Back in 2010, I wrote a review of Alan Wake with the title, “Alan Wake takes video games to an art form.” I reviewed the game for the Xbox 360, saying the game was a “work of art, and it’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played.”
I said it deserved critical accolades, but the jury was out as to whether it will also be a commercial success. And so you can imagine my joy yesterday seeing new gameplay from Alan Wake II, a long-awaited sequel that will come out this fall 13 years after the original came out. It debuted at the Summer Game Fest, the Los Angeles two-hour live show highlighting new games in lieu of the now-canceled E3 trade show.
Back in 2010, I wrote, “The famous movie critic Roger Ebert recently wrote an ill-informed post about how video games are not an art form. He did so without playing a variety of highly recommended, artistic games, from Braid to Flower. And he did so without playing Alan Wake, which was developed by Finnish game studio Remedy Entertainment over six years. Published by Microsoft, the game debuted last week on the Xbox 360, to much critical acclaim from everyone except Ebert. If he actually played this game, he’d eat his words.”
To me, this question about whether video games can be an art form was definitively answered over time with titles like That Dragon, Cancer; Grand Theft Auto V; God of War; Journey; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End; Red Dead Redemption 2; BioShock; BioShock Infinite; Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice; The Unfinished Swan; Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons; Horizon: Zero Dawn; The Last of Us; and The Last of Us Part II.
I gave the original Alan Wake a 98/100 for my review score. Now we only use five stars, but I’m anxious to get my hands on the new one. The crowd showed its enthusiasm for the new game as well, but perhaps no one was as happy as creative head Sam Lake, who got to announce the gameplay on stage at the show.
Of course, these developers aren’t just sitting around. They have crafted some very complicated plots. In this case, the writer Alan Wake is stuck in a nightmare reality. And in a separate reality, two FBI agents find a book that contains a horror story written by Alan Wake. And they find that the stories on the pages of the book start to come true, forcing the separate worlds to collide. This kind of storytelling doesn’t just write itself. And the games around these narratives also take a long time to make.
Somewhere along the line, Remedy veered off the straight and narrow path of coming up with a sequel. Remedy did an expansion pack, Alan Wake: American Nightmare, in 2012.
In 2021, Remedy released a fully remastered version of Alan Wake to stoke fans of the classic thriller-action game. And now Lake said the game will take us into survival horror. Most studios don’t take this long to cook their sequels. But games are like that. They’re messy. They take a long time to conceive and get right, and then during testing phases the developers listen to the players and keep revising. And so the delays and pivots can easily add years to the projects. Other titles take priority. And then before you know it, 13 years go by.
And more often than not, the real crowd-pleasers at shows like the Summer Game Fest have been cult classics that were getting another turn at the plate. I feel like I’ve been pretty patient waiting for this moment, and it felt good to take a selfie with Lake after the show.
Of course, there are fans who have had to wait a long spell as well for other games. If Take-Two Interactive’s Rockstar Games finishes Grand Theft Auto VI in 2025, then it will have been a total of 12 years since the debut of Grand Theft Auto V. I hope this trend doesn’t continue because I myself am getting pretty old. I’d like to see these games land during my lifetime.
There were other crowd-pleasers, like Ubisoft’s unveiling of a new cartoon-like version of its classic Prince of Persia. At the start of the Summer Game Fest, Ubisoft showed a trailer of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. The original Prince of Persia came out in 1989, and the last title in the series was The Shadow and the Flame, which debuted in 2013. So the new game coming in 2024 is a real treat.
I was also happy to see J.R.R. Tolkien fans get some love. While The Lord of the Rings: Gollum just debuted to some bad reviews, the Summer Game Fest saw the unveiling of The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, a new branch of the intellectual property that steered into fresh territory, as the dwarves under Lord Gimli take back the mines of Moria in the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.
It was funny to hear fans get prematurely excited when Keighley mentioned Final Fantasy on stage — to the roar of fans — only to then get deflated as he announced a Door Dash deal instead of a game. But fans like GamesBeat’s Mike Minotti got their reward for waiting in the final announcement at the show, when Keighley unveiled Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth.
And, as Keighley proudly noted in a tweet, this time no one got arrested at the show (in contrast to last fall when a rogue fan grabbed the mic at The Game Awards.
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