Alan Wake

I always feel like I’m cheating when a remaster of an already great game lands on my list of best games for the year. But when said game really is one of the best games I’ve played all year, beating out legit new releases, well, what can I say? Perhaps the bar is just so low these days that a shinier version of a game released more than a decade ago is still better than something hot off the 2021 presses. In any case, here we are.

Alan Wake originally released back in 2009, and it was one of my favorite games of that year. Truth be told, it’s up there on my list of Greatest of All Time (yes, it’s a GOAT contender). So I guess it’s no surprise that, even now, one of my favorite games of all time just got a little more favoritey. favoritous?

We’ll table that for now. The point is, Alan Wake completely slaps, and I’m here to shout it from the mountaintops.

Most of the enhancements in this remastered version were strictly cosmetic — there were few updates, if any, to the core gameplay itself. So most of the game’s longevity comes down to strong writing, attuned controls and gameplay mechanics, a wacked-out story, and great characters. Well, not all the characters are great, but I’m referring to the ones who have more than a few moments of screen time and aren’t thus rendered to caricatures at best (like poor, poor Rose).

If you aren’t already familiar with the plot of Alan Wake, you play as the bit-of-a-jerk Alan Wake, a famous writer with a bad-boy image who is struggling with a serious bout of writer’s block. His infinitely patient and supportive, could-really-do-better-for-herself wife Alice decides you could both use a little R&R, so you are whisked away to a small coastal town called Bright Falls.

Alan Wake - Alice

But there’s a twist! Alice has an ulterior motive: to get Alan to see a local shrink that supposedly has the magic touch when it comes to getting artists back in the creative zone. But there’s another, more sinister twist! An evil entity calls Bright Falls home, and it has secretly tricked Alice into venturing to Bright Falls so it can cast a trance over Alan, forcing him to write a book that will strengthen its power. For bait, this entity begins by kidnapping Alice. And from there, we are off to the races.

Developer Remedy is an expert studio, and even their most underwhelming games are still a master class in how to make a compelling action title. Alan Wake is no exception. The pacing is a blueprint for valleys and peaks, as far as how storytelling in an interactive medium should play out. There are genuine moments of dread, taut enough that you think the narrative thread might just break under the tension. But then you’ll find yourself in a relatively safe area, where you can take a breather, restock your ammo, and maybe listen to the local disc jockey comment on current events, then play a nice little ditty to send you back off into a world of menacing bad guys.

As far as bad guys go, the ones on offer in Alan Wake are pretty unique and refreshingly original, even now all these years later. A darkness has taken over the bodies of random townsfolk, and there’s a fuming black goop that the player must weaken with a light source before pumping enemies full of lead. Each successful death culminates in a blinding light show that signifies how dead they are. It’s just so good.

Alan Wake

It’s also a little alarming, and these actions would lead to a litany of murder charges for Mr. Wake if not for a clever plot device that keeps him off the hook. He is very much murdering the local townsfolk wholesale. 

It is perhaps a given that Sam Lake, the author of the fantastic first two entries in the Max Payne series, would knock Alan Wake‘s script out of the park. And with the added talent of Mikko Rautalahti and Petri Järvilehto, the writing team does indeed hit a home run here. It’s something to behold, just how well-written this game is, whether that’s dialogue between the various characters or Alan’s internal monologue. It is friggin’ amazing. You’ll even find the scattered pages of the novel Alan supposedly wrote (which IS Alan Wake the game) that might tease an impending boss encounter or just notify the player about the actions of satellite characters and what they are up to while offscreen. These sequences, read by Alan Wake voice actor Matthew Porretta, are music to my ears.

So yeah, Alan Wake Remastered is a remaster of an already brilliant 2009 game. I would argue that, even in its original form, the game still stands up, but it is only made better by this remaster.

Alan Wake

I understand the sentiment that we should only speak of shiny, brand-new games when discussing game of the year contenders. But technically, this is a new game, in that it has a new title (which adds the word Remaster) and a 2021 release date. Yeah, that’s just semantics, but this really is one of the best games to come out this year, regardless of when it came out the first time.

And so, as the dust begins to settle on this year in gaming, I can confidently say that Alan Wake Remastered is one of the best games of 2021.

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