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Giving Link a Souls-Dodge-Roll and a wide, 180 degree sword swing makes combat a lot more accessible and strategic than LTTP or the other handheld 2D adventures. I got into some tough-ass fights which felt thrilling, especially toward the endgame. The dungeons can vary between "slightly difficult" and "a cakewalk," but the overworld itself has a lot of tricks up its sleeve that encourage you to think critically as you try to get from one plot beat to another.
I was there when the internet went up in arms over "Celda," but I think it's hilarious that not only has the Toon Link visual style prevailed, but that it probably looks the BEST in the 2D top down format. Even under the pixelated constraints of the GBA, this has a wonderfully distinct look that charms and delights.
I regret sleeping on this for as long as I did. A wonderful and pleasant adventure!
ALAN WAKE 2 is about authorship. The driving desire to create, to discover, to outline and define the world so that we can make sense of it. Saga seeks to author a solution that will save her family and restores justice to Bright Falls. Alan Wake seeks to author an escape from his dark past and his even bleaker present. The way these character goals manifest in the gameplay are superb. Saga’s Mind Place and the ways you can use this mental refuge to piece together the scope of each ongoing case marries beautifully with Alan’s Writer’s Room and the draft board concept of re-arranging plot points on cards until his “plot” fits together.
We're just over 3 years into this console generation and AW2 feels like a game that couldn't have happened at any moment before solid state drives and other high output hardware. While I was streaming this, I had a viewer legit ask me which part was an FMV and which was gameplay. Not that the game hits that peak all the time, but there are moments when the game can astound in that way. And it's not just the base presentation that dazzles. Alan's ability to transform his environment through Plot Points and his Lamp are so smooth and instantaneous that it always impressed me. Dropping in and out of the Mind Place and the Writer's Room at the push of a button, with all the detail and interactivity they contain, while the actions of the game world are still occuring, is so cool on a technical level. Coupled with the game’s layering of other transmedia elements, and you get something singular in the current gaming landscape.
The game's obvious high point, WE SING, is the ultimate showcase of everything I'm praising. A fully interactive musical retelling of the plot of ALAN WAKE 1, conveyed through a mix of 3rd person action gameplay, gorgeously produced full motion video, and a banger of an original song. And it's all rooted in a strong narrative purpose: The Dark Place taunting Alan as he once again attempts to escape from Cauldron Lake as “the Champion of Light.” But how many times has he failed at this escape loop before? And how many times has he been struck down by “the Herald of Darkness?” It's thrilling, funny, and exciting, and I truly wish it had NOT been adapted into the performance we got at The Game Awards because discovering that moment organically will remain in my gaming memory FOREVER.
OK, time for some salt in this coffee. Remedy continues their annoying trend of making you put the controller down and sit still during a lot of “audio log” content. You're not allowed to listen to manuscript narration or character monologues as you walk. You need to find them, start them, and wait. It's 2023, any game doing this kind of stuff is rude. Segwaying from one type of interaction gripe to another: Bright Falls and it's surroundings are impressively detailed but also a bit empty. This is true for most of Saga’s side of the game. I would've really enjoyed being able to talk to more citizens, go into more locations. I find nothing more annoying in gaming than wasted detail. I'd rather have more purposeful interaction than something that's just pretty to look at, which is what we get far more often on Alan’s side of “reality.”
I think I've elevated this to my GOTY because this is what I want more from the gaming industry: Big, confident swings into the weird and wacky that are rooted in passionate ideas. ALAN WAKE 2 is about both the destructive and redemptive power of creativity, and it feeds that to us through an exceptional amount of unique ideas. “Art is the key to find my way out of the dark place.” You're god damn right it is!
Very funny and stylish, and nothing ever drags on too long.