You'd think that the fact you'll spend a lot of Alan Wake 2 not playing as Alan Wake would be the most surprising thing about Remedy's ambitious new survival horror game. But, having seen 30 minutes of Saga Anderson doing her FBI investigator thing, it turns out Alan Wake 2 is doing far more than just adding a new face to proceedings. With Saga comes a bunch of new gameplay mechanics to complement the genre shift. As an FBI investigator arriving in Bright Falls to investigate mysterious ritualistic murders, she brings with her years of investigative and criminal profiling experience. That includes an all-important Mind Place, which, if you're a Sherlock fan, you'll be correct in thinking sounds a lot like the Mind Palace.
Heading to Saga's Mind Place is all about going inside her head to analyze cases. This mental construct takes the form of a physical room that you can walk around in at any time, with Saga ditching her FBI jacket to show off her knitted sweater as a symbol that this is a personal space. There's a lot going on in there, including spots for catching up on manuscript pages, rewatching cinematics on an old TV (gosh we hope there are new episodes of Night Springs), or upgrading weapons, but the main focal point is a case board along the back wall.
It's here that you'll be plotting out what will essentially be the game's plot by investigating the murders happening all over the Pacific Northwest playspace. The mission I'm shown is early on in the game but the case board is already adorned with plenty of polaroids, notes, manuscript pages, and other evidence. Telltale red threads plot out when you've linked things together correctly, and finding new clues can then prompt the next stage of the Alan Wake 2 story to present itself.
"The board is basically the visual presentation of Saga's investigation, so everything that goes on the board is what she thinks," explains Molly Maloney, principal narrative designer on Alan Wake 2. "When you're placing something on the board, that is now a thought that Saga has had. That is how she draws her conclusions." It'll prompt a new waypoint, or conversation option in the game, not to mention making things happen in the world around her.
In the demo I'm shown, Saga discovers – through manuscript pages she finds – that she must perform a ritual that will allow her to access the Overlap, which are specific places where our world and the Dark Place come closer together. In order to figure out what the ritual needs she has to plot out the clues she has so far on the case board. Without doing that manual work, you wouldn't be able to find the key item – in this case, it's Agent Nightingale's heart in a freezer – even if you discovered where it should be without joining up the clues.
"Part of the gameplay is piecing these clues together and figuring it out," says Sam Lake, creative director at Remedy. My immediate question is whether it's possible to map out the clues in the wrong order or force Saga to leap to incorrect conclusions, but Lake assures me "it is a linear experience" – even if Maloney later adds that it's something the team has gone "back and forth and back and forth" about.
"It's more on the level of you missing critical clues and needing to go back to look for them," Lake explains. The game's three main areas outside of the Dark Place – Cauldron Lake, Watery, and Bright Falls – are essentially contained open-world sites, and more densely detailed than anything found in the original game. Exploring will always be rewarded, and although you can't find those critical items without the correct clues, you will be able to investigate leads at your leisure.
"Once we've opened them up, you are actually free to travel between [the hubs] if you just want to go explore the area later on. You are free to do that, even if the next clue points to another direction," Lake adds. "But as to how the case proceeds, we don't really have branching content on the level of how the case is solved."
While the board's main purpose is to drive forward the story, it's also going to be another way to get to know Saga. "As an FBI agent, she's a consummate professional, but then you literally get to go inside of her head and see what she really thinks," says Maloney. "Even on the board itself, if you actually hover on the Polaroids and the clues, you actually get her commentary about those things."
"We wanted to make sure we created a gameplay loop and a power fantasy for people who want to be like, 'Hey, I'm an FBI profiler, I want to feel like I'm doing some profiling and doing some investigating'," adds Kyle Rowley, game director on Alan Wake 2.
Tied to that, Saga's Mind Place will also let her profile the killers and potentially the victims too. It's another element of helping you feel like you're really cosplaying as an FBI agent in Alan Wake 2, but also handily ties into the more psychological elements of this otherwise survival horror title. Saga will be able to get inside a suspect or victim's head, asking questions as to their motives, but also seeing what they see and feeling what they felt. Doing so can be integral to a breakthrough in a case, so clearly you'll need to balance this skill with the case board work.
None of this Mind Place revelation was what I expected to see from Alan Wake 2, but it's only made me more excited about the return trip to Bright Falls this October. This slower-paced, more focused take on narrative elements seems to blend well with the similar approach Remedy is taking with combat and it's immediately made Alan Wake 2 leap to one of my most-anticipated games of 2023.
Alan Wake 2 is due to drop on PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC on October 17,2023.