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Alan Wake 2 has the best 15-minute stretch in a video game in years

‘We Sing’ marks yet another virtuoso set-piece from Remedy

Mr. Door, the host of In Between with Mr. Door, looks toward his talk show audience in Alan Wake 2 Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games
Mike Mahardy leads game criticism and curation at Polygon as senior editor, reviews. He has been covering entertainment professionally for more than 10 years.

To say that Alan Wake 2 hooked me at the outset would be an understatement. The survival-horror masterpiece was gripping, surreal, and creepy from the second Remedy Entertainment gave me control of a naked man who had just crawled out of a supernatural lake and found himself lost in the woods and hunted by a maniacal cult. But one sequence, a little more than halfway through the story, convinced me that I was truly playing a game for the ages.

[Ed. Note: Spoilers follow for Alan’s storyline in the “We Sing” part of the “Initiation” chapter.]

After gaining the ability to freely swap between the parallel (and occasionally intersecting) storylines of FBI agent Saga Anderson and the titular writer, I opted to stick with the former for about four hours. I love its confluence of vibes from True Detective’s first season, Twin Peaks, Resident Evil 4, and procedurals such as Mindhunter, or even Mare of Easttown. What’s more, Saga is as compelling character as I’ve seen all year, with a knack for snappy dialogue and a borderline superhuman intuition. She’s cool as hell, and I didn’t want to leave the creepy Pacific Northwest towns of Bright Falls or the neighboring Watery.

However, at a certain point, it nagged me that there was basically a whole second video game I wasn’t playing. And upon returning to Alan’s “reality” in the Dark Place, a nightmarish facsimile of New York City, I was surprised to find myself back in the green room for In Between with Mr. Door, the talk show where Alan’s story began. Looping scenarios that change each time you travel through them is a common theme in all of Remedy’s games, so I wasn’t shocked, per se — that is, until I got sucked into the green room’s TV and entered a full-on interactive rock opera.

Yes! You heard me extremely right! “We Sing,” a part that occurs a little more than midway through Alan’s “Initiation” chapter, tasks you with traveling (and fighting) through a labyrinthine sequence of corridors lined with giant screens on which the host Mr. Door (David Harewood)Poets of the Fall (the Finnish band known as The Old Gods of Asgard in this series), Alan himself, and goddam Sam Lake all do a live-action dance number with a slew of backup dancers set to a Finnish metal ballad. Linger too long in one section (I wouldn’t blame you — I’m pretty sure the sequence triggered an acid-trip flashback for me) and Lake and the musicians will gleefully point you to the next room.

Alan looks up a a screen of Alex Casey (Sam Lake) dancing backstage at In Between with Mr. Door in Alan Wake 2 Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games via Polygon

Here’s the thing, though: The song is unreasonably good. Harewood has singing chops. Lake can move. Guitarist Olli Tukiainen performs what feels like a two-minute guitar solo that melts his Flying V guitar while you melt Taken enemies with your newfound flare gun. “Show me the champion of the Light,” the Poets shout, “I’ll show you the herald of the Darkness.” Fuck yeah, I thought to myself, as I was dodging the blunt end of a Taken’s hammer. Video games rule.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: Control’s Ashtray Maze, that game’s most referenced sequence, was also a kaleidoscopic foray through brilliant level design, set to a Poets song, no less. Really, “We Sing” is part and parcel with Remedy’s ongoing excellent craft.

Alan Wake 2 is replete with moments I won’t soon forget. It’s a Lynchian ode to horror of all kinds, with compelling Metroidvania aspects and puzzles that far outpace those of Resident Evil 4. It’s also taking massive swings with its Mind Place mechanic, and the very fact that you can swap between Saga and Alan at almost any point in the game. But “We Sing” astounded me in ways that no other video game has in 2023. Given enough time and distance (once I actually tear myself away from this game, whenever that might be), I suspect it will stick with me for many years to come.