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  • Cindi Knapton

Remedy's Horror Reanimated Me: Alan Wake II



Like Frankenstein's monster, playing Remedy's magnificent Alan Wake II (AWII) brought me back to life and restored my confidence and pleasure in playing console video games.


After devoting myself to a horrific family crisis and healing from the trauma afterwards, I hadn’t touched my PlayStation controller in eight months. During that time, I comforted myself with mind-numbing match-3 and word games. And… to be honest, as a late-age-to-gaming-gamer, my controller skills were never that strong.


Detective Saga Anderson admires the misty morning light in Bright Falls, Washington. ©Remedy

But, on hearing the story line and world building, and... knowing the pedigree from my love of Remedy's 2019 game Control, I found the idea of AWII so compelling that I launched myself back into console gaming.

 

I should admit that I did warm-up my hand-eye-finger coordination with a few weeks of Katamari Damacy and Psychonauts2. Only then did I feel ready to leave the horror of my real life and brave Remedy’s latest masterpiece.


I honestly think that I died at least fifty times before I did everything correctly to complete the fight with Detective Nightingale. And... I was playing on “Story” only difficulty!


As usual, when I talk about my experience, I won’t hold back any spoilers, so b e w a r e!

 

I loved it. I loved the opening chapters easing me into FBI Detective Saga Anderson’s world. I love her “Mind Place.” I’ve talked about the concept of a mind palace before in my post on Detroit Become Human. It’s an ancient concept. I am excited to see so many game developers use this premise to give players like me a chance to think, gather our thoughts, and make connections.


Sorting clues and opening case files in Saga Anderson's Mind Place. ©Remedy

The world-building is absolutely gorgeous. Perfectly evocative of the very, very wet American Pacific Northwest from perfectly crafted heavy timber lodges to gross beer spill stains on the pool table felt. And when we get to New York! The glorious subway stations and Alan & Alices Art Deco Apartment building are delicious.

 

But, before I got to the Big Apple, I got stuck. I was stuck for ten days in the dark swampy woods of the Overlap. I was trying unsuccessfully to kill the “taken” Detective Nightingale. Ten days!


As FBI Agent Saga Anderson, you must kill Detective Nightingale -- who was "taken" 13 years earlier. ©Remedy

It took me ten days to bring up my skills:

  • my accuracy in aiming my camera and weapon

  • using my flashlight to burn the "taken"

  • remembering to reload

  • using the quick slots to swap between my shotgun and service revolver

  • remembering to dodge and run

  • finding the right ice chest with the healing potion

  • loading the healing potion into a quick slot

  • surviving another fight

  • using the healing potion

  • navigating a wet, dark, organic environment

  • dealing with an enemy that can manifest in any location

  • understanding the color and sound clues that the game provides as guides and warnings

 

I honestly think that I died at least fifty times before I did everything correctly to complete the fight with Detective Nightingale. And... I was playing on “Story” only difficulty! As hard as it was, bless Remedy for creating a Story only difficulty. I hope more game developers will follow suit.


In New York City, Alan finds his way home to his exquisite Art Deco apartment building. ©Remedy

Unlike my attempts to play The Last of Us, I did not give up. I persisted. I experimented. I learned. I trained myself. It was only one enemy unlike a swarm of zombies. And I have matured. I understand that games are supposed to be hard. That’s the point. The point is to be challenged and to work through the puzzle of space, time, and hand-eye coordination.


I loved that this first major fight with Nightingale had no preamble scene. Every restart I was right “off stage” in a cave where I could practice my dodging and weapon swapping and then run into the scene to hit my mark and start the fight.

 

Still, I could only do about five runs per day before my brain was melted.

 

But I did it. I killed Detective Nightingale and suddenly the flood waters receded. The sky was flaming with a spectacular lakeside sunset and there I found the unconscious body of Alan Wake.


In the In Between, Alan Wake is interviewed by Mr. Door. ©Remedy

The payoff for all my effort is the delicious reward of darkly humorous cinematics. We are now playing as Alan Wake himself. You are trapped in a TV studio in the "in-between" and are interviewed by Mr. Door about a book called Initiation that you don't remember writing. What is happening? I love a psychological conundrum.


As a real life writer I felt very comfortable playing confused and frustrated Alan. Being trapped in a cycle of endless re-writes, wondering which is best, and when to stop, is all too familiar.


After a short series of environmental puzzles in the TV studio, Alan returns to be interviewed again about another book written by one of his characters, Alex Casey. How is this happening? What's real? What has been written? Who wrote it? What effect does writing have on changing reality? The conundrum twists around itself!


On the streets of a fictionalized New York, Alan finds TVs playing a view of himself in his writer's room. Or is it? ©Remedy

Eventually you find Alan’s angel-shaped light, escape the TV studio and are on the streets of a fictionalized New York. There you must learn to use the angel light to change between two realities and enter the subway. Within the subway, you find dream pieces of Alan’s narrative that can be changed by re-writes. You just have to figure out how to make the changes, and which changes are the right ones to lead you to answers and out of the darkness.

 

As a real life writer I felt very comfortable playing confused and frustrated Alan. Being trapped in a cycle of endless re-writes, wondering which is best, and when to stop, is all too familiar.


I loved the way that the games of the Remedy Connected Universe weave together. Seeing Ahti the janitor from Control was lovely. And the dark Scandinavian humor -- steeped in the absurd and impenetrable! Coming from a blended Swedish and Norwegian family, it feels very familiar and homey.


When Ahti is on stage singing earnestly in Finnish about "Old Scratch, Satan, our savior", I couldn't look away. I stayed in that dark hall and listened to his prolonged mournful ballad several times through. Twisted dark humor is an essential part of my gamer joy.


In the Finland Hall in Watery, Washington, Detective Saga Anderson is entranced by Ahti the Janitor's song. ©Remedy

And I love the twin brothers Ilmo & Jaako Koskela. They are local tour guides and owners of the Coffee World amusement park. Their commercials are so corny. All dad jokes, all the time. I love the juxtaposition of that light silliness with the dark and scary storylines that Saga and Alan must endure to get their answers about the nature of reality.



Some appreciation for video games that has come back to me now that I have re-immersed myself in environmental exploration games:


1)    Playing an environmental exploration game with NPCs reminded me of my improvisational comedy training. I completed a one-year course at the New Movement Theater in New Orleans. There I learned to start and continue a conversation with anyone about anything. Yes, and... with any person or monster that I met in the woods, the subway, or the streets of Bright Falls.


2)    I feel like my real life is a game level. A simple trip to Ralph's grocery store is full of obstacles such as errant shopping carts blocking my path. There are NPCs, who if engaged with politely, may be friendly and provide solid clues to find my hidden gluten-free products. Or I may encounter enemies who use bad behavior and emotional temper tantrums to stall my mission of completing my transaction. The self-check out is definitely a number sequence puzzle.


3)    There are clues everywhere. I went hiking with my sister and found arrows chalked on the path just like the arrows that are painted throughout AWII pointing to important Words of Power.


4) Playing environmental exploration games with enemy NPCs requires work. I can’t be passive. It’s relaxing in that it requires my full attention. But it’s tiring. A few hours of adrenaline fueled searching and destroying enemies takes it out of this old gal.


5) An amazing game like AWII takes over my imagination. While driving the banal freeways of LA, I am thinking about my next move to escape the axe throwing dudes in Coffee World.


I'm reanimated. And now I think I am addicted. I can't wait to play more.


If you're interested, here's a link to more info about the Remedy Connected Universe:

 


Horror + Mystery + Dark Scandi Humor = My Reanimation

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