'Alan Wake II' stands out in a sea of sequels

Single-player, narrative-driven and extra spooky? I'm in.

Remedy Entertainment

I’m worried about Saga Anderson. She’s a seasoned FBI agent investigating a string of ritualistic deaths around Cauldron Lake, and she’s a little too impressed by all the supernatural gore she encounters. At one point, she’s talking to her partner about the cult activity they’ve seen — the dismembered body parts and necromancy and murderous villagers roaming the forests — and she says, “this place just keeps getting crazier… but this is exciting.”

A few scenes later, she’s shoving a heart through a portal to another realm and inviting a witch to show her “the terror.”

So, yeah, I’m nervous about Saga’s fate in Alan Wake II — and that only makes me more excited for the full game. I saw a 30-minute hands-off preview of Alan Wake II at Summer Game Fest, set in the second chapter. By this time, Saga has made her peace with the paranormal darkness of the case she’s investigating; she’s already pulled a manuscript page out of a corpse’s chest cavity and followed its instructions to Cauldron Lake, the setting of the original game.

Alan Wake came out 13 years ago, and the timeline in the sequel has also progressed 13 years. The writer Alan Wake has been missing that whole time, and Saga is hunting the ghost of FBI agent Robert Nightingale, who was killed at the end of the first game. In chapter two, Saga and her partner are deep in the Pacific Northwest woods. The preview shows off gorgeous lighting, character models and environments, plus satisfying-looking gunplay and flashlight-play.

Dialogue scenes between Saga and her partner aren’t rushed, establishing the narrative and letting it breathe, and there are a few moments where players can choose how to respond. The two agents split up and there are a series of simple puzzles for Saga to solve, like collecting a fuse or finding the right numbers to crack a lock, all while a sense of dread constantly builds in the background. The preview provides some serious early Resident Evil vibes — Alan Wake II is a survival-horror experience, while the original was an action-thriller.

As Saga attempts to solve the mysteries around her, she can jump into her Mind Place (no, not Mind Palace) to organize clues and connect the dots. Her Mind Place looks like the living room of a ’90s conspiracy theorist, with photos and notes connected by red string along one wood-paneled wall. This is where Saga can manipulate the evidence she’s found, placing clues near each other to see if they’re related, unlocking the path forward. If she gets stuck, she can go to the desk in the center of the room and commune with her subjects, asking them for answers based on the clues she’s gathered; this is called Profiling. Saga can enter her Mind Place at any time.

Alan Wake II's Mind Place
Remedy Entertainment

There are a few jump-scares in the preview, where the screen quickly cuts to a screaming face or an enemy suddenly bursts through a doorway, but they’re well placed and not overdone. Saga feels capable and curious — maybe a little too curious for her own good, but we’ll have to see how that plays out in the full game. At the end of the preview, Alan suddenly appears in the woods with Saga, screaming about dark forces and confused by how long he’s been missing.

The big innovation in Alan Wake II is the ability to swap between Saga and Alan himself, playing as both characters throughout the game. Chapter one begins with Saga in the driver’s seat, and after that players can choose to play as her or Alan at the beginning of each new section. A Remedy spokesperson said developers are still fine-tuning the swap mechanic; they don’t necessarily want to give players the ability to change characters every five minutes, for the sake of the narrative flow, but they still want to provide real instances of meaningful choice.

Alan Wake II
Remedy Entertainment

Alan Wake II is a contained single-player experience and it doesn’t have a bunch of side quests, according to Remedy. There are a few errands to complete and secrets to find parallel to the main story, but this is first-and-foremost a linear, narrative-driven game.

There were plenty of sequels at the Summer Game Fest showcase, and Alan Wake II stands out in this crowded field. The preview showcased a clear vision: Alan Wake II retains the themes of the original game, but introduces a fresh perspective with the protagonist, mechanics and genre. It feels like Remedy knows the story it's trying to tell — even if Alan and Saga don't.

Alan Wake II is due to hit PC, Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 on October 17th.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest right here!