More than a decade ago I played Alan Wake (2010). I was struck by the natural beauty of the environments, set around Bright Falls Washington – a fictional town somewhere on the Puget Sound. I enjoyed what felt like Stephen King references. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I remember walking from my apartment to my work, thinking “This is so beautiful! This is just like Alan Wake!”
Recently the original graphics were updated, some of the original product placement was changed, and the game was re-released on the newest consoles under the title Alan Wake Remastered (2021). So I re-played it, expecting a pleasant trip through nostalgia.
Instead, I feel like I heard the story for the first time.
The surface level of the story is a writer attacked by a supernatural entity called “The Dark Presence” He uses flashlights (and various weapons) to save those he loves and fight the bad guys. “The Dark Presence” uses lies and hallucinations to try to force him to write a story that would make it more powerful.
There’s a second level to Alan Wake I was totally oblivious to when I first played it. It is also the more emotionally powerful level. The narrative can also be interpreted as the author living in the debris of past decisions which are revealed to be increasingly disastrous and destructive decisions in his past. The “manuscript” the author is writing along the way is not just a story with premonitions of future events, but an existential journal of his realizations.
For instance, one passage of the “manuscript” that describes the unfolding events of the story reads:
The dark place I found myself in was unlike anything I could have imaged; it wasn’t solid, it flowed. It was conceptual and subjective.
Another mission reads, “Find out what happened to you” with one suggested action: “Focus.”
I greatly enjoyed Alan Wake, and especially appreciated the ten-year commentary track with head writer Sam Lake. On re-playing the game, Alan Wake’s debt to Dear Esther (2008), and in turn the debt owed to Alan Wake by Depression Quest (2013) seem clear.
I played Alan Wake Remastered on the Xbox Series X.