What Alan Wake 2 Needs to Succeed
by Nicholas Laborde
©2013 Nicholas Laborde
Sometimes, I feel as if nobody cared about Alan Wake.
In borderline development hell for five years (we saw it at E3 2006 but didn’t get it until May 2010, for crying out loud!), it came a long way before we finally got it.
After seeing moderate success on the Xbox 360, one “sequel” was delivered digitally – Alan Wake’s American Nightmare – and managed to retain the formula while still being very Alan Wake.
American Nightmare performed solidly, and then both titles were very successfully ported to the PC via Steam.
Recently, the Alan Wake Facebook page had a tease saying that we’ll soon be seeing what Remedy has been up to all this time.
Considering that both titles ended with the ominous message “Alan Wake’s journey through the night will continue,” I think it’s safe to say that Alan Wake 2 is in development.
With that in mind, here is exactly what Alan Wake 2 needs to succeed.
Do NOT release on the same day as another huge game
First and foremost, this is easily the biggest mistake with Alan Wake in 2010.
Granted, if something is solid and unique enough, it can stand on its own and garner the attention it deserves no matter the time nor competition.
However, when you go against a monolith like Rockstar, you have to be the next big thing in order to come out on top… which, although I hold it very near and dear to my heart, Alan Wake was not.
Timing will be key. The best decision Microsoft could make is to make Alan Wake 2 a launch title for the Xbox 720 or Next or Durango (or whatever it will be called), which would explain the silence since the console hasn’t been officially announced yet.
Launching with a major first party exclusive is a key decision in any system release, and having at LEAST Alan Wake 2 along with a few other exclusives (possibly Halo 2 Anniversary) would help seal the success of the system.
More content and stronger narrative
With that being said, both of the Alan Wake titles felt like they could have been double their length. For what they did in their time frame, they were excellent.
Alan Wake has the potential to be an absolute horror game, and while I don’t think it’s likely that it will get any scarier than the creepily disturbing nature of the existing two games, Remedy certainly has it in them to tell a horror story.
It’s highly likely that this is the result of my being a huge wimp, but some of the most terrifying moments in both games were when enemies were introduced, and when you JUST barely escaped a group of enemies into a lit checkpoint area.
The gameplay, by nature, was inadvertently creepy and Remedy used this to execute the brilliant narrative. Journeying through the dark woods and all of a sudden having the camera zoom out to showcase a dozen enemies circling around you was absolutely mortifying.
While we did take care of Mr. Scratch in American Nightmare, the continuing archetype of Alan fighting a dark version of himself is something that could truly pave the way for another terrifying adventure through the night.
Barry, Wake’s crazy, stereotypical agent/manager, was the perfect comic relief in a world of darkness. While I do hope to see Barry in future iterations of the franchise, we need stronger central characters. We’ve saved Alan’s wife, Alice, twice already, and Barry numerous times in the process.
This isn’t Mario, and we need a different storyline. The Twilight Zone-esque nature of American Nightmare was a step in the right direction, but we need an overall narrative shift.
What if Alan Wake 2 takes place in the future with an older Alan, and in his older state, he has written multiple novels that foretell the end of the world? As usual, these “prophecies” come true and Alan is the only one who can take care of it.
This opens the floor to an entirely new spectrum of the franchise, allowing vastly different characters, gameplay, and storylines.
Why take a good idea and not flesh it out further? Imagine an open world Alan Wake title.
The first title was supposed to be open world, but through its long and tumultuous development, it was eventually downsized into the somewhat linear game that we fell in love with.
A return to open world was touched upon in American Nightmare, and while it wasn’t truly a sandbox, it gave a healthy enough illusion that caused us to yearn for so much more.
The Taken could be roaming the streets, and you would have to strategically travel between day and night to reach your destination.
Maybe even include a Saboteur-esque “lighting” system, where you can permanently restore power and light to sections of the world one by one to ease night travel.
And while we’re at it, add more diversified weapons and enemy types.
It also encouraged players to find those damn manuscript pages, because finding enough of them allowed you to unlock better weapons at chests throughout the game.
This let players not only hear more of the story and become more involved in one of the best subtleties of the franchise, but rewarded them for doing so.
If you’ve played through the first title, the enemy types can get very boring since there wasn’t a vast abundance of variety. American Nightmare was a huge step in right direction, showing that the series’ potential is unlimited, and scarier enemies are a must for any more iterations of the franchise.
American Nightmare featured a time-based wave defense mode which, while fun, was a bit generic. Why not make it cooperative for Alan Wake 2?
Alan and other survivors would have to defend against waves of increasingly difficult Taken, but could maybe be fortifying an area in the process (not unlike that of Horde in Gears of War 3), but with an Alan Wake twist.
It’s an excellent idea that can be exponentially expounded upon, and I really hope Alan Wake 2 features some sort of social aspect.
Even more useless crap
Things as little as Alan Wake being an international superstar and a crazed waitress having a cutout of him in her diner, or the radio broadcasts featuring a friendly old man interviewing people and taking calls from people.
I sat down and listened to every single one of the broadcasts, and they give a huge realism factor to the games. Not only that, but Remedy’s longtime relationship with band Poets of the Fall usually leads to some great music, some of which is hidden away on radios.
In American Nightmare, Mr. Scratch would appear on TVs scattered throughout the world showcasing him in a hotel room doing various psychopathic things. The broadcasts were usually a couple of minutes, which means barely anyone realistically watched them.
However, whenever I encountered them, I sat glued to the deranged rants of Alan’s evil twin. All put together, they give an incredible amount of depth to the narrative and greatly boosted the credibility of the world.
They started with a cartoon in the Max Payne series called Captain Baseball Bat Boy, and ended up with fully recorded video of a lunatic in a hotel room killing hookers and plotting the end of the world.
I’m eager to see what Remedy does next to enhance their worlds.
Location, location, location.
Sleepy towns in the Pacific Northwest are out of the question. You can only do that type of setting once before it gets boring, and American Nightmare changed it up… by going to a sleepy town in the desert.
If Remedy changes things up greatly like I think they will, Alan’s going to leave the States and go somewhere else in the world.
Make no mistake: Alan is very American, and there’s no doubt about that aspect of his character.
However, writers can only go to sleepy towns in the middle of nowhere for so long. Eventually, you need to get out of the familiar world and go somewhere vastly different to get ideas for your next great work.
My vote is for Wales.
The spooky misty mountains of the North (Snowdonia, I believe), with the old villages and the fortified town of Conwy, as well as the ‘strange language’ and lyrical tradition of the Welsh (they have a quaint, mysterious reputation) coupled with the effects of the industrial revolution (coal mining) on their character would make for interesting game personas.
If not, New Zealand would also make a good choice. The Kiwis are an odd lot and they have such a great variety of landscapes for such a small landmass.
Wake up, Alan
Remedy has crafted a rich universe and a world with unlimited possibility, and Alan Wake 2 will surely be an example of that.
For now, all we can do is wait for Remedy to break whatever announcements they have.
Stay glued to the Alan Wake Facebook page.