Alan Wake Remastered

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2021

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PS5 Review - 'Alan Wake Remastered'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 4, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

In Alan Wake, players assume the role of a best-selling suspense author suffering from writer’s block, who escapes to a small town only to experience the mysterious disappearance of his wife.

Buy Alan Wake Remastered

The first year of a next-gen console's life cycle is the time to expect new ports of old games. If wonderful things happen, they coincide with the month of Halloween and carry the title Alan Wake Remastered. For its devoted fan base, which has grown since the game's initial launch in 2010, Alan Wake is as much of a hidden gem as it is a modern classic. With Remedy's reacquisition of the Alan Wake license, a tie-in with its most recent title Control, and now a remaster, the future of the franchise seems as bright as ever. Does Alan Wake Remastered make sense? The original has aged quite well, especially on the PC. We reviewed the title on PS5, which is the title's PlayStation debut, to see how well the action-laden mystery thriller fares over a decade later.

Alan Wake Remastered is a supernatural action game that centers around the titular protagonist, Alan Wake. Spending some time in the sleepy town of Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest to cure his writer's block, the famous novelist is at his wit's end to get his creative juices flowing again. Tormented by nightmares, his visions eventually transcend to reality. His wife, Alice, vanishes from their cabin, snatched away by the darkness, and Alan must find out what's happening. He discovers that his writing is inadvertently causing the events. Throughout the campaign, Alan faces the darkness that is corrupting the town of Bright Falls as he finds a way to free his wife.

The remaster makes no changes to the story, so animations, cut scenes and dialogue play out exactly like they always have, which I consider to be a good thing. Segmented into six episodes, the main campaign has a good flow as it goes through cliffhangers, recaps, and big set pieces between each episode. With a runtime of 1-2 hours per episode, it pulls you through its dark and twisted reality at a fast pace. The memorable supporting characters round out the engaging and creepy experience.

Since the events in Bright Falls follow Alan Wake's writing, manuscript pages litter each area. Collecting them grants additional glimpses into character motivations and moments that occur off-screen, with many of them foreshadowing events that transpire in the story. The use of collectibles as an additional story device still feels fresh 10 years later. It may not be the best, but it's an iconic and well-crafted story nonetheless. Alan Wake Remastered also includes the DLC episodes The Signal and The Writer, forming an epilogue to the main campaign. While they're an appreciated inclusion, both episodes add little to the main game and often rely heavily on combat, which at that point grows quite repetitive. The stand-alone Alan Wake's American Nightmare is not included in this remaster.

Similar to the characters, story, and cut scenes, the gameplay has been untouched in this remaster. Alan still makes his way through linear levels that are set in the thick woods surrounding Bright Falls, and he searches for clues about the whereabouts of his wife while he decimates enemies that have been consumed by the darkness. Combat wasn't the strong suit of the title back then, and it still isn't now. During combat, Alan aims his flashlight at enemies to rid them of the darkness. Once the darkness drains from them, some well-placed bullets do the rest. This concept doesn't change throughout the experience, with only minor additions and changes. There may be additional light sources to activate or generators to power lanterns that serve as checkpoints and safe havens from enemies, but that's about it. That causes combat to quickly become repetitive, especially since the environments and enemies rarely change. Most of the combat takes place in densely forested areas surrounded by thick fog and almost exclusively features humanoid enemies that look like close variations of one another.

The game introduces swarms of ravens and, eventually, inanimate objects to become possessed and attack you, but that doesn't add much to the combat. It's not that combat wasn't satisfying, but the sound and impact of any weapon — flare gun, revolver, rifle or shotgun — are noticeable and feel powerful. A dynamic slow-motion camera that kicks in when you dodge attacks at the last moment or when you hit a lot of enemies at once makes you feel like a bad-ass, one-man-army. The game never goes anywhere interesting or provides the mechanical depth that would make it fun to play on higher difficulty levels.

It can also be highly frustrating at times, as the camera often gets stuck in an awkward position or doesn't provide a clear overview of what's attacking you, so I'd frequently back myself into a corner and meet certain death. Sprinting is equally frustrating at times, since Alan seems to be in bad shape and is only capable of sprinting short distances and then needs ages to catch his breath. I understand it's somewhat of a necessary mechanic so combat isn't too easy, but it frequently and frustratingly gets in the way. It's one of the few games where I find the lower (but still challenging) difficulty levels more fun to play since they significantly shorten the combat sections and improve the overall pacing. Even if combat isn't the best it could be, the great interplay of light and dark in each level, intermittent driving sections with horrible vehicle handling, and set-piece combat moments keep things fresh and varied. There are also a few simple puzzles, most of which revolve around restoring power via generators or pressing a set of buttons in the correct order. Given its great lighting system and focus on the interplay of light and dark, I would have loved to see more light-centric puzzles in the game. Instead, it often favors combat at the expense of quieter gameplay moments.

This leads us to why Alan Wake Remastered is the best way to play the game: It runs and looks better. The remaster doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it makes just enough adjustments to retain the look and feel of the original while still looking quite improved. Character models and facial animations are entirely reworked, lending cut scenes a much cleaner look and feel. Some character faces still look weirdly inhuman, but maybe that's not so bad in a game and world as weird as this. A lot of textures were upscaled to work in 4K, while select others seem to have been replaced. Fog is more nuanced and not as thick, so it still impairs vision but offers much better draw distances, and the lighting system is very capable and looks pretty amazing in the absence of ray tracing. The end product is a game that very much feels like a 10-year-old game, but it's wrapped in visuals that could fool you into believing it was originally intended for the most recent generation of consoles. The entire image looks much clearer, and performance is locked to 60 fps at up to 4K resolution on the PS5.

During gameplay, Alan Wake Remastered looks and feels almost exactly like the original. The changes may not seem much without a direct comparison point, which is an argument for the remaster. It adds just enough polish to make Alan Wake a viable experience for next-gen consoles while retaining the look and feel of playing Alan Wake for the first time on either the PC or Xbox 360.

The list of new additions doesn't quite end there. Alan Wake Remastered takes advantage of the full list of next-gen features on the PS5, like faster loading times and the DualSense. Haptic feedback is integrated into the experience, with very faint rumbling for each step Alan takes in the world in addition to nuanced rumble effects for shooting weapons and reloading. It's not as nuanced or all-encompassing as we've seen in some Sony flagship titles, but it enriches the experience. Haptic triggers are also supported, with resistance on the left trigger as Alan focuses his flashlight on enemies and trigger resistance when shooting with different weapons. It's a commendable effort that elevates the PS5 version from the rest.

While 3D Audio wasn't mentioned as a supported feature, spatial sounds — and thus spatial awareness — are excellent when playing with headphones and are a significant contributor to the great atmosphere. With a slow and haunting soundtrack, twigs breaking, and whispering all around you, the sound design of Alan Wake has always been exceptional, and the remaster keeps the trend going. It's a game where playing with good headphones is heavily encouraged to get the most out of the excellent atmosphere.

Ultimately, a remaster is nothing more than a coat of paint. The gameplay and physics are still very much the same, and navigating Alan through the environments can feel a touch clunky. Xbox 360-era clunky, to be precise, with a few moments of awkward jumping animations and sometimes getting stuck in the environment because a surface is uneven. It has aged much more gracefully than other titles of similar age, but it doesn't feel on par with anything released in the last couple of years. The only few technical missteps we could find were mainly in its cut scenes, which seemed to be locked to 30 fps, which may be a conscious decision, and the screen stutters on occasion. A Day One patch has been rolled out that may have fixed this. I tested a few scenes after updating, but I can't say if the patch fixed all instances of the stuttering cut scenes. Aside from that, we did encounter a single crash while loading a save file, and there was a moment at the beginning of the game that failed to load assets, but that was pretty much it.

Alan Wake Remastered is exactly what it says in the title, and that is a good thing. Alan Wake has received a thorough and clean remaster that doesn't compromise its original look and vision but enhances the gameplay by using all of the PS5's central features, including fast loading times and DualSense feedback. Its story and gameplay, while not perfect, still hold up well today. There is no story-driven game quite like Alan Wake, and being able to revisit this Xbox 360 classic on the PS5 is a dream come true — especially since this likely means that we will get that long-promised sequel.

Score: 8.2/10

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