It only took a couple of minutes for Alan Wake 2 to make me jump. From the very beginning, Remedy Entertainment’s new sci-fi thriller has a lot of scares to offer — and I’m talking about classic jump scares, not just the moody atmosphere that pervades the entire Twin Peaks-esque setting. I didn’t expect this game to be as scary as it is, so let me issue a warning: Alan Wake 2 is freakin’ creepy, y’all!
[Ed. note: This article contains minor spoilers for Alan Wake 2.]
First things first: Horror is subjective, what scares me might not scare you, blah blah blah. You’re here because you want to know about the jump scares, so let’s get to it.
Alan Wake 2 kicks off with a very creepy scene, not least because you have absolutely no clue what’s going on. You start playing as a heavyset older white man who doesn’t look anything like Alan Wake and looks even less like Saga Anderson, the Black female FBI agent who’s the co-protagonist of Alan Wake 2. I guess I left out the most important part, which is that this guy is naked. And he is trudging — and later, running — through a gloomy, foggy forest.
Perhaps the creepiest part to me was that Alan Wake 2 wouldn’t let me look at this guy’s face. I kept trying to turn the camera around to see him, but he kept turning away from me, like the guy in the corner at the end of The Blair Witch Project. Turns out, that’s how the Alan Wake 2 camera works with almost every playable character — but in this opening scene, it’s even more restrictive against showing you the character’s face, probably to delay the reveal of this man’s identity. He turns out to be Robert Nightingale, the FBI agent who had it out for Alan Wake in the first game.
While poor naked Nightingale runs through the woods, you’ll get your first of several jump scares. Complete with flashing lights (the game does open with a seizure warning) and super-loud music stings, you’ll see a flash of Alan Wake’s face, lit up like he’s holding a flashlight next to it for dramatic effect or something. Alan’s face is not scary in a vacuum, obviously, but the loud noise and flashing lights are jump-inducing. Those moments of surprise will keep happening as Nightingale continues meandering through the woods, his journey culminating in his gruesome death at the hands of a death cult.
That death cult — and the murder of Nightingale — is what you’ll be investigating once you take on the role of Saga Anderson, whose story is where the game jumps to next. Saga’s sections involve exploring the exact same creepy woods, but unlike with Nightingale, there aren’t jump scares for Saga. Of course, that didn’t stop me from thinking there would be.
You won’t get another big scare until you get to the morgue in the town of Bright Falls. This is when the game introduces the central mechanic for its supernatural enemies: If you’re standing in a lit area, they can’t see you. But if you tread into the darkness — as you must do, periodically, to escape or strafe around these opponents — they’ll be able to see you, grab you, and kill you instantly.
Personally, I find the fight scenes to be less scary than wandering around the woods in the dark between the altercations. The world of Alan Wake 2 is so bizarre that you just never know what to expect. But once I can actually see an enemy, even if they look scary or unusual, I’m fine — I just need a pistol in my hand, because apparently bullets still work on supernatural entities (thank goodness?).
My usual tips for making a video game less scary might not be very effective in Alan Wake 2. There isn’t much you can do about a basic jump scare of a big face suddenly filling your screen, accompanied by a loud noise. But there are still some options if you want to play this (amazing, thrilling) game and not be quite as stressed out by it. I recommend turning off the orchestral score, while leaving the dialogue and sound effects on; the score is beautiful, but it also does a lot to heighten the game’s tense moments. Do remember to turn the music back on when you feel calm again so that you don’t miss out on the many original songs in the game, though.
My other big tip? Just take your headphones off entirely, as needed. I turned on the subtitle option that includes character names, since Alan Wake 2 involves a lot of unnerving voice-over from unpictured characters. If you’re feeling overstimulated, you can always just read the game for a little bit, using the subtitles and character markers as a guide. I usually would only do this for a few seconds before recovering, resetting, and wanting to head back into the full audio immersion of the world.
As somebody who’s made it through plenty of great horror movies and scary games, despite my irritation at the way my body reacts to horror, you’ve got this. Alan Wake 2 is absolutely worth experiencing, so give it your best go.