Alan Wake is the cornerstone upon which Remedy Entertainment’s magnum opus rests. This magnum opus is, however, not any specific game, but their interrelationship, resulting in the creation of the Remedy Connected Universe.
And, though Control established RCU in concrete terms, understanding how it all began is crucial.
Naturally, it all began with Alan Wake proper. As Remedy’s Sam Lake will attest, neither Quantum Break nor Max Payne are a part of the official RCU, and they will therefore be left aside for the purposes of recapping and explaining the full story of Alan Wake. We will, however, need to take a look at Control and American Nightmare to make sense of what’s been going on, and how it all sets the stage for Alan Wake 2.
Oh, before we begin, it might be good to set the stage properly: Twin Peaks is one of the core inspirations for Remedy’s Alan Wake and, as such, the Remedy-verse as a whole. Expect Lynchian logic here and there, then, with a dash of SCP slathered on top. Do expect plenty of spoilers below, for the previous Alan Wake games and Control.
Full recap and explanation of what happens in Alan Wake
As one might expect from a piece of media inspired by Twin Peaks, there are layers upon layers of narrative development present in Alan Wake, and there’s no feasible way for us to cover all of them in a sensible manner. The story, as it were, begins with Alan himself and his wife, Alice, entering the Americana-core town of Bright Falls, Washington for a vacation. They rent out a small, lonely cabin at the Cauldron Lake, and intend to rest up for a little while.
However, while unpacking, Alice reveals to Alan that she has an ulterior motive for going to Bright Falls, specifically. As Alan had been struggling with severe writer’s block for years at the time, Alice worked out a plan to get him to meet Dr. Emil Hartman, a famous psychologist. Revealing this twist to Alan does not go according to plan, however, and the pair get into a huge fight that wraps up with Alice disappearing into the lake.
Cauldron Lake is no ordinary body of water, as Wake slowly realizes. Instead, it is something that Control would later define as a threshold: a connection between Earth and some other paranatural location. Cauldron Lake, specifically, connects to the Dark Place, a strange and malleable plane of existence that houses the aptly named Dark Presence, the main antagonist of Alan Wake. Thus begins the story!
The core of Alan Wake‘s gameplay loop is centred around the titular character’s attempts at figuring out what on earth is going on in Bright Falls, who kidnapped Alice, and how to save her. The reveals are dished out in a bit of a meandering way, in typical Lynchian fashion, but the very gist of the tale is simpler than it seems at a glance.
Basically, the Dark Presence needs a talented and prolific artist to write it into existence on Earth, and Cauldron Lake is a powerful threshold where creative works can be turned into reality. Dr. Hartman, specifically, has been angling for artists like Alan Wake to come to Bright Falls, so that he could use them as vessels for the Dark Presence, and that’s precisely what happens here.
Though the Dark Presence only has a limited amount of power on Earth at the start of the game, it is a formidable paranatural force that can affect living beings by a huge margin. The humans and animals that attempt to capture or kill Alan in the game, for example, are Taken by the Dark Presence to do its bidding. Yet, if it could leverage the writings of Alan Wake at Cauldron Lake, the Dark Presence would become far more “real” on Earth, giving it more power.
It doesn’t take long for Alan to come across his agent, Barry, and to recruit him as he looks for Alice. All manner of hell breaks loose along the way, including a fight with a Darkness-possessed mammoth skeleton, only for Hartman to eventually trap Wake and try to gaslight him into thinking he’s simply having a mental breakdown caused by Alice’s drowning.
Thankfully, Barry helps Alan escape from Hartman’s psychiatric hospital, and the pair eventually end up getting drunk on moonshine distilled from Cauldron Lake water. This, in turn, gives Alan the ability to remember writing the mysterious Departure manuscript, the pages of which he had been collecting throughout the story. Aping the meta-myth of the Hero’s Journey, Wake’s Departure is, once completed, going to allow the Dark Presence to pour onto Earth and do whatever it wants, which is obviously not a good thing.
While Wake couldn’t put a stop to the madness, he figured that there might be a way for him to save Alice at least. To do so, he dives into Cauldron Lake to enter the Dark Place, and completes Departure. Doing so meant that Alice would be free to go away, but Wake had to stay and navigate the Dark Place all on his own. The main story’s narrative wraps up with the words: “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.”
Alan Wake received two additional “episodes” to continue its main narrative. Titled ‘The Signal’ and ‘The Writer,’ they’re not outright crucial for our understanding of the Remedyverse lore, but they give valuable context and deal with Wake’s adventures in the Dark Place.
The implications posed by these two stories are numerous, but the most important of them all comes in the end, after Wake had already battled it out with his own frenzied mind. Wake, now having grown accustomed to the logic of the Dark Place, begins writing the final third of the meta-myth, Return, which sets the stage for Alan Wake 2 way before American Nightmare and Control were even announced.
One notable tidbit of lore here is that the artists affected by Dark Presence cannot write whatever they want into being. Some sense of balance must be maintained, which is why Alan had to stay behind in the Dark Place, in order for Alice to escape.
The events of American Nightmare
While there’s some discussion about whether American Nightmare is canon, as it wasn’t included in the remaster of Alan Wake, everything points to it being quite crucial for Remedyverse as a whole. Firstly, it features Mr. Scratch, the evil doppelganger of Alan Wake who’d go on to haunt Alice Wake later on. Secondly, its ending poses the implication that Wake cannot make anything and everything into reality just by virtue of writing it down from the Dark Place, and might instead simply be able to nudge certain events into reality.
Since Wake wrote the events of the American Nightmare as if they were an episode of an in-universe TV show, they only ever happened in the Dark Place, rather than on Earth. He never did reunite with Alice, and he didn’t take down Mr. Scratch, either. Instead, the events played out as a nightmare that Wake’s buddy, Barry, woke up screaming from.
The events of Control
Finally, there’s Control. More so than any other Remedy Entertainment game, Control provided a wealth of context as to what’s actually been going on in the background. Thresholds, Places of Power, Objects of Power, all of Alan Wake makes perfect sense when considered from the perspective provided by Control. In fact, many of the anomalies that the protagonist, Jesse Faden, deals with over the course of Control are extremely similar to what Wake has been dealing with all along, except from a slightly more scientific perspective.
After Wake disappears into Cauldron Lake and the Dark Place, Dr. Hartman decides to follow him, only to immediately get overtaken by the Dark Presence. This eventually led the Federal Bureau of Control to investigate and capture the infected, mutated Hartman, and take him back to the Oldest House. The bit that complicates things is that, during the events of Control, Hartman got infested by the Hiss as well, stacking one paranatural meme/parasite on top of another. Jesse, of course, kills Hartman in the end, but the ending of the AWE expansion pack suggests that a new Altered World Event will be taking place in Bright Falls – several years in the future.
As both Alan Wake and the standalone American Nightmare DLC explain Wake cannot outright change the real world, but might only be able to piece events together in a somewhat desirable way, it is unlikely that Wake wrote the entirety of Control into existence from scratch. Instead, the alternative theory is that Wake set the stage for the Hiss, the FBC, and Jesse herself to cross paths, so as to hopefully turn Jesse into the saviour that Wake needs to finally escape from the Dark Place.
Will Jesse Faden appear in Alan Wake 2? We don’t know yet, but Entity A-001 sure seems to be making itself at home in Bright Falls.
A lifetime gamer and writer, Filip has successfully made a career out of combining the two just in time for the bot-driven AI revolution to come into its own.