Friends, I have news. I'm reporting live from the afterglow of an Alan Wake 2 preview event held, inexplicably, in an independent cinema in Cologne, and I can confirm—after 41 minutes of a hands-off demo showcasing the game's first mission as Alan himself—that Sam Lake definitely really liked The Matrix: Resurrections.
That was my primary takeaway, anyway. Alan's had a glow-up in his 13 years trapped in the Dark Place, you see: he's adopted the straggly hair and befuddled demeanour of Keanu Reeves in the latest and most meta Matrix film. The demo I saw kicks off as he’s thrust awkwardly onto the (live action!) stage of late night talk show "In Between with Mr. Door," who interrogates poor, baffled Alan about the imminent publication of his new book in a scene reminiscent of Neo being pressured to write a new Matrix game in the latest film.
The thing is, Alan doesn't remember writing it—in fact, he's certain he didn't—but Mr. Door just accuses him of being overly meta about his "autofiction": The book is, after all, about an amnesiac author.
Long-time Remedy-heads might recognise the name Mr. Door from Control, where he was spoken of as a dimension-hopping and ambiguous force beyond human comprehension. That's because all this is now part of the "Remedy Connected Universe," the now-shared fictional world inhabited by both Control and, well, Alan Wake. But it's more than that: What I saw during my demo gave me the feeling that Alan Wake 2 is about Remedy trying to pull together all its best games at once.
Moment to moment, Alan Wake 2 looks like familiar survival horror. Anyone who's played the Resident Evil 2 remake will instantly understand what's going on the second the camera looms in over Alan's right shoulder and he begins squeezing off shots. Like the first game, your enemies are permeable, shadowy figures who need to be blazed into corporeal shootability with the power of your flashlight, which means you'll need to manage your battery in addition to your ammo (they're not Energizer brand this time).
It's beyond that where things get interesting. Alan Wake is, you may have heard, a writer, and creative director Sam Lake says Remedy is keen to represent that in the second game's gameplay as well as its narrative. Thus, the Writer's Room, a place you can drop into seemingly whenever to track the progress of Alan Wake 2's plot and do a little writing of your own.
As he treks through the Dark Place, Alan is regularly picking up new plot points (a murder, a missing cop) and locations (a derailed train, a crime scene) as he stumbles across them. When you hit a dead end, you can pull up a storyboard and start mixing and matching plot points and locations, leading to dramatic and instant—Alan Wake 2 is gonna put your SSD to work—changes to the game's levels. In the demo I saw, a dead end in a subway station was transformed into an eerie hallway decorated by a long, followable trail of blood when Alan combined the location with the "missing person" plot point.
Those shifts happen elsewhere as well. Alan has gotten himself something I can only describe as a Harry Potter deluminator, and plenty of puzzles require you to steal light from an area and bring it to a new one, instantly transforming levels in a way that's both seamless and slick. In Alan's portions of the game—remember that you'll also play as FBI agent Saga Anderson—it sounds like you'll be returning frequently to a hub area that undergoes regular seismic shifts and additions, too.
But don't get carried away: Alan Wake 2 isn't infinitely malleable. Lake makes the process sound more like a puzzle mechanic than a sandbox. Your job is to figure out which plot points slot into which locations and then explore them. A bit dispiriting, maybe, but the alternative—giving a player true authorship over the game's locations and plot—would be foolhardily ambitious.
From what I've seen, Remedy has nailed the vibe here. It's bringing all the rest of the studio's catalogue together: You've got the austere, blocky title cards and discomfiting dreaminess of Control, the regular dips into live action of Quantum Break, and, look, Remedy can do whatever nominative sleight of hand it wants, but I know Max Payne when I see him, and "detective Alex Casey," who appears every now and then, is old Max through and through.
That's before you get into things like Mr. Door, whoever he is, and the obvious narrative links between Control and Alan Wake from the former's DLC. A weird, vaguely Lynchian Remedy Cinematic Universe doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world. If Remedy wants to pull tight the knot binding together all its best work, well, consider me intrigued.
This sounds like a real passion project for Remedy. Asked why now is the right time to bring back Alan Wake, Lake said it was simply because, "This is the first time we've succeeded getting it made." He's not bitter, though, he told the audience that he's "really, really happy none of [Remedy's other Alan Wake pitches] got made," because it eventually meant the studio could make this one.