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"Alan Wake 2" Review and the Best Horror Games of the Year 2024-04-20 13:03:12

Prepare something for thirteen years, and the stew will turn out awesome.

In the case of Alan Wake 2, the weirdness is part of its charm. It's the sequel to the cult classic game from 2010. The game not only tells the story of the main character, an author of cheesy crime novels, but also of Sage Anderson, an FBI agent investigating ritualistic murders in a region of Washington state that could just as easily border Twin Peaks. It's eerie absurdity.

The introductory narration sets the tone and tells you what to expect. "In horror stories," Wake croons, "there are only victims and monsters, and the trick is not to end up as either." Most of the game, you'll spend evading the ethereal "Possessed," possessed by the "Dark Presence" and only vulnerable to your trusty flashlight (and lots of weapons). As Anderson, you'll use your almost extrasensory investigative skills to uncover a conspiracy, and as Wake, you'll literally rewrite scenes in the "Dark Place" where he's trapped, slowly crafting his way out of a nightmare worse than writer's block, which began the original game's nightmare.

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Story - Monster Sam Lake, creative director at Remedy Entertainment, referred to this game as his studio's first foray into the Survival Horror genre. The description fits. While its predecessor had plenty of monsters to fight and resources to scavenge, its linear levels didn't make it feel like a puzzle adventure in the style of Resident Evil. The recursive forests and streets of Alan Wake 2, on the other hand, invite you to explore them in search of every lunchbox, secret, page, or remnants of ammunition and supplies.

However, expanding the possibilities doesn't come without headaches. The forests are not just threatening; they're maddening. Twice, I decided to go down a path that seemed viable, and Anderson literally turned around, refusing to go further. The first boss absorbs bullets just as much as any creature from Resident Evil, but it doesn't communicate how you're actually supposed to defeat it. Of course, the combat isn't meant to create the kind of overpowered spectacle that defined Control (the latest game in the now aptly named Remedy Connected universe), but it also shouldn't feel this cumbersome.

Luckily, the insane plot makes the game more forgiving. Anderson unflinchingly accepts the fact that she's a part of a horrible story, although the locals, for understandable reasons, irritate her, claiming they remember her from a tragic past visit she can't recall. She's joined by Alex Casey, who shares the same name, voice, and appearance as the fictional detective Wake, though he insists he can't be the same person.

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Putting on a Show This is where the game feels the most like a vanity project. You see, Sam Lake, co-creator and co-writer of the game, plays the role of Alex Casey. James McCaffrey, the star of Lake's 2001 hit, "Max Payne" (whose protagonist also bore a resemblance to Lake), voices him. At one point, he's even introduced on a surreal talk show as Sam Lake, the "actor" who plays Casey in Wake's novel adaptations. It's, as the talk show host enthusiastically tells us, very meta.

However, as uncomfortable as this premise may seem, it's also unexpectedly joyful. Yes, there are murder cults and supernatural doppelgangers, but there are also amusing dream graffiti, a friendly metaphysical janitor, and even a heavy metal-style musical with live actors! While the scary moments in the game might make you scream, its self-referential nature is more likely to make you smile.

While Alan Wake 2 may not have the glossy shine of this year's Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, it's serious and undoubtedly ambitious. I'm glad that Remedy is still making weird hybrids of FMV and action, and I hope they never stop.

A Must-Read But what if your Halloween horror appetite demands more? Fear not; we've been playing horror games all year and reviewing them—here are five of our favorites:

Dead Space

The Dead Space remake proves that a timeless game built on a solid foundation can feel just as fresh in 2023 as it did in 2008—for newcomers and fans alike. Except for some changes to the storyline and the new voice acting for the main character, the new game is almost identical to the original, with updated visuals and sound that enhance the eerie atmosphere of the spaceship infested with monsters. - Andy Bechton and Bryant Denton, Co-Authors

Dredge

I didn't expect "horror fishing" to become my new favorite niche in video games. [...] Sad pirate music and a bleak art style immerse you in the paranoia and dread you feel as you navigate a boat in the dead of night on a ghostly ocean. Whether you love Lovecraftian horror or just crave some old-school fishing mechanics, Dredge does it all right. — Graham Rebhun, Software Engineer, Programming

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