One of the first sequences in Quantum Break takes place on a university campus where things quickly fall apart, at which point the player is quickly rushed from one building to the next. However, if you stop and examine the scenery, you'll sometimes be rewarded — like in the above sequence, where we stumbled onto a lecture hall blackboard covered with frantic scribblings about Alan Wake.
If you look closely, all the writing on the blackboard concerns the events that Alan Wake undergoes in Alan Wake and Alan Wake's American Nightmare. However, the in-game writing seems to be picking apart Alan Wake's experiences as a work of fiction — making references to things like the hero's journey monomyth and noting references to English poet William Blake (echoing an Alan Wake ARG that appeared and quickly fell silent back in 2012).
So: what's the in-universe explanation for all this? For our money, this is most likely scenario: the chalkboard belongs to an English teacher at Riverport University who is giving a lecture on Alan Wake (the fictional novelist, not the video game) — or, more specifically, on the autobiographical manuscripts Departure and Return, the pages of which players collected throughout the two previous Alan Wake games.
However, that's not the only major Alan Wake reference we stumbled onto in our first few hours of Quantum Break. Be warned: below lie spoilers for a pretty incredible piece of Alan Wake fanservice — one we uncovered in a very early section of the game we unfortunately were not permitted to record.
In Quantum Break's very first playable moments, protagonist Jack Joyce shows up at Riverport University, and from there the player is encouraged to head directly for the campus' physics building. If you ignore these instructions and explore a bit, you'll find a small area where a student is tabling for a protest against the demolition of the on-campus library. Walk past her and you'll find a tent with a large flatscreen television inside of it. Enter the tent and press X to activate the television, and you're treated to something very special: a cinematic trailer for a live-action Alan Wake adaptation.
Here's what happens next:
The trailer opens on a shot of waves, which fade into a dark forest, over which Alan Wake says the iconic line: "It's not a lake. It's an ocean." The camera moves through the dark forest, until resting on the face of an unconscious Alan Wake, whose eyes jolt open.
A male voice says "He's been gone for five years." Fade up on what appear to be two detectives, a man with dark hair and a woman with blonde hair, standing in front of a wall covered in clues — perhaps about Alan Wake's disappearance. Jazzy noir music begins to play.
Alan Wake's voice: "Dark matter and dark energy constitute over 95 percent of our universe." We see the two detectives from the front, eyes furrowed in concentration, as they simultaneously lift mugs of coffee up to their mouth in perfect unison. It's revealed that the male detective is portrayed by Remedy creative director and writer Sam Lake.
Alan Wake again: "We're just a speck of light floating in an endless ocean of darkness." Glitchy static noises slowly overtake the music, and we see the two detectives walking through the forest, stumble upon what appears to be Alan Wake's unconscious body.
"Every story finds its writer." Cut to a brief shot of the male detective flicking The Clicker in his hands, likely taken from an evidence box in the room.
Next we see the detective walking through a dimly lit, empty location with flickering lights. A figure emerges from the darkness, and the detective raises his flashlight to reveal the figure's identity: Alan Wake, now with a full beard.
We see The Clicker again. A few shots of the female detective lost in concentration. A shot of Wake's torso from behind, walking, flashlight in his left hand and his pistol in the other.
Back to the detectives' clue board, where we see the female detective's hands hang up a new clue: a mugshot of Sam Lake, with the words "ALEX CASEY" written underneath — the name of the protagonist in Alan Wake's series of thriller novels. A brief flash frame of Sam Lake's character, now revealed to be Alex Casey, appears — pale, lying on the floor, a trail of blood coming from his mouth. The female detective grabs her jacket and runs out of the room. In the next shot, we see a bearded Alan Wake exploring the detectives' room, examining the clue board and going through the evidence boxes.
Alan Wake begins paging through a folder full of paper found among the evidence, and snippets of Alan Wake voiceover can be heard: "Wake has a bloody knife in his hand." "He smiles a wicked smile." "Casey lies on the floor, eyes staring." He continues to frantically search through the pages, then looks up, horrified.
In the final shot, we see the female detective walking through the forest at night with a gun and flashlight. She walks into a building, then shines her light onto a man facing the wall with his back to her. He slowly turns around. It's Alan Wake, and he looks scared. The detective looks down, and sees Wake standing over Alex Casey's dead body, a bloody knife in Wake's hand. She steps back, gun pointed at Alan.
Then, a title card: "RETURN," the name of Wake's collectible manuscript from Alan Wake's American Nightmare. The phrase "WHAT LIES BENEATH THE SURFACE" appears on screen. We hear Wake's voice one last time: "All of us have two faces. The one we wear for all to see, and the face that lies beneath in the dark."
That's a lot to take in, right? While it's too soon to say what the exact extent of Alan Wake's role in Quantum Break's universe is, something tells us there's more to this — and with Remedy recently filing a trademark for Alan Wake's Return, we have to imagine it's connected to this in-game trailer. Could Return end up being Quantum Break's recurring in-game television show, a hallmark of Remedy games since the original Max Payne? Or is it something more? It seems like we'll have to wait a bit longer to find out.
For more on Quantum Break, stay tuned for more video coverage from Polygon throughout the day. For more on Alan Wake, check out our in-depth video essay examining gameplay from the tragically unreleased Alan Wake 2.