Some mild spoilers for Alan Wake 2 ahead.
Alan Wake 2 is a game full of confident moments that reject pre-conceived notions of how certain genres should play out, something which is increasingly rarer in the AAA games space. After all, one of the game’s best moments (which almost got cut) is something many would argue shouldn’t be anywhere near a survival horror game, but I wouldn’t change it for the world – those that have played know exactly what I mean. Yet somehow, the thing I find boldest of all isn’t anything to do with the traditonal gameplay. That honour belongs to an entire arthouse short film Remedy decides to throw at you right near the end of the game.
Alan Wake 2’s film and TV influences are no secret, it wears its love of shows like Twin Peaks on its sleeve. But the sequel has leant into that affection even more, incorporating a lot of live action elements that add to the overall surreal quality of it all. The game plays a lot with different levels of reality and the live action cutscenes can occasionally come across as separate realities themselves. After all, David Harewood’s Warlin Door only appears in the live action moments, something that only adds to the mystery surrounding him.
Ohhh, Alan Wake, like A. Wake.
It should come as no surprise that the second to last area Alan has to explore is a cinema, because where else would it be? Much like how previous areas in the Alan portions of the game let you change the world around you, the cinema works the same, and of course there is a cinema screen that you can change. The screen itself has some fun puzzles you have to solve, which, yes, involves more of those live action scenes. But it’s actually what comes after you’ve completed this particular scene that I think is so bold.
Once you’re all wrapped up with what you need there, you’ll walk back out into the cinema, only to find the projector is still running. A film starts playing, one which stars the protagonist of Alan’s novels, Alex Casey, alongside some other familiar faces. A neat little surprise, you think, but then it just…keeps going. I expected that it would last maybe five minutes or so, just for fun, with some scenes perhaps being ones we’ve already seen, but instead what ended up happening was me putting down my controller for about 15 minutes to watch a genuine arthouse short film.
This isn’t something you’re forced to do, by the way, you can just walk out the cinema and keep going, but I had to see it through. If I’m to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t very good. Like the worst kind of arthouse films, it barely made any sense, felt weird for the sake of it at points, and you’d have to use an electric saw to cut through to find any meaning. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
Alan Wake 2 is absolutely critical of Alan as a writer; it knows that he really isn’t that good. He can’t even get through this nightmarescape without retreading old ground, and his internal monologue is certainly delivered in quite a pretentious manner. This short film was created by Thomas Zane, a parallel of Alan who just so happens to look exactly like him, so the game isn’t being subtle with how it frames the author. So, the film being kind of bad feels purposeful, like it’s openly asking “what are these has-been old men even trying to say?”
I know a lot of people don’t like lengthy cutscenes in games – I’m not one of those people personally, if a cutscene is good what does it matter – so I can understand if people don’t want to sit through this arthouse film. That said, it just feels so fun and brave to slow down and say “f**k it, shall we give it a go?” right before the game’s dramatic finish. Not all developers should do what Remedy has done here verbatim, but I do hope that this encourages more of them to go a little outside of their comfort zones.