Until very recently, I’d thought that Alan Wake 2 would reside in the #2 slot here, while Tears of the Kingdom would remain my personal game of the year. However, a chance encounter recently with writer Cole Kronman (who wrote this great piece on Xenogears and the games of Tetsuya Takahashi for us) helped me clarify my own feelings. I realized that for me, these two games are in close conversation with each other, strange mirrors of each other’s greatness, and that together, they define the best that 2023’s games had to offer in my mind. I’m not going to spoil plot points for either game, but to engage with why and how this is the case, I need to mention a crucial line of dialogue from the end of Alan Wake 2, one that mirrors the first game’s climactic mic drop of “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.” If you haven’t yet finished Alan Wake 2 and want to discover this line for yourself, turn back now.
In the final moments of Alan Wake 2 (and potentially earlier, depending on how thorough you are in exploring and absorbing Remedy’s metaphysical horror odyssey), a character says, “It’s not a loop, it’s a spiral.” Alan Wake 2 explores the difficulty and anguish many artists find in the creative process, the way it can sometimes feel like you’re just banging your head against the wall and not making a damn bit of progress, seeing no way out whatsoever as that blank page continues to taunt you.
Read More: Alan Wake 2: The Kotaku Review
And yet, sometimes at least, a way out does eventually reveal itself. Sometimes, after we’ve been spinning our wheels for what feels like forever, something in our subconscious will finally crack, a bit of light will shine through, and we will see, at long last, a path forward, knowing that we had to go through all of that internal turmoil to find our way out. What felt like a pointless, exhausting, excruciating loop was in fact a spiral all along. Before spotlighting this at the end by having a character speak the line, Alan Wake 2 hides this idea in plain sight, repeatedly putting you in environments that feel like loops that you have no choice but to run through again and again. Eventually, your persistence pays off, something suddenly changes, and a way out reveals itself. You thought you were going in circles but you were actually moving forward all along; it just took a lot of energy and grit to see that.
I don’t have any particular insight into what the struggle to get Alan Wake 2 made was like for creative director Sam Lake and the other folks at Remedy, but it’s no secret that this is a game the studio had been hoping to make for a very long time. I have to imagine that at times, the setbacks and struggles were crushing, that they felt like defeat. And yet, it’s undeniable that if Remedy had been able to make a sequel to 2010’s Alan Wake some 10 or six years ago, it would not be the game that it is today. Alan Wake 2 is extraordinary in no small part because it is a game that took 13 years to get made, and because, in its creative energy, you can feel the restless struggle, the accumulation of ideas, the desperate search for a way out. Alan Wake 2 is about many things, but perhaps none of them is more crucial to its identity than being about the struggle to make Alan Wake 2.
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