Among action-adventure games, few can compare with Alan Wake in terms of atmosphere and setting. Let’s take a look at what made the cult game from 2010 so special and how did its creators use pop-cultural references or product placement to make the game experience seem more “real”.

When the director Sam Lake announced during The Game Awards 2021 ceremony that Alan Wake II is in the making, the news received more than considerable applause. It’s no surprise as the Alan Wake cliffhanger-type ending left gamers around the world hungry for answers for over a decade.

A look back at the story of Alan Wake

The story of Alan Wake is one of intrigue, mystery, and finding your wife, Alice. It takes place in Bright Falls, Washington, and uses an episodic format to take gamers through a mystery that rivals the likes of H.P Lovecraft, Stephen King, and The Twilight Zone TV series.

You play as a writer suffering from writer’s block, but you will quickly learn that there is more at play than a simple lack of inspiration. Your wife is missing, there are strange creatures about, and your simple writer’s block doesn’t seem so simple anymore. The game can feel very “meta” as the mystery doesn’t seem to be related to your writing, but things from your latest book happen throughout.

While it is easy to want to call Alan Wake a survival horror title, Sam Lake, lead writer for the series, has always believed it is more of a thriller than pure survival horror. We’ll let you be the judge of that, but regardless, Alan Wake is a creepy good time, which will leave gamers scratching their heads through the six thrilling acts of the game.

Alan Wake does an amazing job of giving gamers a great story but also adds plenty of extras for those that want to squeeze even more out of it. This is accomplished through manuscript pages that players can find throughout the world. Interestingly enough, these pages are out of order and if you take the time to read them, you’ll sometimes glean interesting information about things in the game that you have yet to experience.

Setting the scene in Alan Wake

A lot of work went into bringing the world of Alan Wake alive. This is first seen in the world in which the characters live, Bright Falls, which draws inspiration from the TV show Twin Peaks. It’s a picturesque little northwestern town that seems very inviting at first glance. But just wait until the sun sets and those once happy trees are now looming over you menacingly.

Remedy, the studio behind Alan Wake, manages to blend these two worlds (light and dark) seamlessly and then builds on top of that with how light works in the game. While you will have some weapons at your disposal, one of your most powerful tools is actually going to be your flashlight, as the creatures that go bump in the night can only be damaged once you expose them to light.

A fun fact regarding the world of Bright Falls. Originally, Remedy had planned for the world to be more open, more of a sandbox area, but realized after a couple months of development that it sacrificed some of the pacing and storytelling, so they scrapped the idea.

In addition to a gorgeously creepy setting, Alan Wake actually uses product placement to help the game world feel more real. While it is not in your face as you play, many of the batteries in the game are from Energizer and your phone provider is Verizon Wireless. There are also various references to Microsoft products, including an Xbox 360 in one scene.

You can even find Microsoft bar codes throughout the world that you can scan from your (real-life) phone for additional in-game content. All of these things add up to provide a level of immersion rarely seen in video games.

Is it worth checking out now, over 10 years later?

Thinking about replaying Alan Wake now that it is celebrating its 10th anniversary? Maybe you are a newcomer to the series and worried about how it holds up? Have no fear, as stories are timeless, and at the end of the day, that is what Alan Wake excels at.

While some of the third-person combat may feel a bit dated, that will be but a minor issue, as this game shines with its characters, worldbuilding, and thrilling, creepy story. The game features great voice acting and all of the characters are modeled after real people, which are two additional reasons that it holds up so well.

Overall, Alan Wake is a must-play for fans of thrillers, survival horrors, and good stories. And after you have finished it, and still can’t wait for the sequel, be sure to check out the game’s spin-off adventure, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, featuring the same voice actor in the main role – Matthew Porretta.

Want to discover more games with a thrill? Check our article about Alien: Isolation and the scariest moments in horror games.