When Alan Wake 2 director Kyle Rowley told me in an interview that True Detective was a source of inspiration for the game, I remember thinking how easy it was to see that influence in the story. They’re both about two FBI agents on an investigation into a rural cult that unravel psychologically as they’re confronted with their own personal demons. Alan Wake 2 and True Detective Season 1 are narratively and tonally linked, but what I didn’t realize until I played it was how much the game emulates prestige TV in other ways, too.
The first chapter, Return 1, is a perfect one-hour drama. It introduces the main locations where the story takes place, Cauldron Lake and Bright Falls, establishes the Cult of the Tree as formidable antagonists, and thrusts our hero Saga Anderson into a waking nightmare, setting the pace for the story. By the time Return 1 ends in the morgue with the sudden reanimation of Nightingale’s bloated corpse, it feels like you’ve just finished the pilot episode of an HBO show. To really drive it home, Return 1, ends with a black screen – the kind you’d normally see scrolling credits run over – and a song. If you haven’t played Alan Wake 2 yet it’s worth the minor spoiler to listen to this banger, Follow You into the Dark by RAKEL.
Music is a big part of Alan Wake 2. As creative director Sam Lake revealed in Remedy’s YouTube video about the soundtrack, Remedy gathered around 20 artists and brought them to a secret camp to develop music based on Lake’s poetry. The desire to create an original soundtrack for Alan Wake 2 was partially out of a desire to avoid potential licensing issues – something Remedy has dealt with in the past with a couple of games, including the original Alan Wak – but it also wanted to use music to enhance the thematic and narrative qualities of the game.
When Follow You into the Dark plays at the end of Return 1 it’s serving as an act break, but it’s also an important piece of world building. This is Saga’s theme song, and the lyrics are all about her and the journey ahead of her. Alan Wake 2’s music is an important piece of its narrative puzzle, no different from a cutscene or the manuscript pages you find scattered throughout the Bright Falls. If you want the full picture of what Alan Wake 2 is about, you have to listen to the music.
The Old Gods of Asgard, a heavy metal band local to Bright Falls, play a big role in the sequel. The real band behind them, Poets of the Fall, wrote a few of the best songs in Alan Wake 2.
Luckily, that’s easy to do when the music is so good. Our own Jade King has already heaped praise on We Sing, the musical number Alan finds himself trapped in while looking for a way out of the Dark Place, but all of the non-diegetic songs are great too, and they all serve an important purpose to the story. One of my favorites, Dark, Twisted and Cruel by Paleface, caps off the chapter Return 6: Scratch, in which Mr. Scratch finally reveals himself to Saga and the two have a knock down, drag out fight at the police station. Like Follow You into the Dark, Dark, Twisted and Cruel is the anthem for the Dark Presence; a sinister, industrial, nu metal track that sounds like what it feels like to be chased through an abandoned factory by demons. I imagine.
My only complaint is that some songs are used at the end of chapters more than once, instead of each chapter having its own thematic musical tag. Jaimes’ Wide Awake, a very Daughtry-esque tune that I find a bit formulaic, pops up several times. Still, I always took the time to listen to each song and reflect on what just occurred in the story. I found these act breaks added so much to the experience and my appreciation for the game that I couldn’t imagine ever skipping them.
Next: Alan Wake 2’s Post-Credit Scene Is More Clever Than You Think