The actual act of playing Alan Wake was already boring in 2010. By today’s standards, it’s a legitimate slog. A good 40% of certain levels consist of just jogging through the woods or down a road, and Alan can only run for about five seconds without slowing down and huffing for air — a relatable trait, from one writer to another, but not the kind of thing that makes for fun gameplay.
Thankfully, the game's tense romps through its misty Washington pine forests remain just as nerve-wracking as they did all those years ago. This is a remaster that looks every bit as stunning as I remember, and while it's a shame Alan Wake Remastered hasn't utilised HDR or ray tracing for Alan's trusty torchlight, Remedy's talent for saturating their play spaces with a deep sense of swirling dread is right up there with the horror greats, negating the need for fancy lighting effects to do the heavy lifting. Its dense treeline sways and creaks in the darkness, while the combination of its thick, billowing fog and ominous sound design signal pockets of danger where the game's possessed foes, known as The Taken, lurk in the undergrowth. Day-time scenes look a little ropier under the harsh light of the sun, but they're still welcome moments of relief where you can breathe easy again.
The darkness infiltrates anything it can to stop you, controlling mobs of axe-wielding “Taken” or attempting to mulch Alan by possessing farming machinery, like some deranged Lovecraftian Wurzels cover band. You fight back by training Alan’s battery-guzzling flashlight on foes, scorching out the darkness before finishing the job with rusty hunting rifles and revolvers.
The Remaster doesn’t do Alan Wake many favors visually, either. Character faces don’t emote well at all and cutscenes tend to stutter in certain sections. The forests and surrounding backgrounds do look gorgeous, and are better at higher resolutions, but it highlights the rest of Alan Wake’s ugliness by comparison. In other words, there is no mistaking that this is an Xbox 360 game at its foundation.
Performance niggles aside, I'm still impressed by how much mileage Remedy manage to squeeze from their simple torch 'n' gun loop. Alec may not have been particularly enamoured with it at the time, but for me, the way Remedy naturally make players build up their toolsets from scratch in each of its six chapters (and sometimes multiple times within those chapters) means there's just enough uncertainty to help keep players on their toes.
Sadly, the tendency of remasters to value visual clarity over atmosphere surfaces here, sacrificing foggy claustrophobia for an occasionally bland fidelity. Still, both textures and vistas show noticeable improvements, so if looking back at the games of 2010 gives you eye-strain rather than warm nostalgic feels, this is your best bet. But Alan’s comeback book tour feels like it’s born more of obligation than inspiration.
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