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7th June 2023
Alan Wake 2 Gameplay Trailer Analysis
[Alex Casey, Suspicious Walls, and Barbara Jagger]

Today, we're going to be taking a deep dive into the Alan Wake 2 Gameplay Trailer which debuted during the PlayStation Showcase. While it's only a minute and fifty seconds long, the video is packed with new scenes and teasers which have been the focus of many debates within the community. As the Summer Game Fest is heading our way this week with more gameplay, it felt like an appropriate time to take a look back at what's been teased so far. 

"I'm trapped here...." 

In the opening scene, we see a bloodied man covered in dirt being dragged by two hooded individuals wearing deer-like masks. The light is behind the two attackers, silhouetting the outlines of their clothes. Initially, it's unclear whether the man they are dragging is alive, with a very brief shot of his tired and surrendered face. Throughout the scene, there are sounds of pained groaning; possibly from the man, but also potentially from his two attackers as they struggle to move him. 

"...in this nightmare." 

The sacrifice scene is interspersed with clips that mirror those used in Control, with fragments and patterns appearing intrusively. While in Control, they often showed mirror or reflecting images, the clips that we see in the trailer appear to show a whirlpool recorded with an old film-style camera. Immediately my mind went back to Control's AWE DLC. Those that played it may remember that Alan's doppelganger tried to persuade the writer that he (the copy) was Thomas Zane, not a poet, but instead a filmmaker. In the DLC scene, Alan is struggling to remember the truth, nothing makes sense. As the trailer progresses, we see the faint outline of a figure facing towards the camera, his figures shaded by darkness. 



"I write to escape..." 

We return to the scene. The man is struggling against his two attackers. While the camera movement is quick, they appear to be dressed in dark olive raincoats or overalls. Their outfits are shining in the light, giving the appearance of a sleek waterproof material. They both wear gloves, as they begin to tie the struggling man down. Flashing scenes interject the scene, more quickly this time. We see clips of a possible whirlpool, shapes that are too distorted, and once again another figure, this time slightly more clearly. The figure is facing the camera directly with their head lowered. Their eyes and the bottom half of their face are still hidden in shadow. The only thing in semi-clear view, illuminated by dim teal light, is their dark wet hair hanging over their forehead. Mr Scratch? A fraction of a second later, we see what appears to be a man's torso. Whether it's the back or front, it's unclear, but it appears to have large wounds alongside the left-hand side. The figure returns and lifts its head. 

"...every word is a step forward..."  

The focus returns to the two attackers who have successfully subdued their victim. We see their appearance more clearly; a dark green waterproof coat with golden buttons running down the middle and covering the pockets. Their hands are covered in thick gloves, the colour of rusty beige, perhaps to avoid prints? One of the attackers raises a sharp knife in his right hand and begins to lift it further upwards. Around their neck, we see a necklace with two triangles overlapping each other vertically, creating a symbol we now know to be from the Cult of the Tree. 

He lifts up the knife above his head with both gloved hands. In this shot, we get a clearer glimpse of the attacker's face. He is indeed wearing a deer mask (Deerfest has changed!) which ends just below his mouth. Antlers protrude on either side. Below the mask, we see a peppered beard; black with flecks of grey. We see his blue eyes through the holes. There's something about the man who reminds me of Birch, one of the nurses from Cauldron Lake Lodge in the original Alan Wake game. 

"...into darkness"

As the knife comes down, the scene changes to Alan gasping loudly as if waking up from a nightmare. He looks different; a slightly longer beard and neck-length black hair. His face is dimly lit in cool light, but there's just enough to see that he is wearing a different outfit; a dark shirt and dark patterned tie. It's unclear whether he is wearing his iconic tweed jacket or one similar. 

"I'm glad you're on this case with me, Anderson. It's right up your alley."

In a new scene, a grey car (licence plate reading BHZ96 05) stops in a clearing, surrounded by trees. From the orange leaves on the ground and mist looping around the tree trunks, it's easy to see that we're deep into autumn. Next to the car is a rotting wooden sign, with a weathered map showing how to get to "Cauldron Lake", the location of Alan Wake's disappearance in the first game. The area isn't overgrown but it does look abandoned. The shortened grass is likely stunted by lack of sunlight rather than careful maintenance. There's an open but seemingly empty rubbish bin next to the sign. An area once frequented?

The perspective changes and two FBI agents step outside of the vehicle. Here we see the first look at Saga Anderson, our co-protagonist for the adventure. With the information that Remedy has shared since the trailer, we know she is a mother and a highly respected FBI profiler, that's brought in to help with the toughest cases. In the background, we see Alex Casey, but we'll get to him in a moment. 



"The victim was one of their own, FBI Special Agent Robert Nightingale" 

The scene changes. Alan is in a wooden log cabin writing on the typewriter on his desk. A taxidermied owl, prepared to take off, looms ominously behind him. On either side are the two circular windows of the Bird Leg Cabin. One major difference; the desk now faces the open door instead of against the wall; possibly to avoid any surprises from uninvited guests.

For those who played the original, Robert Nightingale is a familiar name. He had travelled to Bright Falls in search of Alan Wake, convinced that he was a ruthless criminal. It was an obsession that led to heavy drinking and an itchy trigger finger. After arresting the writer, Nightingale was dragged from the police station, consumed by the Dark Presence. He was last seen in the closing moments of the game, a possible puppet of the darkness, watching the Deerfest parade from the safety of a darkened storefront.



"So you knew our victim?" 

We see a shot of Bright Falls as the Wakes would have seen thirteen years ago. The mountains are covered in evergreen trees and partially obscured by meandering fog. Pollen is caught up in the waves of what appears to be a broken port. The town looks very familiar, not much has changed, but it looks slightly different with the new technology. In the distance, we see the church where Breaker and Wake took refuge during their fight across town and the Oh Deer Diner with its broken jukebox. Just in front of the diner is the familiar, and slightly nightmare-inducing, Deerfest float. (Presumably rebuilt since the Dark Presence tried to murder us with it.) Besides the float, very faintly, you can see green and yellow tents and Deerfest signs, alongside a string of prominent American flags. Combined with the autumn leaves, it feels like we're in mid-September, maybe just a couple of days away from the Deerfest celebrations or soon after. 

"Only the rumours. He was chasing a writer."

In the next shot, we see the main street in Bright Falls. Preparations for the 81st Annual Deerfest event look to just be underway. (In Alan Wake, the closing scenes took place on the 68th Annual Deerfest, so some time has definitely passed!) In the background, there are two individuals with one precariously balanced on a chair as they lift up a green Deerfest sign. (That colour scheme for the event is... interesting. It's hard not to draw comparisons between the colours worn by the deer-mask attackers at the start.) There's a stack of white patio chairs in preparation for the events and a few cars and vans parked on the road which has been recently soaked by rainwater.



The town looks a little scruffier than how we originally saw it. That may be partially due to improvements in technology, but there's also evidence of rubbish on the street, bordered-up windows, and a general sense of abandonment. There's no queue for the ticket stall for the ferry, with the only items showing proof of foot traffic being an abandoned safety jacket and bicycle leaning up against the railings. 

Without a doubt, the most attractive place on the road is the lodge (maybe a visitor centre of sorts?) to the left on the screen with hanging floral arrangements and lovely looking porch. Next to them is the Pine Funeral Home(?), the last word in the logo is obscured by two Oh Deer Diner mascots dressed up as thermoses deep in conversation. (Look at their little arms!) Interestingly, the thermoses are lacking the blue case from the iconic ones in the first game. That seems to be a common theme with this shot though; besides the green and yellow shades, there's a feeling that it's been drained of colour and life. Maybe intentional, or just the feeling that some colours feel more prominent after strong rainfall. 

The final thing which grabs my attraction is the Oh Deer Diner down the street. It seems to have had a makeover following what looks to be new management. Instead of "Triple D's", the sign above the cafe reads "Coffee World". Gone is also the huge sign above the entrance, "Bright's Diner". And for those looking for the "best cupcakes in Pacific Northwest", you might have to look elsewhere, they don't boast that anymore. (Although there might be a new logo on the structural supports.) In any case, if you're visiting the main street, your maximum speed needs to be twenty, you can't park at any time, watch out for pedestrians, and no left turns. General life advice. 

"Someone knew they were here, was playing a game with them." 



We return to Alan at his typewriter, the camera zoomed in closer, and that's where things begin to look not quite right for Bird Leg Cabin. You've got the two T.J. Eckleburg windows (check), desk and lamp (check), and slightly threatening owl (check), but there's also a silver TV on the right and what appears to be THE MOST FINNISH BALCONY to the left. The last one is a little tricky to describe, but while working in Finland, the style shown here is something that you encounter quite a bit in buildings. There's something about the scale of the window to the door, the placement, and that thick window border. This would be a weird comparison to make but Control established that Watery was founded by Finnish immigrants and that there's a lot of overlap in the culture. Ahti, the beloved Finnish janitor retires for a holiday to his cabin in Watery, sending a postcard to Jesse later of him having a well-deserved mid-sauna beer on the porch. It's also worth mentioning that there was not a door there before in the cabin.

"The killer left... a message?"

Returning to the action, Saga picks up a typewritten page. Remember in the original game how neat the pages were? This one is decidedly less so. The page are covered in mud and heavily edited with frantic scribbles crossing out words and even sentences at a time. Are these heavily edited by the writer, intentionally redacted by someone else, or Alan attempting to leave no room for interpretation? They're closer to the pages that we collected at the FBC rather than last time we were at Bright Falls (or even Night Springs). As Saga reads it, she concludes that they are the intended audience. 

"It's about us. The text is about us." 



In the next scene, we're introduced properly to Alex Casey. Now, this is a bit of a tricky connection to talk about! In the original game, Alan wrote about an FBI agent, Alex Casey, in a series of bestselling books ending with The Sudden Stop. The manuscript pages that we collect from his desk in New York are read by James McCaffrey in a clear reference to Remedy's earlier work, Max Payne. The final book that Alan publishes before his disappearance leaves things a little dire for the detective; in The Harry Garrett Show interview (viewed in Episode Five in the original game), the host states that "this book is all about the death of the main character, the hard-boiled, New York detective, Alex Casey." 

It's hard not to make comparisons between Thomas Zane, a previously-famous poet who became a myth and lost his connections to the real world. In the original adventure, there was an interesting manuscript page which explored the fluidity in reality with Zane having written the Clicker into existence for Alan to recover it at the Well Lit Room. Thirteen years after his disappearance, it feels like Alan has fallen into Zane's position; a man with no real tether to the world, except for his writing ability to form connections and nudge reality. (It does pose the question that if Alex Casey is brought to life through Wake's writings, if Wake is also a creation that Zane brought to life, but maybe that's for another day.) Like the original Max Payne, Alex Casey is back to life, armed with James McCaffrey's voice and Sam Lake look. 

"We're all trapped in a horror story. The horror story wanted us dead." 



After a quick close-up of Alan writing at his desk, we jump into some gameplay action. In the first clip, we take control of Saga as she walks carefully but confidently towards the heavily abandoned Cauldron Lake General Store, with a decaying sign promoting "goods, groceries, and confectionary". The atmosphere is extremely heavy, with darkness surrounding the place, and the rain adding to the grey haze. From the outside, it looks similar to, but not quite like, the two general stores that we had encountered before in the town. Instead, this store is situated in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by trees. It's looking extremely battered, with the roof covered in moss and tangled branches, and the place in general ruin. It's unclear whether the store was built within the past thirteen years, but it wasn't a location that we visited in the original game. The only hint of a welcome is a picnic bench and lantern, so... that's inviting right? Naturally, Saga is armed with a gun and a torch. 

There are a couple of things that I love about this clip. First up, the rain does make everything a little creepier and unwelcoming. Whenever a scene has had intense rainfall before it, I always feel like I can vividly imagine being there; that feeling that everything feels fresh and alive. When it comes stealth games, there's also the impression that, no matter how quiet you are, the mud is going to give you away, and the leaves are going to impede your escape. On the topic of rain, the FBI jacket is looking pretty incredible. It has that sleek look that you immediately know what kind of material it is and how it behaves with water. You've got the raindrops on the jacket which adds to the overall look and feel. It's something small but I'm all for it! The final thing that I wanted to mention is Saga's hair. In the original game, you may have noticed that all the women have their hair tied up. For a lot of cases, it just made sense, but there was also a technological aspect to it. Hair is a nightmare to animate. Now, while Saga's hair is also pulled up into a neat and practical ponytail, it's also loose below her shoulders. Although we had this a little with Jesse, a few years down the line, and now with Saga it hits different; it feels more loose and natural. 



Moments later, and we're inside the Cauldron Lake General Store. It's clear that, despite the fallen leaves, and vines snaking through the ceiling, someone is still using the location. There are several metal foldable tablets in the centre of the room, with lanterns, an insulated blue and white (thermos colours) picnic box, and (concerningly) power tools scattered on them. Unsurprisingly the Ahma ("wolverine" in Finnish) vending machines are out. In the advertisements shown in Alan Wake Remastered, we learn that Ahma is a "Finnish Style" lager made in the Watery Brewery. (Let's just hope they didn't copy the Anderson brother's recipe of using water from Cauldron Lake.) Old posters and broken ceiling tiles border a room that implies a group gathering with several foldable chairs littering the place. It's also clear that it's been used as living quarters; implied by the blanket wrapped over one of the former shelves, and a pair of trousers on another. 

Stirred by intense whispers from the next room describing a "flood of darkness", Saga walks closer. Her hands are in the same crossover position that Alan uses in Alan Wake's American Nightmare. One thing of note, as she approaches the doorway, is the mouldy poster to the left. It's celebrating the upcoming "68th Annual Deerfest" celebration from the original game. Suddenly a figure shatters through the wall, throwing Saga back. Armed with an axe, the attacker appears physically similar to the ones seen at the start of the trailer; wearing a full waterproof outfit, boots, gloves, and the haunting deer mask. 

"There's something I'm forgetting."

The next shot is of Alan standing in a Valkyr-green New York alleyway trashed with graffiti. The scene is best analysed with the official screenshot that was posted following the trailer's debut, as it shows a clearer view of some of the text.



On the left-hand side, is the word "Return", a title that holds multiple meanings in the series. It was the manuscript that Alan wrote in American Nightmare. It's also the third step in the Hero's Journey; Departure, Initiation, and Return (a structure that was referenced in Sam Lake's This House of Dreams). Further down the wall is the word "Scratch" in a similar spiky style. Mr Scratch was Alan's smiling doppelganger teased at the end of the original game. We learned more about his evil ways in American Nightmare, and although he was defeated, it's unclear how much of a part he will play in the game. The right-hand side of the screen is a little more fuzzy. At the top, we have the word "Write", and at the very bottom, we see the word "Here" repeated a few times, although it's difficult to make out the start of the phrase. 

The scene changes and we're in front of the Elderwood Palace which describes itself to be "where history meets hospitality". While a new addition to the Bright Falls map, the design of the entranceway is recognisable from the start of the trailer, and helps us place it on main street. It's a beautiful location; a large wooden lodge decorated with neat stonework, blooming plants, and wrapped in a cosy vibe. The name expertly carved out of wood in a sign above the entranceway. The cabin is embracing the final light of a dying sunset. It's a scene that reminds me of the very early 2005 Alan Wake trailers. The camera moves out to reveal two hooded and masked figures approaching. 



The scene moves again as the music pace increases. We see Wake at a payphone, originally teased in early concept artwork. While this scene would have felt differently a decade ago, there have been two instances in Remedy titles since where phones have played an interesting part in the game. In American Nightmare, it allows the player to access an Easter Egg in which Matthew Porretta (voice of Alan Wake) talks about his encounter with a deer. In Control, the hotline (represented as a red 1960s rotatory phone) is an Object of Power that can only be used by the Director of the FBC to communicate with the Board. At present, we don't who is was talking to, but it's going to be interesting finding out. 

In the next scene, we see him standing in the middle of a street in the Dark Place's recreation of New York. He is surrounded by skyscrapers, signs, and trees, with cars parked either side, including a yellow cab. It might even look real to a man untethered to reality for thirteen years. Certain signs grab our attention; the "Oceanview Hotel", a mirror to Control's "Oceanview Motel" where Jesse sees Alan Wake in a vision as she approaches the spiral door. Another neon light offers "Neighbourhood Illumination", decorated with a light bulb symbol; presumably our next stop as light often playing the saviour in the series. Just beyond the branches of a tree we see an advertisement for "Cult", with a figure wearing a deer mask. 

We flashback to Saga, who has cornered a man, now seemingly trapped against a large boulder. He is wearing blue overalls and carrying a waterproof backpack. As she edges towards him, he contorts his body and produces a low gurgling sound. In the final micro-second, we see a mist of darkness emerge from him. 

"Something important."

The scene changes again to a mid-action shot. Saga is grabbed by a man by the neck and pushed backwards. In the distance, the sun is setting, but trees provide additional shade for the Taken to emerge. As our protagonist stumbles back, we see that rememberable inky black mark of the Taken surround the attacker. 

We're back in New York. Illuminated by a purple haze of police lights, three slightly-transparent shadows edge closer to Wake who has armed himself. In the background is a building that reminiscent of Wake's apartment building

"Something's not right!"

We're again with Saga, in what looks to be a gym at a residential home. There are a couple of yoga balls to the side, a wheelchair parked in the corner, and weights against a column. Against the far wall is a mural of a white-tailed deer is painted on the yellow wall, surrounded by blue skies and green trees. There's also a vibe that reminds me of the Oceanview Motel in Control... though that may just be a warm, cottagey public space with soft light spilling in through curtains. Oh, and there's also a twelve-armed woman with two heads lurching towards Saga.... I maybe should have led with the woman. While we don't yet know the purpose, a piece of ribbon has been tied to each of her wrists. The woman appears mirrored from the waist up; with her torso leading to another torso where there is a vertical reflection of herself. She walks across the ground on balanced hands. 

The next piece of gameplay showcases an action scene with Saga firing a shotgun round at a Taken. In previous Alan Wake games, blood was never really a feature. We saw Rusty with a badly injured leg, but Taken usually faded into the background. This time, shooting gets you blood. As the attacker is thrown back, we see a sign next to Saga with the description for a possible location. The word "Ladle" appears at the top, but the text is too blurred to read. What's caught my attention though is the image next to it; a sketch of a woman in a morning gown with a hole where her heart should be. Barbara Jagger, you're up! 

"Easy now. First things first... what's your name?"

In the closing scene, Saga meets Alan who reassures him and calmly asks him his name. They are surrounded by mountains, potentially at Crater Lake, although it's slightly unclear as the scene is in close-up. Alan looks up at her, unsure or maybe overwhelmed. He doesn't answer.

I want to also mention a few other analysis videos and articles that you should check out if you're interested in different perspectives. The brilliant Hidden Machine created a video soon after the trailer's debut, and GameSpot's Mark Delaney was back with another in-depth article. We all have very different approaches, so they may have been able to pick up things that I missed, and hopefully, I picked up something that they didn't see originally. I've had these pages bookmarked, so as soon as this article is published, I'm going to check them out too! 

-- CONSOLE & PC GAMES --

The Crossfire Series

The Control Series

The Quantum Break Series

The Alan Wake Series

The Max Payne Series

Additional

-- MOBILE GAMES --

-- LIVE ACTION SERIES --

Icons by the incredible, Evil-Owl-Loki.

Beyond the shadow you settle for, there is a miracle illuminated.