.
Alan discovers a bizarre supernatural phenomenon in the town’s local area, which turns people into darkness-shrouded nasties quickly labelled as The Taken. Any time it gets dark – and it tends to do that fairly regularly – things get spooky.
Pools of light become safe havens to keep the dark at bay, and the story plays out in a quaint episodic format, each one lasting around an hour or more. It’s a format that Remedy would revisit with more commitment in Quantum Break, but does a decent job of breaking up matters into digestible chunks here.
This is a story that is both layered with references (most of them far from subtle) and also confident enough in how it’s playing with cliche to own that lack of originality. Things are nice and twisty from the off, too, and it all builds fairly solidly.
Point and shoot
Alan Wake gives you only a few ways to interact with the linear levels you’ll be making your way through – two, in particular.
First up, you’ll be pointing a flashlight around for most of the game’s duration. This not only lets you see in dark corners but also slowly strips away the protection offered to Taken enemies by the darkness, until you can damage them with your other main tools – guns. Handguns, shotguns, an all-powerful flare gun, and more options, can all do damage to vulnerable enemies.
It’s a simple but effective combat mechanic that requires you to be patient as you back away from advancing lumberjacks and office workers possessed by dark furies. You’ll need to juggle some inventory management, too, keeping track of replacement batteries for your flashlight and frantically reloading your revolver when it runs out.
Still, there is a slight lack of variety to these encounters that doesn’t take long to set in, with the puzzles that are occasionally set rarely posing much of an obstacle. The core gameplay on its own isn’t that compelling, but the story that envelopes it thankfully takes up that slack.
Aiming with the flashlight feels snappy and responsive, while the shooting is pretty solid, too, but it’s fair to say you won’t necessarily keep playing because of the sheer force of the gameplay alone.
The main area where things have been substantially upgraded is on the visual side, where the remaster is really evident. When it debuted on the Xbox 360, Alan Wake was a good-looking title, but it hadn’t aged beautifully – on console, at least.
Remedy has up-resed the whole thing and given it a zippy new 60fps treatment to make sure it plays nice and smoothly, while also strategically updating character models and details where things weren’t looking great.
Environments are a bit more detailed and the game looks like a recent mid-range release, rather than the decade-old relic it really is. Probably the biggest upgrade as you play through will be the new fog effects, which are genuinely volumetric and make for really atmospheric night-time scenes.
The changes, in particular the enormous sharpening that bringing the game up to 4K on the PS5, where we were testing it, really do make it feel almost new. Locations are more colourful, and the whole game is less drained-out, making it feel a lot more like it could really be happening.
There were only a few occasions where we haven’t been won over by the choices, though, and one is a biggie. The new model for Alan’s own face has changed quite a bit, and it’s noticeably grumpy-looking. Alan’s a bit of a misanthrope, fair enough, but new players might genuinely find him harder to sympathise with given his newfound perma-scowl.
The game’s sound design was great on its first release and is similarly impressive now, with even more pinpoint audio if you’re wearing a headset and a nicely balanced mix that makes its story moments pleasant to watch.
Visually, though, Alan Wake Remastered can’t match the polish and consistency of Remedy’s more recent work on Control – Wake is still an old game, no mistake. Cutscenes often feature fairly stiff animation, while the lip-syncing is regularly more than a little janky, which can pull you out a little.