Couverture The Art Of Alan Wake 2

The Art Of Alan Wake 2

One of the oldest comparisons we can still hear made to video games is to the cinema. Despite the passing years, we’re still trying to compare the 10th and 7th art. The term cinematic is used for certain videogame sequences where the player no longer controls his avatar and is carried away by the story unfolding before his eyes. Many franchises have made this their trademark, particularly in the 2000s. Who wasn’t thrilled by the introduction to World of Warcraft in 2004? Or discovering Tidus in his first blitzball match in Final Fantasy X? These images are impactful and cinematic, because they take on the very essence of the medium: editing. We’re no longer in control of the camera; we’re watching a clip in front of us, a short film for the longest cutscenes. For a long time, this comparison was laudatory, before the video game was relegated to an eternal thirst for copying cinema, in the sense of an ideal to be attained in order to claim the rank of a legitimate art form in its own right.

Fortunately, we’ve since passed that point, and have been able to discover more and more interesting visual offerings in video games, as well as increasingly emphasized gameplay. We won’t go back over the age-old question of whether video games are art or not. What interests us here, in this artistic analysis of Alan Wake 2, the latest game from Finnish studio Remedy, is to understand how the creative team managed the feat of digesting its influences and inspirations to produce one of the year’s wildest artistic proposals.

Alan Wake 2 brilliantly combines many influences
Alan Wake 2 brilliantly combines many influences

Theatricality is perhaps a better frame of reference for the more ambitious stories and ideas proposed by interactive entertainment. Alan Wake 2 fits into this category, this all-consuming aspiration to offer a unique work. As we’ll discover in this analysis, there are many influences: the shadow of David Lynch hangs over the game (and over Remedy’s work more generally), but there’s also a cinematic edge to many aspects of the game. David Fincher’s staging, for example, runs throughout the story. Fincher’s blocking and shot composition are all carefully crafted to communicate the changing relationships and dynamics within a scene. It’s an element that will be present throughout Alan Wake 2 to accentuate the duality of this story that sees us embody two different protagonists. These cinematic influences are far from the only ones: we’ll also be looking at the revival of folk horror since the 2010s, as well as all the other inspirations, from Fargo to True Detective, via a wide spectrum of films and TV series (yes, we’ll be talking about The Twilight Zone and X-Files, among others). Above all, we’re going to try to understand how the game manages to summon up all these works without ever falling into simple homage, but rather into a work in its own right, which has taken the time to digest its references.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective

Our analysis will go on to look at the philosophy behind the game, its relationship to cosmic and existential horror, and how this translates into every inch of the Alan Wake 2 universe. We’ll continue with an artistic dive into the game’s narrative design, how the characters’ psyche is transcribed onto their environment and how Remedy lets us put the camera down to observe every nook and cranny of the game to discover all its secrets. These are just some of the ways in which Alan Wake 2 fully assumes its role as a game rather than an interactive film. Finally, we’ll also look at the game’s theatricality, sound composition and lighting.

Grab a coffee and sink into this analysis with us
Grab a coffee and sink into this analysis with us

Follow us into the Dark.

Spoiler alert : this file will spoil some elements of the Twin Peaks series and the game Alan Wake 2

David Lynch’s shadow

ABC, a television network then considered second-rate, embarks on an atypical path by producing a crime drama centered on murders and secrets in the Pacific Northwest. Mark Frost, already renowned for his work on Hill Street Blues, and David Lynch, a two-time Oscar nominee known for his penchant for the bizarre, came together to bring to life an initial biopic project that would never see the light of day. However, this collaboration gave rise to the initial image of a dead woman found on a beach, an image that would eventually become the pilot episode of Twin Peaks. This idea emerged after months of preparation, and despite a certain reluctance on Lynch’s part to invest in television. The result? A series that can be considered one of the most influential since Dragnet. Its initial reception by critics and audiences was a resounding success. It was radically different from anything seen on television and, perhaps most significantly, it succeeded in presenting Lynch’s idiosyncrasies in a format accessible to a wide audience. Indeed, it marks the birth of a new era for television series.

Although Twin Peaks only lasted three seasons, its impact remains undeniable, shaping the way many creators approach storytelling, the construction of their worlds, character development and the realization of their productions. Series such as The Sopranos, Riverdale and the remarkable first season of Desperate Housewives all share a filiation with this work.

A major surrealist masterpiece

One of the major characteristics of David Lynch’s work is undoubtedly surrealism. Born of an artistic movement after the First World War, this movement, notably created by André Breton, aims to make the unconscious conscious, using artistic techniques such as automatic writing to create new forms. Lynch has embraced this approach throughout his career, from his debut Eraserhead to Inland Empire, a film which, despite its three-hour running time, seems to take an eternity to watch. While his idiosyncrasies were perhaps less accessible in Twin Peaks, they were no less surprising. Many of the series’ defining moments are characterized by their surrealism: the first appearance of the giant in the second season, the death of Leland and the scenes following Maddy’s death are striking examples. These mysterious moments only accentuate the series’ already palpable strangeness.

Twin Peaks' giant will be present until season 3
Twin Peaks‘ giant will be present until season 3

If surrealism is a combination of reality and dreams, then games like Silent Hill are an extension of it, and go even further in the direction of expressionism. Once again, we find superficial elements of the series, including a restaurant and a setting that, if not located in the Pacific Northwest, is in a region where greenery is omnipresent. Harry Mason arrives in Silent Hill as an outsider and is quickly immersed in the secrets of the town and its inhabitants as he searches for his daughter. All its elements – the characters, the plots, the mysteries, the dangers, the surrealism, the offbeat conversations – combine into a singular work of art that demands to be watched again and again. Even if we know we’ll never fully understand it, because we can’t ignore its appeal. Clearly, Alan Wake 2 has exactly this potential as a cult work in the making.

One of the most memorable scenes of The Return, and of the 2010s
One of the most memorable scenes of The Return, and of the 2010s

While certainly more masterful than Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the prequel film made without Mark Frost’s participation, The Return abandons many elements of the original series to let Lynch produce the kind of content he perfected with Mulholland Drive. Throughout the third season, unconventional images and experimental ideas emerge, choices that few series creators would have dared to undertake. This season has turned a small being into an electric tree with chewing gum on its head and metamorphosed David Bowie into a talking kettle. Admittedly, this can be hard to follow, as many key plot elements revolve around characters you probably don’t remember. Twin Peaks remains one of the most influential TV series of all time, having inspired a multitude of media, including video games. The fusion of an ongoing detective story with soap opera elements and David Lynch’s distinctive surrealism, already evident in films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, was unprecedented in the TV landscape. The structure of a small town containing eccentric inhabitants, dark secrets and emerging dreams and terrors presented a challenge for adaptation to the series format, prompting questions as to why Twin Peaks specifically inspired so many games.

A perfectly digested inspiration

The imprint of Twin Peaks on Remedy’s work is undeniable, positioning the series as a central pillar in their shared game universe. In Max Payne, the insertion of elements from the fictional Address Unknown series is a direct homage to Twin Peaks. These references reflect some of the surrealism present in the game universe. Similarly, Alan Wake has often been compared to Twin Peaks due to its rural setting and constant supernatural elements, recreating the distinctive atmosphere of the TV series. Even in Control, the parallels with Twin Peaks are evident in the approach of the FBI agents, who adopt a supernatural perspective to their investigations, similar to that of the series’ iconic characters. Alan Wake 2 continues in this vein, exploring these sources of inspiration in greater depth and exploiting them to the full to deliver an immersive experience steeped in the mystery and surrealism of Twin Peaks‘ legacy.

Poster of Address Unknown that can be found in Max Payne
Poster of Address Unknown that can be found in Max Payne

The initial script for Alan Wake 2 seems to have drawn directly from the Twin Peaks narrative universe. In the iconic TV series, FBI agent Dale Cooper arrives in the seemingly peaceful town of Twin Peaks, Washington, to investigate the murder of young Laura Palmer. Similarly, Alan Wake 2 opens with an almost identical plot, introducing the FBI to Bright Falls, another mountain town in Washington State, to unravel a series of recent ritual murders. However, these deceptive introductions hide deep, dark secrets in these seemingly tranquil towns, suggesting the existence of supernatural phenomena.

Twin Peaks‘ Black Lodge stands out as a mysterious alternative dimension. It’s a mythological place mentioned in the stories of the Nez Perce tribe of northeastern Washington State. The name used to designate a particular extradimensional place visited by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper during his visit to Twin Peaks, which had the appearance of an endless series of red-curtained rooms and corridors. When he enters it in the series, he discovers an endless space inhabited by disturbing entities. This dimension seems to be home to malevolent entities, potentially linked to the murder of Laura Palmer and other supernatural events that punctuate the series.

All Twin Peaks viewers will remember the Black Lodge
All Twin Peaks viewers will remember the Black Lodge

This enigmatic dimension has undeniably influenced Alan Wake 2‘s Dark Place. The representation of this alternate reality in the game seems inspired by the Black Lodge. Like the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, the Dark Place occupies a central place in the plot, playing a crucial and mysterious role. The parallel with Twin Peaks is striking when, at the end of the second season, Dale Cooper finds himself trapped in the Black Lodge, a situation he doesn’t leave until many years later, when The Return airs, where time behaves in a totally baffling way. These similarities underline the deep imprint of Twin Peaks on the aesthetics and complex storytelling of Alan Wake 2.

The doppelganger

However, the comparison with Twin Peaks doesn’t stop there, as Alan Wake 2 also tackles the doppelganger theme. When the game begins, Alan has been imprisoned in the Dark Place for thirteen long years, in parallel with Twin Peaks, whose sequel has also been a long time coming. We’ll feel the weight of those years quickly, as they echo the thirteen years we’ve waited as players to discover this sequel. This double reading further blurs the boundary between creation and reality, between the Dark Place and the universe deployed by the game. The similarities between the two works are mainly to be found in the confrontation between the main characters and their evil doubles. In Twin Peaks, Dale Cooper is replaced in the real world by a kind of twin, escaped from the Black Lodge. Similarly, in Alan Wake 2, Alan must face Scratch, a dark version of himself, an avatar of the Dark Presence. References to Twin Peaks abound in Alan Wake 2, from specific camera angles to a general atmosphere that evokes the series. What’s more, the game includes appearances by Twin Peaks‘ creators in the form of FBI agents. These multiple nods reinforce the direct influence of Twin Peaks on Alan Wake 2, underlining the series’ omnipresence in the game’s narrative construction, themes and visual aspects.

Scratch's first appearances will undoubtedly leave their mark on you
Scratch’s first appearances will undoubtedly leave their mark on you

The first term comes from the German word Doppelgänger, meaning “double of a living person”. It’s a figure found in some folklore, notably Nordic and Germanic, and has been making its way into popular culture for some years now. This figure can be seen as an evil twin, the darker version of its original. It’s a figure akin to the “counterfeiter” in Gnosticism. What interests us here is the representation in Twin Peaks, mainly in The Return, of the Dale Cooper character(s). In Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, there’s a schism between the central characters, between their true and false selves: Fred, Pete, Diane, Betty, Nikki, Sue. In The Return, this schism takes its most literal form: FBI agent Dale Cooper has been physically split into two characters, his consciousness sleeping inside “Dougie Jones”, a tulpa, or artificial being, while his evil dopplegänger, “Mr. C.”, is at large. But in all these films, including The Return, the splitting of the protagonist’s ego is an illusion: a dream, a hallucination, a fugue or a delusion. Cooper, Dougie and Mr. C. are really three parts of the same personality: one idealized, the other repressed. The whole story of The Return can be read as a battle between good and evil, not in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, but in one man’s soul. In a coup de grâce that completes what may well be his last major work, David Lynch suggests that all the inhabitants of Twin Peaks are an elaborate fantasy. The dream of this original Dale Cooper is a desperate attempt to forget what he knows to be the real story. If all of Twin Peaks is the dream of a certain Dale Cooper outside the world of the series, what can we deduce about him based on the various vicarious selves and imaginary narratives he has created? Who is the “real” Dale Cooper?

Without giving too much away, the same questions are asked of the title character in Alan Wake 2. The heart of Alan’s adventure, and has been since the first opus, is to understand and explore the relationship between a creator and his creation, to imagine the extent to which a creative mind can alter a reality. These questions were present not only in Alan Wake 1, but also in other games such as Control. With Alan Wake 2, Sam Lake and his team have pushed the envelope, and the doppelganger concept is to be found on multiple levels. The most obvious is, of course, Alan Wake and its evil version from The Dark Place: Mr. Scratch. This diabolical twin is the game’s main adversary, taking on the same appearance as the protagonist, while tackling a recognizably horrific twist. These screamer-like apparitions plunge us into the writer’s psyche during numerous sequences, asking us which version of Alan exists and, above all, which reality is the right one? One of the game’s most striking moments is the discovery of the artistic madness into which Alice (Alan Wake’s wife) has plunged following the disappearance of her partner, years before the start of the game. She has become obsessed with the evil apparitions of her husband, knowing full well it’s not him. She can’t help but capture the snippets of his essence, staging them in a contemporary exhibition in her own apartment, in order to observe the doppelganger at any moment, letting him intrude on reality in the process. We even find another Alan Wake figure in the presence of Thomas Zane, present on two sides of reality. We also find the doppelganger figure in Alex Casey (played by Sam Lake, the game’s creator). Casey is as much the FBI agent who accompanies Saga Anderson – and who bears many similarities to Dale Cooper – as he is the hero of the books written by Alan Wake. Where this notion of an alternate-reality twin goes even further is when we see that this version of Sam Casey resembles the cop Max Payne far more than anyone else.

Alice Wake's exhibition will take on heartbreaking proportions throughout the game.
Alice Wake’s exhibition will take on heartbreaking proportions throughout the game.

The final aspect of David Lynch’s work that we’d like to address is his relationship with liminality in his creations. Before X-Files, before Lost, Twin Peaks is a perfect example not only of Lynch’s surrealist logic, but also of an American Gothic mystery. In fiction, liminal spaces are often used to introduce audiences to unfamiliar concepts, places and plots, places of passage. They allow us to familiarize ourselves with representations that have not yet been brought to the fore by the medium. While Twin Peaks makes reference to the spiritual and supernatural in the early episodes, with Dale Cooper’s offbeat discussions of dreams and Tibetans, it’s much later in the series that we get a real sense of what inhabits the surrounding woods, that is, when Lynch begins to suggest that this series is something other than a slightly eccentric whodunit.

Throughout, Lynch is partly committed to the age-old convention of pitting good against evil, or darkness against light. Several of the series’ themes come together to support this juxtaposition of ideals. The repetition of leitmotifs in the music between light and serious scenes, or the use of camera framing and dialogue to present Cooper as morally superior to certain other characters. The clearest definition is found in the physical locations explored in the town of Twin Peaks: the White Lodge versus the Black Lodge. Lynch’s architecture presents viewers with a number of different locations, all crucial to the setting and subsequent development of the story, and symbolically positioning them as opposites. Lynch’s vision of binary dimensions, this meticulous arrangement of set, music, cinematography and dialogue, makes Twin Peaks a classic and enduring example of American gothic television.

Saga Anderson facing the town of Twin Pe… Bright Falls
Saga Anderson facing the town of Twin Pe… Bright Falls

At the same time, he brings an alien touch to a familiar space, bringing the liminality of this small town into our daily lives via a television screen. Lynch exploits our need to transform everyday life into a nightmare, in order to qualify it as unreal. By exploring the dimensions, figurative and literal, that frame the Twin Peaks narrative, we can understand the spiritual effort of the series’ creators to implant unreality into the familiar and make it into something truly unique that resonates all the way through to Alan Wake 2. This liminal duality can be found throughout the game’s entire oeuvre: the two Mind Places (Saga’s and Alan’s), so close yet so different in their approach and visual style; the amalgams into which Saga regularly plunges, only to find himself trapped in endless cycles (one of the game’s major themes); the opposition between the writer’s nightmarish city of New York and Saga’s deceptively calm forest. This section would deserve an article of its own to really explore every nook and cranny, but it does raise a more than interesting point: the importance of the game’s location in this occult America, filled with terrible supernatural secrets.

The folk horror revival

The term folk horror was popularized in the early 2000s, when critics applied it retroactively to the unholy trilogy, including The Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, which drew their ritualistic terrors from real or invented pasts. But some folk horror tropes are as old as folklore itself, and were well established in literature before they appeared in film.

The Wicker Man, a cult folk horror film
The Wicker Man, a cult folk horror film

Many scary, violent German fairy tales, collected and adapted by the Grimm brothers in the early XIXᵉ century, take place in shady forests, far from the supposed safety of civilization; Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), a classic of Gothic horror, follows in the footsteps of folk horror by sending its central urban characters on a petrifying excursion to the countryside. It’s worth remembering that the Gothic novel was invented by the writer Ann Radcliffe, from whom Bram Stoker would appropriate many elements. British ghostwriters of the early 20th century, such as Eleanor Scott, Algernon Blackwood and M.R. James, set many of their tales in isolated landscapes with turbulent pasts.

Like most genre fiction, folk horror can be reactionary or subversive, or both, sometimes exploiting toxic stereotypes to deliver chills and sometimes arming the oppressed with the power of the “old ways” (witchcraft often functions as a feminist metaphor). More recently, writers and filmmakers have found new meanings for old stories: if you think the island-country death cult in The Wicker Man is creepy, try the one in Get Out. The work of the pathologically racist American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose pathologically racist haunted landscapes and pantheon of ancient gods expressed his own terror of difference, has been reimagined in recent years by writers such as Victor LeValle, whose short story The Ballad of Black Tom responds to a Lovecraft story, and Matt Ruff, whose novel Lovecraft Country, adapted into an HBO series in 2020, uses Lovecraft’s slimy, tentacled monsters to convey the true horrors of white supremacy.

Gou Tanabe's depiction of the Cult of Cthulhu
Gou Tanabe’s depiction of the Cult of Cthulhu

Just as folk horror in the 1960s and 1970s was attributed to the rise of a desire to return to simpler times, the same can be said of films in the sub-genre today. With TV shows depicting the throes of technology, such as Black Mirror, folk horror’s rise in popularity may be due to the fact that it depicts a stripped-down way of life in rural areas isolated from contemporary fears. This is undoubtedly an attractive aspect of the sub-genre, but its ability to tell folk tales and stories from around the world adds an extra element of interest for Western audiences. Ari Aster’s Midsommar is one of the most popular folk horror films, and highlights the growing interest in this sub-genre. In contrast, The Witch tells a dark and macabre folk tale set in New England in 1630, highlighting a dark and mysterious moment in American history with some historical context.

Folk horror figures, past and present
Folk horror figures, past and present

In an interesting paper written for the Fiend in the Furrows conference on folk horror held at Queen’s University Belfast in September 2014, Adam Scovell, writer, filmmaker and creator of the Celluloid Wicker Man blog, highlighted an intriguing chain of elements that make up a folk horror film:

  • Landscape
  • Isolation
  • Distorted moral beliefs

Landscape

Horror tradition may indeed have rustic roots, and pastoral locations can provide the setting for many stronger examples, but people carry their traditions and fears with them on their travels and sometimes into a built environment. One way for folk horror to exist in an urban landscape is for people to take their old ways with them. In Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, we see a historic group of witches continuing to practice their dark traditions in the middle-class society of New York apartments.

In this essence, folk horror is linked to psychogeography, a form of thought first put forward by the Situationist art movement concerning “the hidden landscape of atmospheres, stories, actions and characters that charge environments”.

Isolement

In these cases, isolation doesn’t mean being entirely alone, but can refer to characters such as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man, who find themselves alone within a group whose moral practices are totally alien to their own. In this case, the altercations are based on religious convictions, but even in secular situations, the attitudes and behaviors of different people vary considerably.

Distorted moral beliefs

The Happening/Summoning at the end of these films may involve a supernatural element, such as the summoning of a demon (Robert Eggers’ The Witch), or an entirely earthly (but no less horrific) event, such as an act of violence or ritual sacrifice (Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man).

Some of these links in the chain can also be found in a variety of films that seem to have nothing to do with folk horror. This difference may simply be a matter of delivery, for as mentioned above, there seems to be a “folk” mood and aesthetic that can more often be intuitively felt than logically defined. As Adam Scovell himself admits, other links can be added to the chain.


All these elements now allow us to analyze and understand how and why Alan Wake 2 also fits into this folk horror trend. Sam Lake and members of the creative teams have alluded to the influence of Ari Aster’s films on the game, but it’s interesting to understand why they made this choice and how it is perceived in the game’s gameplay.

Hereditary's house, symbolizing the film's psycho-genealogical trauma
Hereditary’s house, symbolizing the film’s psycho-genealogical trauma

As we saw in Adam Scovell’s analysis, Alan Wake 2 brings together the three key elements that define a work as folk horror. We can start with the landscape, because even if the adventure doesn’t take place in the traditional English countryside, we’re in two distinct settings that are immediately assimilable to this current. The whole of Saga Anderson takes place in a now-familiar setting known as the Pacific Northwest, in reference to its geographical location. This area often lies between the states of Oregon and Washington, in the northwest of the United States. Here, we’re faced with landscapes divided between the Pacific Ocean, mountains, immense dense forests and rain-swept small towns. Stories set in these areas are akin to folk horror when it comes to the horrific aspects of their stories. Examples include the Hannibal series, Hereditary and its family home lost in the woods, and of course Twin Peaks. The part of Alan Wake with its hellish vision of New York is not to be outdone, as it recalls the horror films of the 60s and 70s, notably Rosemary’s Baby, and even certain films somewhere between giallo and folk horror, such as Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria.

Alan Wake's New York
Alan Wake’s New York
The strange forest of Bright Falls
The strange forest of Bright Falls

When it comes to isolation and distorted beliefs, these are literally the two subjects at the heart of Alan Wake 2. To take up the game’s two protagonists, Saga finds herself in a rather awkward position in Bright Falls. At first, she’s the FBI agent arriving in a country town to solve a sordid case. However, the story takes a far more dramatic turn as it progresses, shattering all the beliefs she had about her family and its reality. Alan Wake, meanwhile, finds himself completely isolated in a nightmarish vision of his own creation, in the Dark Place. The narrative design of this entire zone makes it clear that the writer is struggling with his own demons and beliefs. At the time of the game, he’s been stuck in this dimension for thirteen years, and every inch of his environment is there to remind him of what he’s lost, and to stun him with the game’s main notion: what is reality for a creative?

Alan Wake's trouble will be at the heart of the game
Alan Wake’s trouble will be at the heart of the game

The constant duality of concepts in Alan Wake 2 echoes beliefs in perpetual mutation, where every belief is altered. As far as Saga Anderson is concerned, this aspect is especially present via the sect she tracks for much of the adventure: the Cult of the Tree. This group, which doesn’t hesitate to kill and live among the inhabitants of this area, is a real threat to the FBI agent. It’s another that occupies most of Alan Wake’s time: the Cult of the Word. Between fiction and reality, this hunt for the truth sees the writer confront a version of himself, under the name of Thomas Zane, but also his favorite character: Alex Casey.

Of all the inspirations Alan Wake 2 draws on, many are in keeping with folk horror. All of these elements are reminiscent of Robert Eggers’ films, including a witch’s hut and a lighthouse, which can be seen as nods to his films The Witch and The Lighthouse. As in Hereditary, Saga questions her reality, her family and her own history. It’s hard not to think of The Wicker Man and its inhabitants completely indoctrinated by Christopher Lee’s character when we first come across the Cult of the Tree and one of its members wearing a deer mask. Alan Wake 2 is part of the new wave of folk horror that began in the 2010s. The suburban suburbs of the ’50s are now replaced by tight digital bubbles, with creators showing a need to return to nature and the spiritual.

Elements in the forest reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project
Elements in the forest reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project

We can even take the comparison between Sam Lake and Ari Aster a step further by extrapolating their works and messages. What Sam Lake is doing with Remedy looks like the cinema of the director of Hereditary: a psychoanalysis in several episodes. Alan Wake 2 is the culmination of his therapy, just as Beau is Afraid is Aster’s therapy. Here, we have Lake staging himself as never before, pushing the question of the creator’s place against creation as far as possible via Alan Wake and his Sam Casey character, Max Payne. However, the influences of film and television are far from confined to this single genre of folk horror.

TV & movie influences

As we’ve seen, Remedy has digested a number of inspirations for Alan Wake. While we’ve mainly touched on the cinema of David Lynch and folk horror, there are many other elements, more or less visible, which are at the heart of the artistic direction and gameplay of Sam Lake’s latest creation. It’s worth distinguishing between them according to the locations tackled: Bright Falls and the New York of the Dark Place.

Bright Falls: between investigative film and horror

It’s clear that Remedy’s main intention with their depiction of Bright Falls was to propose a place outside of time. It’s a small Twin Peaks-style town, as we’ve seen, surrounded by a dense forest specific to its geographical area: the Pacific Northwest. To create this setting, the Finnish studio’s creative teams drew their influences from investigative, detective and horror films. The idea is really to create the feeling that something strange is going on, beyond the atrocious crimes we see through Saga’s eyes.

The forest of Bright Falls, full of mysteries
The forest of Bright Falls, full of mysteries

The least we can say is that this atmosphere is rendered to perfection. We’re not in the Louisiana of True Detective‘s first season, but the atmosphere is just as heavy. Right from the start, we’re faced with a ritualistically staged crime, with a corpse missing its heart. This type of macabre investigation can also be found in David Fincher’s films, notably Se7en, to which we’ll return shortly. The inspiration of the series written by Nic Pizzolatto also extends to the overall direction of the forest scenes and the representation of the Cult of the Tree. These same symbols in the form of spirals and sculptures in trees are reminiscent of Joshua Walsh’s work on True Detective. It was Walsh who created the “Devil’s Nests”, inspired by the primitive style of James Charles Castle and the work of Henry Darger. His passion for taxidermy and hunting did the rest, and it’s interesting to see how Remedy’s creative team drew inspiration from his work to retranscribe this heavy, almost supernatural atmosphere with such organic elements.

James Charles Castle's "Devil's Nests" for True Detective
James Charles Castle’s “Devil’s Nests” for True Detective

One of the elements also inherited from True Detective is the superimposed image technique used in the opening credits of season 1. Directed by Patrick Clair, it uses an assortment of low-polarity meshes and 3D geometric models to achieve a grainy, non-digital effect. This inspiration is echoed when the game’s two realities are superimposed, notably in the amalgams that Saga goes through.

As mentioned above, David Fincher’s film Se7en is one of the other major influences on the artistic direction of the Bright Falls part of the game, as much for its environment as for the character of Saga Anderson. The creative team wanted to set up a strong dynamic between two detectives, with the schema of a young prodigy (Saga) and an old hand (Alex). Saga is very talented, and her conversations with her partner are reminiscent of those between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. By playing on human fears and harmoniously combining horror and crime, Se7en helped shape a new wave of psychological thrillers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The film not only explores the gloomy world of crime and violence, but also delves into the psychological aspects of its characters. Themes such as religious judgment, morality and apathy towards human life are present throughout the film, allowing viewers to explore the minds of both good and evil characters. Somerset is the epitome of a protagonist who has to accept that evil sometimes wins. Having worked on crimes for so long has created in him a deep apathy, similar to that which the killer is supposed to feel.

Many other thrillers have followed in Se7en’s footsteps, including several religious and faith-based thrillers that use the same concepts and themes. Fallen, Zodiac, Night Call, Prisoners and The Crimson Rivers all drew inspiration from David Fincher’s feature film to create their own stories of psychological terror and criminal investigation. Alan Wake 2 thus draws its inspiration from these works as well as from Fincher’s own. On the whole, stories about serial killers often resemble a horror film while also being a detective story. It’s perhaps in Se7en that these worlds collide the most. In Alan Wake 2, this overlap can be found in a place literally called the Amalgam, areas where the reality of Bright Falls merges with nightmarish New York.

Se7en, one of the inspirations for the Saga / Casey duo
Se7en, one of the inspirations for the Saga / Casey duo

The influences on Bright Falls don’t stop there, but also extend to the detective fantasy found in the Coen brothers’ Fargo. This inspiration can be seen, for example, in the fact that Bright Falls isn’t a very modern town, reinforcing this aspect of being lost in time. There’s even that slightly offbeat angle, that slightly Lynchian absurdist humor, inspired by the Coen brothers, but also by the cinema of Ben Wheatley (Kill List and Free Fire in particular).

In a darker mood, we can also see elements of the Hannibal series, created by Bryan Fuller. There’s the profiling aspect, well-staged crime scenes, an environment in the middle of a dense forest – in short, you’ve got the image in your mind. How can you not think of Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs when watching Saga Anderson in Cult of the Tree? Although she is undoubtedly the protagonist, Clarice (played by Jodie Foster) is not simply an uncomplicated heroine. She’s vulnerable, intelligent and strong, but also fiercely and openly ambitious – an all-too-rare quality in a female character the audience is supposed to root for. These are all elements found in Saga Anderson.

We often forget that Remedy is a European studio, based in Finland, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team also drew inspiration from the work of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, creators of the German Dark series. Once again, we find this town lost in the forest, out of time, this dark aspect where we feel from the very first minutes that something is wrong. But of course, the most important aspect here is the infernal cycle that is at the heart of the series, right down to the logo.

Dark, une oeuvre présentant des similarités avec Alan Wake 2
Dark, une oeuvre présentant des similarités avec Alan Wake 2

Finally, we can see that the creative team also drew a great deal of inspiration from the work of Christopher Nolan. In the case of Bright Falls, and in particular Saga Anderson, the film Memento comes to mind. It’s basically a detective story about trying to understand and reconstruct what happened. Guy Pearce plays an unreliable narrator who doesn’t have the whole picture. Christopher Nolan’s work also helped portray the darker, dreamier atmosphere of Alan Wake’s New York.

New York: a sickening testament to the vanity of capitalism

The creative team drew part of their inspiration from Inception, in particular by creating that nightmarish sensation where you feel at any moment that anything could happen. This is reflected in the game’s constant tension, where shadows can appear at any moment and every aspect of this false reality can be manipulated, notably through the use of light.

There are influences from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in this dilapidated, graffiti-filled New York, with garbage covering the streets. Scorsese’s masterpiece brings to the surface the most sordid layers of 1970s New York. But the New York of Alan Wake 2 is far from grounded in reality, and plays on the horror and uncertainty of the unknown. The concrete of the buildings and the asphalt surround and suffocate us. Similarly, the character played by Robert De Niro represents human alienation and how the city and capitalism can drive us completely mad. This aspect can also be seen in David Fincher’s Fight Club. His depiction of the city has that scary, dreamlike quality that you find in the Alan Wake parts of the game. Sam Lake also drew much of his inspiration from stylized arthouse horror films.

You can feel the grime of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver around every corner as you play Alan Wake.
You can feel the grime of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver around every corner as you play Alan Wake.

Hard lighting and colored lights to symbolize the supernatural and, of course, darkness as the other side of the coin, like duality, play a very important role in this project. The color yellow, for example, is often associated with the supernatural, which is there to guide us through certain passages. In video games, and often in series (Watchmen for example), the color yellow is there to indicate an element with which to interact. It’s also a visual convention, a discrepancy with the rest of the scenery that makes it a perfectly visible element without having to point 1000 luminous arrows at it. Yellow is also associated with signage, and the fact that it also blends in perfectly with its surroundings makes it an effective and discreet gameplay element.

Another great figure of cinema is invoked in the chapter centered on Ocean’s View, where numerous nods to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are present. The carpet motif is present in various rooms, and behind every shower curtain you’d expect to discover a decomposing old woman. All that was missing were evil twin girls and an axe to complete the picture. Lest we forget, Alan Wake 2 is a vibrant homage to The Twilight Zone, as it takes on a completely meta aspect with the broadcast of the Night Springs series, found only in Alan Wake’s reality. However, this whole Ocean’s View sequence, and the chapter of the game that precedes it, We Sing, show us that the creative team went looking for inspiration in theater and musicals.

The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone
Night Springs ad
Night Springs ad

In Jacob’s Ladder, psychological horror unfolds captivatingly on the streets, intruding into the very heart of the protagonist’s everyday environment. Director Adrian Lyne makes skilful use of urban settings to reinforce the film’s oppressive atmosphere and amplify the viewer’s anguish. Alleys are depicted as familiar spaces, but distorted, offering a distorted vision of reality. Visual elements such as crowded streets, dazzling neon lights and familiar architectural structures are gradually transformed into scenes of horror. Urban thoroughfares become the scene of nightmarish manifestations, where supernatural phenomena become insidiously integrated into the protagonist’s daily life. The sequence is reminiscent of a labyrinth, and the symbolism of this element serves several purposes here. It is traditionally associated with confusion, loss and even the quest for self. It often represents an inner journey where protagonists must navigate tortuous paths to reach a goal. Like a modern-day Minotaur, he is both hunter and prey, seeking to escape while confronting his own inner demons. They represent the darker aspects of his personality, his deepest fears or even his own internal struggles.

It's hard not to feel the spectre of Jacob's Ladder hanging over the game
It’s hard not to feel the spectre of Jacob’s Ladder hanging over the game

The way in which Jacob’s Ladder explores the human psyche and the darker zones of consciousness probably inspired the creators of Alan Wake 2. The video game takes a similar approach, plunging protagonist and player alike into a world where the boundaries between reality and nightmare dissolve, where inner torments come to life through supernatural phenomena and psychological puzzles.

A theatrical performance

The first and clearest impact on the game is undoubtedly its division into chapters and, above all, into different acts (corresponding to the fictional books written by Alan Wake in the game): Initiation and The Return (wink wink Twin Peaks).But it doesn’t stop there. Two theatrical inspirations in particular stood out for us.

The We Sing chapter is a cult moment in the game, transporting us into its flow and immersing us in a veritable musical comedy. We meet the band The Old God of Asgard (who we meet again in retirement in the part centered on Saga Anderson) who deliver an absolutely Dantesque performance, a real tribute to the heavy metal bands of the 80s, Motörhead in the lead given their style of dress.What follows is a mix of psychedelic choreography led by Sam Lake – sorry, Alex Casey – and strolling through staged New York sets, reminiscent of the musical Rent.

The other reference is in the next chapter, Room 665, where Alan Wake discovers traces of a performance by an immersive theater troupe, none other than Cult of the Word. Everything about it, from the street posters to the costumes and masks, is reminiscent of New York’s Sleep No More troupe, which has brought this type of immersive theater back to the forefront (not the one where you kill people, the other one). Sleep No More is a three-hour adaptation of Macbeth.The show consists of three one-hour loops, which can be explored at will. The story is told through dynamic, choreographed movement and almost no dialogue. In short, the actors use dance to communicate. Each character has his or her own path, and some are confined to a single floor, while others traverse the entire building, with paths intersecting and diverging along the way.

Sleep No More was a real revolution for immersive theater
Sleep No More was a real revolution for immersive theater

The interweaving of stories tells a larger story, one that can only be seen by an omnipresent being. Designed as an immersive game, you’re free to explore the building as you please, unless you come across a locked door or an area sealed off by a security guard. If you come across something you’ve seen before, you have a choice: stay and watch the scene from a different point of view and learn more about the characters, or set off to discover another story. The choice is yours. All these elements are at the heart of Alan Wake 2‘s game design, and particularly of this chapter of the game, which is resolutely focused on the artistic aspect of a theater troupe’s performance. The very essence of Alan Wake’s narrative design lies in its details, its ability to perfect its environmental narrative at every moment. Every room in the hotel and every nook and cranny in the streets of New York contains elements that tell a piece of the game’s story, or describe an element of the writer’s psyche. This staging, this storytelling through the environment, is accentuated and made possible by the titanic use of light in the game.

The architecture of Alan Wake’s New York

The New York presented in Alan Wake unfolds as a character in its own right, imbuing every nook and cranny with a singular atmosphere and evocative aesthetic. As we pointed out earlier, environmental storytelling is at its most effective in this part of the game, with the walls covered in messages from the writer’s psyche.

Street Art and Graffiti: A tribute to contemporary and cult New York

New York’s architecture is deeply influenced by the artistic legacy of the graffiti that emerged in the city during the 70s, recalling the effervescence of that pivotal era. This influence stems from the actual history of tagging in New York, where artists such as TAKI 183, Tracy 168 and others marked their territory by “bombing” trains with their work, taking their art across the city. Street art symbolizes a cultural shift. Notable names of the time such as DONDI, Lady Pink, Zephyr, Julio 204, Stay High 149 and PHASE 2 are inscribed in the virtual streets, echoing the diversity and innovation characteristic of the movement.

Graffiti on New York subways in the 1970s
Graffiti on New York subways in the 1970s

The evolution of graffiti in the game also reflects the actual history of graffiti in New York. Around 1974, artists such as Tracy 168, CLIFF 159, and BLADE ONE began incorporating illustrations and full scenes into their tags, laying the foundations for muralism. This transformation is also echoed in the shift from bubble lettering to “wildstyle”.

Even if he didn't graffiti the city's walls, it's hard to deny Jean-Michel Basquiat's impact on street art.
Even if he didn’t graffiti the city’s walls, it’s hard to deny Jean-Michel Basquiat’s impact on street art.

The tags in the game transcend their simple decorative function to become visual storytellers. They embody cultural, cinematographic and artistic references, enriching the mysterious, nostalgic atmosphere of this New York. Tributes to emblematic figures of New York street art, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat (although not his main achievements, and a painter before he was a street artist) are integrated into these murals, adding a layer of authenticity. The graffiti also echoes cult film references such as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. These winks immerse the player in a nostalgic atmosphere.

Graffiti in the corridors of New York
Graffiti in the corridors of New York
Graffiti in the streets of New York
Graffiti in the streets of New York

The enduring presence of tags on the streets of Alan Wake 2‘s virtual New York is a testament to how this heritage has shaped the urban environment of this virtual city. Street art is not simply a visual element, but fragments of the city’s cultural history, making the game’s architecture a living canvas that exudes the creative energy and diversity of 1970s New York.

Ocean’s View Hotel: art deco elegance

Ocean’s View perfectly embodies the essence of Art Deco, which was an artistic movement found throughout New York. The buildings characteristic of this movement share common elements, such as sculptural structures with long, uninterrupted pillars between window columns and ornamentation on the spandrels. These choices were made to accentuate the height of the buildings, a characteristic found even on smaller structures throughout the city. New York architects were at the forefront of the use of new materials, including synthetics such as bakelite and formica plastic, as well as nirosta, a corrosion-resistant steel alloy that enabled more widespread use of metal for skyscraper facades, a hallmark of Art Deco in the United States. It’s worth noting that this trend originated in Europe in the 1910s and 1920s, and was later imported across the Atlantic.

The Ocean’s View Hotel, in addition to its typical Art Deco architectural features such as geometric patterns and symmetry, reveals the use of innovative materials. Elements such as multicolored cut stone, limestone, glass brick, aluminum and even special steels are integrated into the hotel’s details.

Ocean's View Hotel
Ocean’s View Hotel

Sumptuous ornamentation, defined by architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter as the most distinctive element of Art Deco, is perfectly represented in this building. The Ocean’s View Hotel features elaborate decorative elements, with reliefs, mosaics and sculptures. Allegorical motifs such as industrial beehives, figures evoking industry and the arts, and personifications of virtues enrich the façades and interior spaces, recalling the opulence and abundance of decorations from the Art Deco era.

Inside the Waldorf Astoria
Inside the Waldorf Astoria
Inside the Empire State Building
Inside the Empire State Building

Moreover, the intertwining of art deco with commercial architecture is echoed in the design of the Ocean’s View Hotel. The emphasis on rich, captivating ornamentation was attractive to commercial clients seeking a modern yet accepted style. Skyscraper lobbies and entrances were inspired by theatrical sets, using elaborate ironwork and frosted glass to create a dramatic ambience from the moment you enter. This venue represents a fictional emblematic example of art deco architecture in New York, combining the majesty of geometric forms with the sumptuousness of ornamentation, transporting players back to the golden era of this architectural aesthetic.

The Poet’s Cinema: a vestige of American popular culture

The Poet’s Cinema, an art house, is one of the historic relics of Alan Wake’s New York. It bears witness to a bygone era when cinema played a central role in American cultural life. Its retro architecture, imbued with a picturesque aesthetic, transports the player into the nostalgic charm of the movie theaters of yesteryear.

These neighborhood cinemas are distinguished by their facades, adorned with sculpted canopies, shimmering neon lights and illuminated signs recalling the golden age of cinema. Retro signs, with their elegant lettering and decorative motifs, evoke the warm atmosphere that reigned when these establishments were at the heart of local social and cultural life.

Poet's Cinema in Alan Wake 2
Poet’s Cinema in Alan Wake 2
New York's Empire cinema
New York’s Empire cinema

The theaters themselves are imbued with a historic atmosphere, with their rows of velvet seats, elegant balconies and screens framed by sumptuous curtains, offering total immersion in the retro ambience of the cinema of yesteryear. This architectural ambience is perfectly captured in the Poet’s Cinema main auditorium, where you can take the time to watch Thomas Zane’s film Yötön Yö / Nightless Night in its entirety, alongside the shadows that are also watching it.

These buildings, though modest compared to modern multiplexes, symbolize an era when cinema was much more than mere entertainment. They were places of social gathering, where communities shared powerful experiences. Their preservation in the game recalls the importance of American film culture, and evokes a sense of nostalgia for an era when these cinemas were at the heart of urban life. This same nostalgia echoes the regrets Alan Wake feels in The Dark Place and which shape him.

An arthouse horror game

Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, Jordan Peele, Mike Flanagan. Four names you’ve probably heard of if you’re even superficially interested in cinema and have read this article so far. They are the most prominent and certainly the most popular representatives of what is known as “elevated horror“. They’ve become a veritable big-screen phenomenon, capable of reinterpreting the genre on an audiovisual level but, above all, using its classic language to bring effective allegories to life. We thus see the horror of toxic relationships, family drama, systemic social problems and mental pathologies become an integral part of stories where fear, disgust and tension are no longer ends in themselves. Instead, they are used to unsettle the viewer in a much more profound and thought-provoking way.

Get Out, symbol of the elevated horror revival
Get Out, symbol of the elevated horror revival

Arthouse horror films are distinguished by their focus on the meticulous construction of atmosphere, deep character development, exploration of unique cinematic styles and in-depth reflection on philosophical themes, in order to elicit an experience that goes far beyond mere thrills. These works stand out as creations resulting from the fascinating encounter between art and entertainment, skilfully navigating between the conventions of this concept and personal artistic vision. Historically, the genre has been loosely associated with Japanese J-horror and Italian Giallo, each bringing its own distinctive approach to artistic horror. In the 2000s, a provocative film movement emerged in France, bearing the evocative name of New French Extremism. This movement is renowned for its bold, transgressive films, which venture into a form of experimental art. These works deliberately strayed from the genre’s traditional patterns, favoring an in-depth exploration of psychological, social and existential horror. This marked a break with the usual conventions, giving rise to films of visceral intensity, testifying to a bold quest to push back the boundaries of horror cinema and cinematic art in general (such as Pascal Laugier’s Martyr or Gaspard Noé’s Irréversible).

Alan Wake 2 is positioned as a transgressive narrative experience, reminiscent of the discordant and intriguing storytelling elements present in such iconic works as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. The dichotomy between reality and fiction explored in the first opus is akin to immersion in the protagonist’s psychological instability, depicting a subjective reality. Alan Wake 2 evokes deeper questions about individual perception and the nature of reality, just as Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria does in its artistic reinterpretation.

The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari
Suspiria
Suspiria

Alongside cinematic achievements such as Hausu, Alan Wake has crafted an immersive visual and aural aesthetic, immersing the player in a universe where every visual and auditory element plays a significant role. This aesthetic construction, reminiscent of paintings in motion, establishes a symbiosis between terror and beauty. Alan Wake 2 seems to want to extend this aspect, offering an even deeper dive into a visual landscape where plasticity and horror intertwine to evoke complex emotions. Like Häxan, Alan Wake transcends the simple thrill to explore existential themes such as identity and mental health. The initial game acts as a mirror on inner fears and psychological torments, engaging players in a reflection on the intricacies of the human soul. By projecting a continuation of this thematic exploration, Alan Wake 2 positions itself as a platform for even more acute introspection, inviting further reflection, particularly with the game’s theme revolving around artistic creation confronting its creator.

Häxan, a film still relevant today thanks to its modern direction
Häxan, a film still relevant today thanks to its modern direction

In horror, images have always played a key role in storytelling. Not only can they frighten us more deeply than any conversation, but they also allow us to express themes of terror that are not easily expressed in words. Like many of A24’s productions, such as Hereditary, The Witch, Lamb, Men, Under the Skin and the recent Talk to Me, Remedy offers a refreshing twist on one of these early cinematic sub-genres. By reviving the arthouse horror of the turn of the century, typical of German Expressionism in cinema, Alan Wake 2 takes the liberty of offering a generous artistic vision while tackling themes such as existentialism and even cosmic horror at times.

Remedy’s game transcends the narrative boundaries of horror by metamorphosing before our very eyes. It becomes a self-aware narrative, a reflection on its own transformation into a horrific story woven by the pen of Alan/Scratch. It’s this state of awareness, this lucidity about his own codes and evolutions, that allows him to rise above convention. The story is interwoven with a profound exploration of the human psyche and mental health, underscoring the play’s acute awareness of its own mutation. This level of knowledge allows it not only to follow the course of a nightmarish story, but also to reinvent itself, transforming itself completely as it evolves. Alan Wake 2 thus becomes the reflection of a narrative metamorphosis, transcending its own limits to plunge into the abyss of psychological horror. All of this allows it to become a profoundly reflective and transformative experience, embarking on a mutation that redefines the very contours of horror in video games.

Painting inspirations

As we’ve just shown, Alan Wake 2 is part of the modern arthouse horror movement, whether you want to call it elevated horror or something else, but above all it’s part of the many artistic inspirations of this movement: Romanticism, Surrealism and German Expressionism.

The exploration of nature sublimated by romantism

The Romantic movement, flourishing in the late 18ᵉ and early 19ᵉ centuries in Germany and England, profoundly influenced a variety of artistic disciplines. In painting, artists such as Caspar David Friedrich captured evocative landscapes, setting grand, contemplative scenes that reflected human emotionality. Eugène Delacroix, with his palette and exotic subjects, embodied French Romanticism in works such as La Liberté guidant le peuple. Artists and writers placed great value on imagination, intuition and subjectivity. They sought to escape the rational constraints of the Enlightenment to explore the mysterious and irrational. Their work was often inspired by nature, presenting it as a place of freedom and sometimes wonder, but also as a mirror of human moods. Romantic works are often imbued with melancholy, passion, nostalgia and a quest for artistic and spiritual freedom.

Heinrich Füssli - The Nightmare
Heinrich Füssli – The Nightmare
Caspar David Friedrich - Traveller over the sea of mist
Caspar David Friedrich – Traveller over the sea of mist

The romantic essence is rooted in the way Alan Wake 2 explores human emotions in depth. Like this movement, the game plunges into the tumult of feelings, depicting the range of human emotions with intensity. Just as these artists portrayed love, fear, passion and melancholy, Alan Wake 2 offers a rich palette of feelings that resonate deep within the player’s soul.

At the same time, this approach to magnifying nature is reflected in the game’s grandiose and sometimes eerie landscapes. Just as these artists were fascinated by the majesty and terror of the natural elements, Alan Wake 2 features settings that evoke both wonder and apprehension. The dark, mysterious forests of Bright Falls, the ever-present lake and towering mountains immerse the player in a sublime atmosphere, where nature becomes a character in its own right, imbuing the experience with an aura both enchanting and fearsome. Once again, New York is much more than a backdrop; it’s almost a character in its own right, unfolding its own character through its streets, neighborhoods and architecture. The complexity of New York, with its contrasts between neighborhoods, historical and cultural layers, reflects the duality of the concepts explored in the game. This duality between light and darkness, reality and nightmare, is echoed in the city’s diversity and architectural richness. New York becomes a physical representation of the psychological and existential complexity present in the game.

The romantic forest surrounding Bright Falls
The romantic forest surrounding Bright Falls

Drawing on the legacy of romance, Alan Wake 2 embraces the idea of the unknown and transcendence, inviting players to introspect in the face of nature’s mystical grandeur. This immersion shapes an experience where players are called upon to explore not only the intricacies of the human mind, but also to connect deeply with the world around them.

The artistic legacy of Joseph Mallord William Turner, famous for his masterful depiction of the confrontation between light and darkness, permeates the aesthetics of Alan Wake 2 in a striking way. Like an artist painting a tumultuous canvas, the game skilfully captures this duality between threatening shadow and saving light.

Alan Wake 2 deploys a rich chromatic palette, evoking landscapes where light and darkness perpetually clash. As in Turner’s paintings, the game skilfully juxtaposes contrasting elements: urban streets bathed in golden glow and forest corners where shadows reign supreme. This aesthetic dichotomy is not just visual; it extends to an emotional and symbolic dimension, arousing a captivating intensity in the player. This coexistence can be found at the very heart of the game’s story and gameplay: between Alan and Saga, between Alan and Mr Scratch, between Bright Falls and the Dark Place.

Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Forest of Bere
Joseph Mallord William Turner – The Forest of Bere
Le jeu de lumière romantique de Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2‘s romantic lighting effects

The subtle use of light and shadow in Alan Wake 2 is not just a question of aesthetics. It transcends mere visual effect to become a symbolic expression of the duality omnipresent in human nature. Just as Turner captured the majesty and fragility of natural landscapes, the game exposes the vulnerability of the human soul to its own inner darkness and the saving light of hope. This resurgence of Turner’s legacy in Alan Wake 2 lends the experience an unparalleled emotional depth. The exploration of this confrontation becomes a poignant metaphor for the protagonist’s inner struggle and, by extension, for the player’s emotional and psychological journey within this spellbinding universe.

Representing the dreams and incoherence of the mind with the surrealism

Expressionism, through the lens of Die Brücke (The Bridge, 1959), resonates deeply with the aesthetics of Alan Wake 2. Edvard Munch, one of the forerunners of this movement, explored the expression of human emotions in works such as The Scream and Starry Night, plunging directly into inner torment and psychological distress. Munch’s brutal portrayal of emotions permeates the distorted settings and chromatic variations of Alan Wake 2. The game’s environments become living canvases, where shapes and colors translate the protagonist’s inner turmoil.

Poster of Die Brücke
Poster of Die Brücke

Edvard Munch’s technique of using shadows and contrasts to define the contours of characters and settings finds a parallel in Alan Wake 2. Shadows sculpt the contours of the game’s environments, reinforcing the narrative oppression and offering an eerie immersion in the game’s universe. Edvard Munch’s The Scream, for example, plunges into raw emotional representation. This iconic painting does not aim to reduce reality to its fundamental forms, but rather to capture the essence of anguish and despair. In this work, the central figure, contorted in terror, is set against a tormented background. The undulating lines of the background seem to reflect the figure’s distress. These swirling shapes evoke an atmosphere of anguish, rather than the abstract representation of a reality reduced to basic geometric forms.

Edvard Munch - The Scream
Edvard Munch – The Scream

The Scream seeks to express the terror, anguish and distress felt by the artist himself. This is not abstraction or simplification, but rather an attempt to capture the essence of a moment, to materialize an intense, tormented emotion through a figurative representation charged with feeling. Like this work, the game aims to convey intense emotions through visual representations charged with palpable tension.

In film, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920) and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) are emblematic of Expressionism on the silver screen. These films are characterized by angular sets, menacing shadows and unsettling montages, creating atmospheres of anguish and tension. Alan Wake 2 uses this aesthetic to build environments where tortured shapes and light effects create an oppressive atmosphere, amplifying the emotions felt by the player.

Nosferatu
Nosferatu
Alan Wake fighting the shadows
Alan Wake fighting the shadows

Of course, the artistic influence of currents such as Expressionism, right up to their reinterpretation in other artistic mediums such as comics, is captivatingly demonstrated by artists such as Mike Mignola, known for his work on Hellboy. Mignola draws heavily on them, particularly in his use of shadows and contrasts, to shape a unique visual universe. Shadows play an essential role in Mignola’s work, defining the contours of characters and settings in a striking way. Similarly, in Alan Wake 2, the use of shadows and contrasts creates oppressive and eerie environments, while reinforcing the narrative elements. Mignola’s adaptation of this aesthetic in a medium like comics shows how artistic currents can transcend disciplinary boundaries.

Pinocchio by Mike Mignola
Pinocchio by Mike Mignola
Couverture de B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know by Mike Mignola
Couverture de B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know by Mike Mignola

In the image of the artists of this movement, the game offers a raw and intense representation of human emotions, immersing the player in a universe where inner torments take shape through distorted settings and oppressive lighting effects. As iconic figures such as Munch, Wiene and Murnau did in their respective artistic mediums, Alan Wake 2 appropriates these principles to create an experience where emotion, tension and the power of feeling predominate. This exploration of raw emotion, this depiction of inner torment, these anguished settings, all bear witness to the living, powerful legacy of German Expressionism in the field of video games.

Philosophy in Alan Wake 2: the narrative power of regret

Alan Wake 2 embraces a philosophical depth that reveals itself through a number of prisms, reflecting varied and rich influences to bring into focus the game’s central themes of the confrontation between the rational and the unknown, the quest for meaning and the concept of the time cycle.

Robert W. Chambers and The King in Yellow

Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow is a major reference for understanding the narrative and psychological twists and turns of Alan Wake 2. Chambers explores the uncertainty and ambiguity between reality and the supernatural. This influence is remarkably apparent in the game, where the boundary between reality and unreality blurs around the two protagonists. A jewel of American decadent literature, this collection of short stories unfolds a singular world, blending horror, fantasy and detective intrigue. The reading of an enigmatic play seems to trigger an indescribable madness in young artists, plunging them by turns into tears, bursts of laughter and shivers of unspeakable terror.

The King in Yellow, Calidor Editions
The King in Yellow, Calidor Editions

The heroes glimpse a dream world reflecting their darkest nightmares, where Hastur and Carcosa rule, under the fearsome domination of The King in Yellow. Echoing the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, this work has left its mark on such notable figures as Marion Zimmer Bradley and H. P. Lovecraft, while also leaving its mark on the aforementioned American hit series True Detective. In a similar vein, Alan Wake 2 explores these gray areas of perception, raising doubts about the very nature of what is perceived. The protagonist is confronted with phenomena that shake the foundations of logic and reason, reflecting the fragility of the human mind in the face of the unknown.

The game brilliantly appropriates this ambiguity, sowing doubt in the minds of both the player and Saga herself, particularly around the reality or otherwise of Saga’s life, her family and her loved ones. The boundaries between what is tangible and what is a figment of the imagination become blurred, prompting us to question the validity of the reality presented. This immersive experience plunges the player into a dimension where madness and lucidity merge, reproducing the psychological tension explored in The King in Yellow.

Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Existential Absurdity

The reflections of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche permeate Alan Wake’s existential quest, as he plunges into an ocean of absurdity and turmoil. Schopenhauer, philosopher of will and representation, postulates that the world is an illusion, a subjective representation of the human mind. This idea is materialized in the game through the multiple altered realities with which the protagonist is confronted. Distortions, parallel universes and shifting perceptions reflect this illusory nature, sowing doubt as to the truth of what is perceived. This feeling is dealt with by manipulating scenes via Alan Wake’s writer’s room, for example, or by manipulating the light, thus revealing other facets of this false reality.

The painting of the writer's room, allowing us to shape Alan Wake's reality
The painting of the writer’s room, allowing us to shape Alan Wake’s reality

On the other hand, Nietzsche’s nihilistic perspective on the death of God and the need to create one’s own values resonates in the play’s exploration of existential emptiness. Faced with a disenchanted world devoid of landmarks, the protagonist confronts deep despair, seeking to make sense of a reality that seems devoid of meaning. This inner quest for values and understanding in a world of collapsing certainties recalls Nietzschean concepts of the will to power and the creation of new values in the absence of traditional references. It is via Alice Wake’s arc that this aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy is addressed, in her compulsive demonstration to capture what she believes to be the essence of her husband, who has disappeared into the Dark Place. For her, this exhibition is the only way to stay in touch with her life, to maintain a form of hope in the face of the incongruity of her situation.

Scratch will be with us every step of the way
Scratch will be with us every step of the way

The existential absurdity that runs through Alan Wake 2 is in line with philosophical questioning on the nature of reality and destiny. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, each in their own way, offer keys to understanding the protagonist’s inner torments, confronted by a world where meaning seems to be slipping away.

Deleuze and Distorted Temporality

Deleuze’s philosophical underpinnings of difference and repetition are strikingly evident in the narrative structure of Remedy’s game. The work explores temporality in a deconstructivist way, inviting the player to venture into a maze where temporal landmarks falter. The repetition of motifs and patterns creates an experience where circumstantial linearity dissolves, where events seem to repeat themselves over and over again, eroding the boundaries between past, present and future. After all, it’s good to remember that we’re not in a cycle, but in a spiral.

This destabilizing approach to temporality reflects the Deleuzian philosophy of the multiplicity of possibilities. Events are repeated and superimposed, creating a narrative framework in which reality seems to twist in on itself. Deleuze envisions parallel worlds, complex singularities evolving in a non-linear space-time. This vision materializes in play, challenging conventional notions of time and reality to offer immersion in a universe where perception of these elements is altered.

The figure of the spiral is omnipresent in the game
The figure of the spiral is omnipresent in the game
And it's reminiscent of Junji Ito's Uzumaki.
And it’s reminiscent of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki.

Take the example of time loops: protagonists relive events, repeating actions in an endless cycle. This recurrence, though seemingly identical, reveals subtle nuances and variations that alter the course of events. Deleuze evoked this idea of difference within repetition, pointing out that each reiteration contains variations, creating multiplicity within continuity. What’s more, the way the game manipulates experience and parallel dimensions reflects the Deleuzian vision of multiple worlds. The nightmarish New York through which Alan travels illustrates this conception, where each reality coexists simultaneously, defying the idea of a linear chronology. Moreover, the recurring visual and sound motifs in the game, though seemingly identical, reveal subtle alterations with each occurrence.

These game mechanisms thus illustrate the Deleuzian philosophy of multiplicity and difference within repetition, offering immersion in a universe where temporality is distorted, realities are superimposed and each iteration contains a wealth of variations, fueling an immersive and intellectual experience rich in nuance.

The uncanny strangeness of Sigmund Freud and Martin Heidegger

Developers create environments that players can easily identify, but then modify them to create a sense of slight dislocation. These destabilizing environments can create a psychological malaise reminiscent of Sigmund Freud’s theory of anxiety.

The term “uncanny” is familiar to the videogame industry. For example, “Uncanny Valley” is frequently associated with video games and other animated media that attempt to capture human likeness through computer-generated images. Instead of convincing human forms, the characters resemble corpses, and thus evoke a sense of disgust and dread. This facet of video game anxiety is the result of unintentional technological inaccuracies and limitations. Although the Uncanny Valley theory derives from Freud’s original ideas on anxiety, it’s not the same kind of dread that you feel when playing Alan Wake 2.

Senua in Hellblade II
Senua in Hellblade II

The creation of psychological horror through uncanny is an intentional design choice found in many video games. The term “uncanny” is Freud’s description of the German word unheimlich, which is “the opposite of heimlich, meaning ‘familiar’, ‘native’, ‘belonging to the home'”, i.e. something unfamiliar and non-domestic. The environment of a game, particularly horror games, accentuates the unheimlich by taking a recognizable setting and disturbing it to the point of anxiety.

Freud’s theory first appeared in his 1919 essay, aptly entitled Das Unheimliche. In this essay, Freud puts down in writing his ideas concerning feelings of destabilization and fear across a threshold of familiarity and the unknown. In video games, disquiet can manifest itself in two ways: firstly, as mentioned above, through Uncanny Valley, and secondly, through the direct invocation of the anxieties Freud explored in his essay: the paradox that the familiar should not be disquieting.

The theory of the double is one of the central aspects of Freud’s main arguments in his theory of anguish. The double refers to the idea of a shadow or mirror image. It is often an allegorical representation of a second self or a second consciousness, and usually manifests itself in the image of a doppelgänger. In video games, this figure may refer to the player’s avatar, which acts as a doppelgänger, enabling the player to play out scenarios he or she would not normally be able to realize. However, the doppelgänger can lead to an inaccurate self-representation that evokes the valley of the shadow. Considering other aspects of the doppelgänger allows us to avoid this association, since, as previously mentioned, the Uncanny Valley is not intentional.

The figure of the double is at the heart of Alan Wake's arc
The figure of the double is at the heart of Alan Wake’s arc

In addition to Freud’s strangeness, Martin Heidegger developed a similar theory, and his conceptualization of sensation is recognizable in video games. Both Freud and Heidegger address the unpleasantness of the uncanny, but Heidegger’s focuses distinctly on theories of temporality. He asserts that the sensation of paradox in the face of the familiar is achieved when an individual experiences or considers the impossibility of infinite being. Heidegger’s theory can be compared to the unsettling sensation of déjà vu, the feeling of experiencing an event as if it had already happened before. This sensation refers back to our linear understanding of time and creates a sense of unease. It suggests that a single existence can be multiplied, introducing the notion of a double. This theory lies at the heart of Alan Wake’s troubles, via his doppelgänger Mr Scratch, and even with Thomas Zane, who takes on the same traits as him.

Scene with Thomas Zane
Scene with Thomas Zane
Scene with Thomas Zane
Scene with Thomas Zane

In the context of Heideggerian and Freudian strangeness, the double can be the external manifestation of the involuntary repetition of certain situations. It evokes a sense of something fateful and inescapable that destabilizes individuals. It leads individuals to re-evaluate each experience and wonder which is the most authentic, invoking feelings of disquieting unfamiliarity.

Nordic Spirituality and the Quest for Meaning

The imprint of Nordic spirituality here transcends mere aesthetics to shape the game’s narrative and metaphysical underpinnings. Viking mythology, rooted in tales of struggle between the forces of light and darkness, intertwines with the game’s plot to embody an epic battle between supernatural elements, between reality and the Dark Place, plunging protagonists and player alike into a universe where the stakes go beyond the simple contours of reality.

The notion of destiny, a central pillar of Norse mythology, shines through in Alan and Saga’s existential quest. Like the Norse heroes fashioned by the Norns, the weavers of fate, the protagonists are caught in the inextricable threads of a mysterious, implacable destiny. This interweaving of the mythical figure in the story lends an epic dimension to the protagonist’s quest to find meaning in his journey, even when forces seem to be dictated by forces beyond them. This is particularly true when Alan and Saga find themselves on the phone in the Dark Place, with what appear to be other versions of themselves guiding them, or when Alan Wake literally writes Saga’s destiny to save himself.

The Old Gods of Asgard are an interesting nod to this Norse mythology.
The Old Gods of Asgard are an interesting nod to this Norse mythology.

Another concrete example of this influence can be seen in the representation of locations or natural elements. The dense forests, deep lakes and majestic mountains often found in Norse mythology take on a mystical, sacred aura in the game, reinforcing the idea of cohabitation between natural forces and supernatural entities. The Old Gods of Asgard, featuring Thor and Odin, are a much more direct expression of this influence.

Moreover, the eternal struggle between good and evil, conveyed through Norse mythology, is reflected in the confrontations between Alan Wake, Saga Anderson and the Dark Presence. This duality between light and darkness, not only physical but also metaphysical, embodies the protagonist’s constant quest for meaning and justice in a world where these antagonistic forces clash relentlessly. Nordic spirituality, subtly but profoundly integrated into Alan Wake 2, thus enriches the narrative by offering additional layers of meaning and conflict. This illustrates an epic vision of destiny and the perpetual struggle between cosmic forces, while giving the protagonist an existential quest rooted in a mythology rich in symbolism and meaning.


There’s no doubt about it, Alan Wake 2 is a game of mad generosity, brimming with inspirations and influences that the creative team took the time to mature over many years to deliver a work of art, a veritable masterpiece of existentialist horror. We’re faced with a production that does everything in its power to demonstrate the viscerality of the act of artistic creation, and this commitment is reflected in the level design, the gameplay and the visuals. Alan Wake 2 is a work of videogame art that will leave its mark on the horror genre and video games.

Sources

Books

Adam Scovell, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, Auteur Publishing, 2017

Collectif, David Lynch : cauchemar américain, Rockyrama, 2022

Collectif, David Fincher : néo-noir, Rockyrama, 2021

Documentaries

Kier-La Janisse, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, 2021, 3h14

Rodney Ascher, Room 237, 2013, 1h47

Articles – Internet

https://zoraburden.weebly.com/the-esoteric-symbolism-of-twin-peaks.html

https://alanwake.fandom.com/wiki/Mind_Place

http://quarterly.politicsslashletters.org/dreamer-twin-peaks-return/

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelgänger_(folklore)#:~:text=Un%20Doppelgänger%20est%20un%20mot,plus%20souvent%20un%20jumeau%20maléfique.

https://theasc.com/articles/twin-peaks-dreams-doubles-and-dopplegangers

https://celluloidwickerman.com

https://www.writework.com/essay/analysis-acting-jodie-foster-silence-lambs

https://soar.suny.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.12648/11973/4294_Mai-laya_Govia.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/pub/media/resources/9781474475907_Post-Horror_Chapter1.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2016/jan/05/subway-art-book-new-york-graffiti-street-art-1970s-in-pictures

https://www.kosmorama.org/en/kosmorama/artikler/art-nouveau-production-design-and-contemporary-horror-film

http://ergopsy.com/theorie-de-l-angoisse-a438.html#:~:text=Angoisse%20et%20conflit%20intra-psychique,de%20plaisir%20et%20de%20réalité

https://www.cairn.info/revue-champ-lacanien-2011-2-page-195.htm

Videos

Aperture 102, Yötön Yö / Nightless Night – A Thomas Zane Film, 2023, 19 min 53, URL : https://youtu.be/JYWoWRbxXeM?si=4HoIV1jm3y0LhCUA

Thomas Flight, The Art Movement That Changed Film Forever, 2022, 13 min, URL : https://youtu.be/1wVCheO-0oM?si=uYFK6BAQuEKD4yt3

Alt 236, STENDHAL SYNDROME # 10 : Zdzisław Beksiński, 2019, 54 min 32, URL : https://youtu.be/3vaq3Y_cnfQ?si=-0iwQbRDdboebtrM

Every Frame a Painting, David Fincher – And the Other Way is Wrong, 2014, 7 min 28, URL : https://youtu.be/QPAloq5MCUA?si=A1ZN0qXA98wTZ6IT

Blow Up, l’actualité du cinéma (ou presque) – ARTE, David Fincher par Laetitia Masson – Blow Up – ARTE, 2023, 17min 20, URL : https://youtu.be/K80dwjLaacE?si=hu62KDgz1xBh7HEK

Then & Now, Introduction to Deleuze: Difference and Repetition, 2018, 16 min 33, URL : https://youtu.be/AUQTYlCTfek?si=gfw2TaS7rJdYjMP1

Remedy Entertainment, Alan Wake 2 – Behind The Scenes, 2023, URL : https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLghgx4hV3feVusgLM6rxUPoKrnDKLafXw&si=iM1lSSJy1CLn18U8

Jacob Geller, We’re Not Remaking Horror Games, We’re Chasing Nightmares, 2023, 32 min 37, URL : https://youtu.be/V8Hs8_DzU3M?si=HAJkuEs1VpzLZTR8

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