Alan Wake II Review: Make Every Day Halloween With This Game’s Dreamy Horror

To survive this game's supernatural threats you'll need to piece together clues to a mystery—and traverse an alternate dimension version of New York City.

FBI Saga confronts the reanimated Nightingale in Alan Wake II. Remedy Entertainment

If you’re in the mood to extend the Halloween season, this 20-hour-long story of cults and murderers knows exactly when and how to panic you. Narratively-strong, Alan Wake II co-mingles jump scares, Hitchcock-style tension, and Lynchian creepy absurdity.

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Alan Wake II places you in the center of a deep, page-turner of a dreamy horror novel. It might be one of the books by Alan Wake himself, the superstar author of spooky thrillers who went missing in the first game. If that sounds like Stephen King to you, you’re onto something — the Alan Wake games invoke inspirations from the past. Saga and Casey, the two FBI agents bantering throughout this game, recall The X-Files investigators Muldaur and Scully. (In fact, Saga shares a last name with the actress who portrayed Scully, Gillian Anderson.)

Things begin during a dismal night on a lake beach in the Pacific Northwest where a naked, overweight man struggles to find a way out while driftwood blocks the way. Negotiate that and there’s a dark forest with seemingly no path out. I still don’t know how I stumbled upon the correct path. It took about an hour to find that freedom. But soon after leaving the lake, cult members tied me up, cut me, and stole my heart.

You’ll spend a lot of time with Saga and Carey, who are seriously good at their jobs. While Carey possesses a cynical and complaining demeanor, it’s the ardent Saga who does much of the legwork, digging and piecing things together. She does this via hard work and a kind of extra sensory perception that allows her to comb over every inch of Bright Falls, Washington and its surrounding environs.

As you progress in the horror mystery, you’ll play as author Alan Wake. Remedy Entertainment

With the stage set, you scour Cauldron Lake, an old amusement park, even a witch’s house for answers. You’ll play as either Saga or Alan Wake — depending on where in the game you are — and you’ll place evidence you find on a large board connected by threads. Among the evidence is pages from an Alan Wake book, which allow Saga to see the future in flashes. There’s a backstory for Saga’s family, too, touched upon in conversation with a server at a restaurant in town.

There’s a lot going as you traverse the mystery’s foggy, crooked paths, moving from the natural into the supernatural and looping back again. Much of this creepiness is amplified by the smartly-curated soundtrack which moves from Paleface’s antifolk-tinged death growls in “Dark, Twisted and Cruel” to the melodic, chill dirge of PJ Harvey’s “Prayer at the Gate.”

Armed with a flashlight and a handgun with limited ammunition, Saga pieces together what happened, clue by clue. Her cohort, Alex Casey, isn’t just there to exchange banter. He knows the naked man, Nightingale, a fellow FBI agent gone missing years ago. As the story unfolds in chapters like an HBO series, you discover how important light is when Nightingale comes back from the dead and tries to attack you. If you’re in the light, he can’t see you. Watching him inches away from your face, stalking angrily and muttering something about a “Clicker,” is utterly scary, even if you’ve encountered something similar while playing The Last of Us.

Part of Alan Wake II takes place in a twisted New York City. Remedy Entertainment

But it’s Alan Wake that holds the answers. After you find him on the lake beach he begins to reveal how a cult and his horror books may be intertwined. As you move forward, you encounter the Dark Place, a plane of existence that includes an eerie version of underground New York City — and one not without its humor. The subway lines are D, O, N, and T. The sign itself say D,O,N,T Sleep Street, Again Avenue. Don’t go there? But you have to in order to move this carefully woven, complex plot forward.

I was hooked from early on, when I spent an hour finding my way out of that thick, dark forest full of fallen trees, briars, and boulders, with its areas unreachable by the simple climbing over a fallen limb. I’ve rarely seen an environment that so forcefully becomes a character. That’s by design, and trekking through the unknowable maze gave rise to a feeling of claustrophobia I haven’t felt since inching through the Baker Family house’s tight walls in 2017’s Resident Evil 7.

In fact, the forest turns one important game design trope on its head. Light in the darkness usually indicates a path forward or out of the area to safety. Even in the more difficult Souls games like Elden Ring, where the enemy surely will kill you, repeatedly, there’s often a way to run away to a less violent area. Here, the enemy is powerful, but the way out of a swampy location isn’t discovered quickly, even with a flashlight. Ultimately, because the paths are unknown, the forest can be as evil as the monster you need to defeat.

When you come face-to-face with Nightingale he’s become a Taken, a supernatural force. I died multiple times as he chased me from place to place. Additionally, where today’s games often save your progress from moment to moment, Alan Wake II doesn’t always allow you that luxury, unless you’re in a place specifically labeled for it. So you not only need to beat the enemy at his gruesome game, you need to win just enough to get you to the next save point. Is it brutal? Does it nearly make you give up in frustration, rather than soldier on? Almost.

However, there are answers ahead in this gruesome, odd story. Knowing the truth is more important than wallowing in the feeling of being beaten down. And that’s the key to Alan Wake II. You don’t just need to keep going. Despite the fear and the tough, grim challenge, you want to.

Alan Wake II Review: Make Every Day Halloween With This Game’s Dreamy Horror