I couldn’t be more the target audience for Alan Wake Remastered. The original game is the thing that made me fall in love with Remedy as a developer, and it’s one of my favourite games to return to. But while I enjoyed the excuse to explore Bright Falls yet again, this remaster ultimately struggles to justify its own existence.
The thing is, even at over a decade old, Alan Wake holds up very well—especially the PC version. Graphical rough edges are largely disguised by most of the game taking place in foggy forests at night, with its bold use of light and shadow often still striking today. Its surreal mystery, of a writer tormented by his own work come to life, is perhaps cheesy and melodramatic to modern ears, but no less charming and intriguing for it.
Its combat is so original as to still feel refreshing. Dodging around an axe-wielding maniac, shining a torch in his face to blast away his protective shroud of shadows, before blasting away with your revolver—it’s a really effective bit of design, and a lovely thumbing of the nose to the preceding era of cover shooters. And it’s further elevated by still impressive graphical flourishes and top notch sound design. The shrieking sizzle of darkness burning away, the lurch backwards as an enemy takes a bullet, the slow motion fwoooosh of your last kill of an encounter—absolute satisfaction.
Wisely, this remaster messes with very little of that. It largely is just a new coat of paint, updating the textures, UI, and cutscenes with a light touch, while leaving the game beneath exactly as it was. But it’s so light a touch as to feel pretty unnecessary.
Undoubtedly it does look better. Detail is sharper, and work has been done to improve characters’ faces, which is particularly effective in Alan’s case as it makes him look much more like the actor who plays him in the game’s many FMV sequences. The cutscenes match up far better to the look of the game proper, making cuts between the two less jarring. A few decisions are questionable—Alan’s hair looks like he’s dumped a bottle of dye into it, and a poster that appears prominently in the game’s intro is inexplicably totally different and much less spooky—but they’re pretty minor.
So a game that already looked good now looks a little bit better—that’s lovely, but is it £25’s worth of lovely? I’m not convinced. It’s disappointing as well, considering looks are really all it brings to the table, that there seem to be a number of graphical glitches that I don’t think were present in the original. During my few hours of play so far I’ve regularly seen things like textures flickering or briefly stretching across my view, or the entire screen going black for a fraction of a second. It’s not a buggy mess by any means, but it’s noticeable, and if you’re not getting polish with a product like this, what are you paying for?
Well, the remaster does also bundle in a new commentary track from Remedy head honcho Sam Lake, discussing the game from a modern, post-Control perspective (though the game did already have a developer commentary). The game’s QR code easter eggs, first introduced for the PC release, have also been updated to play videos in the style of Control’s AWE DLC—though I’m too dim to determine if these are just a bit of fanservice, or the start of some kind of ARG. Either way, I think these are the kind of crumbs only a Remedy fan even more passionate and dedicated than myself is likely to get excited about.
And perhaps this is unreasonable, but I’d like to have seen the game’s standalone spin-off, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, bundled in and updated. It’s a gem of pseudo-sequel, and would’ve helped this feel like a better value proposition—especially considering the DLC it does bundle in was already free with the original PC release.
I’m not disappointed, exactly—they’ve never claimed Alan Wake Remastered was any more than the basic graphical update that it is. It delivers on what it set out to do. But for a PC player—especially one who may well already own Alan Wake thanks to a Steam sale or an Epic giveaway—I don’t think there’s enough here to make it worth more than twice the price of the original. It’s a release aimed much more at console owners, with PC seemingly a bit incidental.
Alan Wake is absolutely an experience worth revisiting, or even trying for the first time if you’re perhaps a Control fan looking to dive into wider Remedy lore. But you don’t really need this remaster to do that. The Dark Place is an ocean, not a lake—but Alan Wake Remastered is as shallow as it gets.