It's been 13 years since Alan Wake, the horror-thriller that became a cult gaming hit, introduced its titular character: a best-selling author who's trying to find his missing wife, Alice, as the events of his latest serial killer novel — which he can't remember writing — start coming to life.
For those 13 years, Alan has been trapped in a dream reality, the Dark Place, trying to write a new story that will free him from his prison. "I can very much sympathize," Sam Lake, the Finnish game writer and creative director of developer Remedy Entertainment, tells EW. Lake has been in his own proverbial Dark Place while working on the sequel, Alan Wake II, which dropped a trailer during Gamescom on Tuesday and locked in an Oct. 27 release date.
To quickly recap, Alan and Alice were vacationing in the small, rural town of Bright Falls, Wash., at the start of the first game. There, Alan learned of a malevolent entity beneath the mysterious Cauldron Lake, referred to as the Dark Presence, which has been taking over the town's residents. It's this darkness that took Alice and attempted to use Alan's writing to try to escape its holding. Alan then sacrificed himself to save his wife. Now, trapped in the Dark Place for over a decade, the writer is trying to craft a new story that will allow him to escape his nightmarish prison.
Trapped in a nightmare, Alan Wake has been trying to write his way out. But what happens when something else escapes?
Here there's only victims and monsters. And monsters wear many faces.
Alan Wake 2 releases October 27. Pre-purchase now at https://t.co/5CvKjxP1Zs 🔦 #AlanWake pic.twitter.com/E3E0pMvsYE
— Alan Wake 2 (@alanwake) August 22, 2023
Previous teasers for Alan Wake II focused on the character of Saga Anderson, an FBI agent investigating a string of ritualistic murders in Bright Falls with her partner Alex Casey. However, the new Gamescom trailer centers on Alan and where he's been all this time. (Gamers will be able to play as both Saga and Alan in the sequel.) "I would say that we come upon him in a more raw state than before," Lake explains. "This kind of struggle and this constant nightmare has clearly left a mark. We do explore and discover how, through this time that has felt like eternity for him, there's been ups and downs along the way."
Below, Lake breaks down the new Alan Wake II trailer with EW.
The Dark Place
"In a horror story, they're only victims and monsters. And the trick is not to end up as either, but trapped by the genre, we're all ripped to pieces along the way."
Remedy Entertainment The Dark Place resembles New York City in 'Alan Wake II'
The trailer opens on a dark, rain-drenched vision of New York City. Lake confirms this is indeed the Dark Place. We've previously seen Alan trapped in a log cabin, pounding away at a typewriter, but "it's a dream reality that taps into his head and into the fiction he's creating," Lake notes. As such, the setting is malleable.
Alan previously resided in New York, and his crime-fiction book series was set in the Big Apple. The central character was Alex Casey. (It's no coincidence that Saga's partner has the same name.) "Because that's leaking out of him into the Dark Place, he is now in kind of a nightmare New York City," Lake notes, though he clarifies it's not a realistic portrayal. Remedy pulled inspiration from classic films for the vibe, including Martin Scorsese's 1976 movie Taxi Driver. "It's very much an iconic, crime-ridden feeling of a dangerous and scary New York City — every surface full of graffiti, a lot of trash in the streets, it's always nighttime, it's always raining," Lake says.
Remedy Entertainment A sign for Night Springs can be spotted in the NYC-esque Dark Place setting in 'Alan Wake II'
Eagle-eyed fans will note a sign in the NYC-inspired Dark Place setting that reads "Night Springs," which is the name of the in-world Twilight Zone-esque anthology show introduced in the first game. "Alan Wake, early on in his career, actually wrote screenplays for the show. So, it is part of his background," Lake says. And because the Dark Place is pulling from Wake's mind, the specifics of the metropolitan setting are reflections of that. Graffiti, signs, posters, and other details will feature messages and Easter eggs for the player to discover.
Another Easter egg? "Thomas Seine" is listed as the filmmaker on the Nightless Night movie poster above; this is no doubt a reference to Thomas Zane, a character from the previous Alan Wake.
Remedy Entertainment A Coffee World reference spotted in the new 'Alan Wake II' trailer
Amid a flurry of rapid-fire trailer shots is a smiling, bearded man wearing a Coffee World uniform. In the remastered version of Alan Wake, which arrived in 2021, small details were added, including a flyer on a cork board for a brewer called Coffee World. Lake didn't want to change the core game in any specific way with the remaster ("It's not a remake," he points out), but he did want to give it an upgrade, including subtle teases to Alan Wake II. Coffee World is one of those connecting threads. "In most cases, they appeared because they are pointing to something that you will experience in Alan Wake II, one way or the other," Lake says.
Ilkka Villi in the flesh
Remedy Entertainment Ilkka Villi appears as live-action Alan Wake in 'Alan Wake II'
Previous games set in the Alan Wake universe — including the DLC entries, 2012's American Nightmare, and 2019's Control — incorporated live-action elements into the gameplay. Actor Ilkka Villi, whose likeness is used for the main character, appears once again as Alan for the new trailer. (Matthew Porretta provides the voice of Alan.)
Lake points to Control, which he says "scaled down" the live-action elements of his previous games but still featured them in highly "stylized" contexts. For example, in Control players saw a vision of Villi's live-action Alan layered on top of the virtual rendering of Control's protagonist, Jesse Faden. Alan Wake II will continue in that direction with live-action performances.
"We are using a significant amount of live action, especially in the Dark Place, because it's the dream reality," Lake says. "It felt like a fascinating idea of using different mediums to communicate this idea of you are slightly unbalanced and you don't quite know what to expect. The Dark Place is kind of a metaphor, an ocean of darkness having many different depths and layers to it. Live action serves that purpose on one side. We are using it still in visions that we are planning on top of the game image in various ways, but we have put a lot more effort into the high quality of the actual live-action content."
Remedy shot live-action settings and brought them into Alan Wake II, sometimes as 1:1 recreations. Which brings us to…
"One of my favorite writers is here on the show! He's here to talk about his latest book."
Remedy Entertainment David Harewood appears as Mr. Door in 'Alan Wake II'
In the trailer, we see a live-action Alan on a late-night talk show called In Between With Mr. Door. Trippy late-night TV sequences are not new to the Alan Wake games, but this one appears to have a connection to Control. In that game, Jesse's brother, the disturbed but supernaturally powerful Dylan, claims to have met a man named Mr. Door in his dreams. He describes him as a traveler of the multiverse, endlessly "shifting" between realities. Now, in the Alan Wake II trailer, we see actor David Harewood (Supergirl, Homeland) as Mr. Door.
Lake teases, "It's a good question, how much can you trust anything that Dylan says? Because he doesn't feel to be all there in some ways. But how we approach the Remedy Connected Universe, Control existing in the same world, very little is by happenstance or coincidence. Usually there is a payoff and a meaning. So, I would maybe assume that we are talking about the same character, one way or the other."
One fan theory predicts that Mr. Door — or a version of him in another reality — is also Martin Hatch from Quantum Break, Remedy's 2016 game. So, is he? "The easy, clear answer is that, out of our past games, Max Payne and Quantum Break are not part of the Remedy Connected Universe. They are not part of Remedy's plans," Lake says. "That being said, in a purely speculative, Easter egg kind of way, I do love the idea of enabling our audience to come up with theories. I don't want to shoot them down on that level. We are making questions possible and giving ideas to people that they can then form their own theories. I think that's very much part of the fun."
Remedy Entertainment 665, a popular number featured in Remedy games, appears in the 'Alan Wake II' trailer
The number 665 appears in various Remedy games, and here it pops up again. When asked about it, Lake just laughs. "I keep pushing that in and I find it amusing," he says. "It was in the original Max Payne just as a one-liner joke. I won't lie, sometimes some of the team members [at Remedy] roll their eyes when they find out that I'm still not moving on from that joke."
Giggles aside, however, Lake teases, "There is maybe more meaning to be found in its use" in Alan Wake II.
"Wake has a double. Where is he now?"
Remedy Entertainment A dark double stalks the Dark Place in 'Alan Wake II'
Lake acknowledges, "There is a mention of a double in this [trailer]. We get creepy glimpses of a scary guy who kind of looks like Alan Wake." In the opening, the trailer cuts between live-action Alan at his desk in the Dark Place and a version of Alan dressed in black climbing on top of the desk. Who is the double? Lake won't offer a definitive answer, but fans can theorize.
Mr. Scratch is a likely candidate. A doppelgänger introduced at the end of Alan Wake, he later appeared in Alan Wake's American Nightmare to torment the novelist. He was also mentioned during the events of Control. The trailer, as Lake points out, includes a whispered chant — "your friends will meet him when you're gone" — that fans of the original game may recognize in relation to Mr. Scratch.
"I think it's safe to say that, once again, in one way or the other, Alan Wake's dark double is part of this experience," Lake says in his typical cryptic manner.
Remedy Entertainment Alan Wake is accosted by a stranger in an alley in 'Alan Wake II'
There's also the question of the mysterious man (who bears a striking similarity to Lake himself) that we see accosting Alan in a side alley of the nightmare New York setting. Lake previously provided his likeness to the Max Payne character, and he does so again for the character of Alex Casey. Is this the Alex Casey of Alan's novels come to life? Is it Mr. Scratch? Someone else? That's still not confirmed.
Lake does, however, explain how duality is a key aspect of the story of Alan Wake II. "There are two hero characters, two worlds, two separate journeys that are still very much connected," he says. "And a lot of mirrors, a lot of twisted reflections, which is also immediately a double in itself — Cauldron Lake being the central point and landmark in the experience, and that being the doorway into the Dark Place has already been established in the franchise."
More connections to Control?
Remedy Entertainment The red lights of 'Control' return in 'Alan Wake II' as a stylized visual connected to the supernatural
The trailer ends on a spine-tingling note. The whispered chants sound an awful lot like the Hiss, the inter-dimensional force introduced in Control. Meanwhile, the red lights in Alan Wake II also evoke Control. However, Lake clarifies, "I can clearly confirm the Hiss does not play, in any significant way, a big part of this experience." The red lights, though, are slightly different.
"The red light, for sure, is part of the journey we started with Control on looking at striking visualizations, looking at art house horror films," Lake continues. "Light and darkness are important parts, and when you are dealing with light, it's not always pure white light. Very much the stylization also being this modern flash photography. So, we are using colored lights to tie to supernatural events. There are red lights, there are other colored elements, but it has its own contextual meaning within this game and within the Dark Place. It's not so much, 'This game is part of the Remedy Connected Universe.' I think that our audience and fans of Control will actually be surprised about the amount of connection points, but, from the framework of Control, maybe it's not what you would think just within that context."
Still, Lake confirms that there are certain elements introduced in Control that will be expanded upon in Alan Wake II, some of which Lake says the team picked up and are now "running crazily with." At the end of the day, however, this is still an Alan Wake sequel. "We have been really mindful of creating an experience where none of that is required homework," he says of the past entries in the shared universe. "Maybe [Alan Wake II] will motivate you after the fact to seek out some of these previous games and experience them."
Alan Wake II will release Oct. 27 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on the Epic Games Store.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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