If 2010’s “Alan Wake” was heavily influenced by “Twin Peaks” (with a lot of Stephen King thrown in for good measure), this one is very clearly inspired by “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and not just because of the long gap between releases. Much as “The Return” took ideas from the ABC original and filtered them through a terrifying funhouse mirror, “Alan Wake II” feels like a nightmare someone would have after playing the first game in its refusal to hold your hand through its convoluted dream logic. At its core, it’s about the very act of creation as your character rebuilds and destroys the world around them in order to accomplish a set of goals. It contains embedded commentary on the self-destructive nature of writing and the very process of altering the world around you through a creative vision. And it’s both refreshing in its creativity and absolute nightmare fuel in its intensity.
As if the developers at Remedy Entertainment are laying a gauntlet down early, you start your time in “Alan Wake II” playing a naked, overweight man who crawls from a swamp, climbs up a muddy embankment, flees through the woods, and gets murdered by a cult. This is not your typical game. It turns out that the man is Robert Nightingale, a character from the first game last seen at Cauldron Lake, the site where writer Alan Wake was also last spotted 13 years ago. FBI investigators Saga Anderson and Alex Casey are dispatched to investigate the bizarre murder and stumble into a nightmare. First, Anderson finds manuscript pages that seem to be able to predict what happens next before having to defeat a superpowered sort of Zombie Nightingale (in one of the game’s toughest boss battles). When she returns to the nearby town of Bright Falls, she’s startled by the number of people who seem to recognize her from a life she led there that she doesn’t remember. Maybe Alan Wake himself, just emerged from Cauldron Lake, has the answers.
Wake is taken back to Bright Falls with Anderson and Casey, where the game fractures further, allowing the players to alternate between Wake and Anderson’s arcs as they choose for the rest of the experience. Wake’s is a flashback to his time in the Dark Place, where he’s been trapped for the last 13 years, detailing his escape. The vision here is as surreal as gaming gets, a place where Wake is hunted by demons and can literally rewrite the world around him, one that’s built on his personality as a writer and the missing wife that started this all in the first game. He’s tracking both the Dark Place version of Alex Casey (a character he created) and his evil alter ego, Mr. Scratch. Wake essentially wrote himself out of Purgatory, but the Devil, in the form of Scratch, edited his work in a way that’s now impacting the real world. Meanwhile, Anderson is investigating that new Hell on Earth, trying to put together the pieces of her own past and Wake’s role in it. Believe it or not, it gets weirder from there.