Alan Wake II: Night Springs Is An Exciting and Appropriately Meta Follow-Up

Games Reviews Alan Wake II
Alan Wake II: Night Springs Is An Exciting and Appropriately Meta Follow-Up

I can’t pretend that Alan Wake II is a game I ever wanted DLC for. Remedy Entertainment’s postmodern metanarrative inspired me to dream again at a time when life seemed stagnant, making me feel almost protective of the work. You don’t want to have too much of a great thing, at risk of spoiling it. However, if I learned something from this add-on, it’s that I need to learn to shut up and trust Remedy more— they know what they’re doing.

Sam Lake graced the stage at Summer Game Fest 2024 to announce that the Night Springs DLC would release on June 8th, mere hours after its reveal. The title “Night Springs” will appeal to those deeply immersed in the spiral of Remedy’s connected universe. Alan Wake began his career as a writer for the show, and the Twilight Zone-inspired series has made itself a staple within Remedy’s games, appearing in Quantum Break and Control as easter eggs. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a mini-sequel to the original title, sees Wake utilize his familiarity with the series as a means to escape the Dark Place. Night Springs, therefore, serves as a spiritual successor of sorts to American Nightmare, as Wake once again tries to use the show to escape his own nightmares. There are three playable episodes that highlight these attempts: “Number One Fan,” “North Star,” and “Time Breaker,” each expanding upon unique elements that made the base game great.

“Number One Fan” gives us control of The Waitress— ambiguously referred to within this episode, though players will recognize her as Rose Marigold, the obsessive fan who runs the Oh Deer Diner in Bright Falls. This episode delivers a pure power trip as The Waitress blasts through enemies, trusty shotgun at her disposal, dashing to save her beloved from “Haters.” Alan Wake II told a very serious story while still incorporating Remedy’s take on Lynchian humor, and that goofiness is turned up to 11 here. We’re experiencing a twisted writer’s take on the inner psyche of a woman obsessed with him, working with a genre and tropes he has little experience in. Campy rock music plays over every encounter, Rose makes quips as she pushes through encounters and characters behave like they’re pulled from a teenager’s diary. It’s clumsy, and intentionally so, becoming a campy and hilarious time.

The largest fault I take with Remedy’s game design is their set piece moments— larger-than-life punches like the summoning scene in Alan Wake II and the Anderson farm in Alan Wake. It’s clear that you are meant to feel like an unadulterated badass while playing these sequences as you take down swarms of enemies, driven by a sweeping accompanying music track. However, the balance never quite seems tipped in the player’s favor, and while these stretches are conceptually amazing, they sometimes fall flat in frustration. This episode eschews any idea of that. Remedy has dropped the idea of survival horror here: there is an overabundance of ammunition, healing items restore greater amounts of health, and enemies never overwhelm the player. You don’t need to burn away darkness with a flashlight. The focus here isn’t on scares, it’s on thrills. You truly feel like the badass you are meant to be in these moments. Remedy tells us, “Please, go trigger happy.”

This design approach carries through to the following episodes of the game. “North Star” sees the player control The Sibling— once again, someone who looks like Control’s Jesse Faden but for all intents and purposes is not Jesse Faden. The story itself dips into the roots of Control, making mention of government agencies and secret plots, and allows the tone of the game to shift back into its more familiar survival horror footing. Each episode seems to serve as a tonal blow up to the best experiences of the base game, whether you crave the strange blend of humor, darkly intense scares, or surreal environments. The Sibling’s search for her brother through a cult-maintained Coffee World steeps itself in those intense scares, creating an environment that would feel at home in either Control or Alan Wake II.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of this lends itself to “North Star” being particularly engaging. While we are distinctly not Control’s Jesse Faden, stepping into the shoes of someone who resembles her without her powers feels jarring. The game attempts to make up for this by handing us a steady supply of ammo, almost mimicking the Service Weapon, but this clashes with the survival horror this episode aims to reintroduce to the player. When the game simultaneously asks you to be afraid, and to still feel like a badass, it asks too much. I would believe it if I was told “North Star” was an early prototype for Control— it just feels unrefined by comparison. This doesn’t mean that this episode is irredeemable or not worth playing; it just fails to reach the highs of Alan Wake II as the first episode did.

Thankfully the third episode, “Time Breaker,” corrects the course of this DLC. We play as The Actor and delve into the more surreal, metafiction parts of the base game. You see, The Actor’s name is Shawn Ashmore, who is played by real-life Shawn Ashmore, who played Tim Breaker in Alan Wake II, who is absolutely not Jack Joyce from Quantum Break, who was also played by Shawn Ashmore. He’s acting as the lead in a videogame about time travel that isn’t Quantum Break, directed by Sam Lake— but not the same Sam Lake that we’ve seen throughout Alan Wake II in half a dozen various roles. Make sense? Good. The episode takes its time to stir thoughts of what reality could look like if other courses had been traveled, seeming like a self-reflexive examination of Remedy. To the fans concerned with their connected universe of games, this will no doubt serve as the most captivating episode, as the ties and references to Quantum Break seem to point to larger story beats yet to come involving the franchise.

The most fascinating moments of the DLC come from this episode, highlighting the mind-bending metanarrative that made the base game so remarkable. To delve into exactly what these sequences are would spoil the latter parts of the episode, but know that they demonstrate the love and care Remedy has for its characters and fans. Long time Remedy-heads will undoubtedly recognize a specific presentation for the homage it makes to Max Payne.

Ultimately, the episodes of Night Springs exist to provide fun, hypothetical “What if?” scenarios to the player, and they largely succeed in doing so. There are moments that feel less than stellar, but the peaks of this expansion more than makeup for this. The most interesting part of this package, however, is how strongly these episodes reinforce the themes present in Alan Wake II. If that story is in part about breaking free from self-imposed creative demands, Night Springs shows what those demands create. These stories couldn’t break Alan out of the Dark Place— and only after seeing what allowed his escape can we examine his prior failings as a writer. 

Perhaps these attempts distorted reality enough that Alan could build on them and eventually escape, and perhaps these attempts reflect Remedy’s own struggle in crafting what would become Alan Wake II. I wrote that “North Star” could have been a Control prototype— and maybe it was. It still exists as a part of the story, and Remedy showing that to us feels special. It feels incredibly novel that a game’s DLC exists to thematically bolster itself, rather than solely provide additional entertainment. Night Springs does both, and furthers the metanarrative spiral of the base game. In the end, I shut up and trusted Remedy, and I’m ready to do it all over again whenever the second expansion, The Lake House, arrives.

Alan Wake II: Night Springs was developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Epic Games Publishing. Our review is based on the PS5 version. It is also available for PC and Xbox Series X/S.

Perry Gottschalk is a Paste intern, thinking about games and the way they make us feel. For more feelings, follow @gottsdamn on Twitter.

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