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Alan Wake 2 is just as much a detective story, as it is survival horror

Mind yourself

The key art work for Alan Wake 2, showing Alan and FBI agent Saga in a red forest
Image credit: Epic Games Publishing

Behind an ominous door next to a pizza joint, I bore witness to 30 minutes of Alan Wake 2 in an extended presentation based on the trailer you might have seen at the sumSummer Game Fest showcase. I didn't get to see any of Alan himself, but I did get to see a slice of horror, investigation, and action as the other playable character Saga Anderson. And without a doubt, Remedy are making a big push for this to be a detective game alongside a survival horror one. My first impressions? Yeah, strong.

The demo began in an area of Cauldron Lake, a forested zone where the light bled through the trees and then slowly became a murky, swampy, nightmarescape. I see Saga track a bloke called Nightingale, who was murdered earlier in the story, but has since come back to life (as you do). Early on, there's a bit of chatter between Saga and her companion Alex Casey (played by Remedy's own Sam "Max Payne" Lake), as they delve deeper into the forest in pursuit of Nightingale.

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After a tense walk through the woods, Saga entered her "Mind Place", a cabin within her subconscious where she's removed her FBI jacket to display her Christmas jumper in all of its glory. I assume this is to imply she is relaxed and safe in her mind. Anyway, the cabin is home to a case board which acts as a visual representation of the investigation. We see the classic detective-style board: lots of photos, lots of red lines criss-crossing between them, and words hurriedly scribbled. It's here where Saga gathers some new threads and shuffles through them, snapping those that fit together in the right order to further the objective.

Saga's also able to do a spot of "Profiling", where she pseudo-enters the mind of Nightingale by thinking like him, in the hopes it might reveal his whereabouts. There are flashes of a bloated geezer with lots of scars, then an "Aha!" moment. Apparently she needs to visit a spooky hut! Who would've thought?

Saga looks at a crime board in her mind palace in Alan Wake 2
Image credit: IEpic Games Publishing

I will say I was a bit unsure as to how much actual detective work you're able to perform outside of the demo mission's linear confines. I heard during a quick Q&A with one of the devs that there's a chance you're able to miss certain pieces of evidence, so perhaps later on there's greater freedom in piecing together a mystery - and if it's as freeform as Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes games then I'm sure our Alice Bee and Rebecca will be very pleased indeed. Either way, it seems like the Mind Place strikes a good balance between making you think about the evidence you've collected while not being too difficult.

As Saga reached the hut, it's revealed that these are "Break Rooms" which offer you brief respite to save (at a Thermos flask, a nod to their usefulness, and also as previous Alan Wake collectible) and actually swap between Saga or Alan if you'd like. The demo didn't see us swap, but the devs say both Saga and Alan have their own set of missions you can tackle in any order once you've reached a certain point in the story. So, in theory you could do all of Saga's, then tackle all of Alan's, if you'd like. I asked whether Alan had his own take on the Mind Place and the dev was quick to smile and say in a roundabout way that he may or may not, nudge nudge wink wink.

What's neat is that over the course of Saga tracking Nightingale, she slowly bridges the gap between her world and the "Dark Place", Alan's horrible abode. Environments strobe and overlap and fade into one another as she - long story short - gains entry to a paranormal tree. Just from a sort of aesthetics and sound standpoint, it's got excellent punch.

An FBI agent looks out over the heavily forested Cauldron Lake in Alan Wake 2
Image credit: Epic Games Publishing

Then there's the survival bit of the horror package, which is unavoidably quite Resident Evil 4. You've got the whole third-person, over the shoulder perspective as baddies lurch towards Saga in a disorderly queue to get a shank in, with traditional inventory Tetris in the top right corner. None of this is to detract from the fact it looked rad, with a wonderful crackle to shots and an urgency to dodges. Of course, it wouldn't be Alan Wake without some torch action, either. Throughout we see Saga shed the darkness from the cultists which staggered them, then blasting them while they were vulnerable. At one point she stepped into a bit of a swamp bathed in light from a gap in the canopy above, which granted her some brief respite from the baddies.

As I've walked around Summer Game Fest here in LA, the words "Alan Wake 2" have definitely wafted into my eardrums more than any other game. It's on everyone's lips and I can understand why! It strikes me as a survival horror with clever detective devices that I'm sure will only grow as the game progresses. And I've come to this conclusion without even seeing what Alan's got to offer. Here's hoping a torch, at the very least.

NotE3 and Summer Game Fest 2023 is over for another year. You can find out all the latest news by visiting our E3 2023 hub, or you can catch up with our round-up posts of everything that was announced at Summer Game Fest, the Xbox Games Showcase, the PC Gaming Show, Day Of The Devs, and our top highlights from the Wholesome Direct.

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