Pick up a flashlight, grab a thermos and get your typewriters ready because it’s time to return to Bright Falls – with Alan Wake at last making a jump from Xbox 360 to other consoles, the first time it’s done so since its first release in 2010. Now remastered on PC, alongside PlayStation and Xbox consoles old and new, the recent release comes courtesy of D3T Studios in collaboration with original developer Remedy Entertainment. Alan Wake was a visually impressive game for its time for sure, but this remaster certainly does plenty in refreshing the title for the modern hardware specs.
Comparing to the original Xbox 360 release, the game is perhaps by necessity reworked in several key areas. Effects, lighting and shadow quality are bumped up, character models are reworked with new shaders for skin and hair, while texture resolution is increased. And of course, on high-end consoles like Xbox Series X, S and PS5, you get a resolution boost, plus 60 frames per second gameplay. Looking back, Alan Wake was something of a technical showcase on release, as an Xbox exclusive. Fog, object physics, and dynamic shadows all impressed 11 years ago, and largely still hold up – though the game’s 544p resolution was somewhat controversial. Interplay with light also proved crucial. Not just technically, but also as a mechanic for the game: for weakening the Taken and for solving puzzles. As a precursor to Quantum Break and Control, this was the start of something special for Remedy.
The remaster is essentially a revamp of the 2012 PC release, with no changes or tweaks to the core game itself. Remedy makes it absolutely clear this is the same experience, running on the same engine, albeit with a suite of visual upgrades – though no HDR or ray tracing support is a touch disappointing (DLSS is at least an option on PC). For Xbox Series X and PS5, the native resolution is boosted to a 2560×1440 target. Interestingly, we keep the 4x MSAA that Remedy used to embellish the Xbox 360’s 544p resolution (and to make foliage look presentable!) many generations on from the Xbox 360 release. MSAA isn’t at all common these days, especially in this age of post-process techniques and reconstruction but given we’re using legacy code, it makes sense to see it return. As for Xbox Series S? Perhaps not surprisingly, 1080p is the render target. The rest of the comparison points between the three are minimal based on close testing: shadows, textures and lighting upgrades all benefit from the remaster in equal measure, and there isn’t much to split the three consoles here.
The remaster also addresses one key limit of Alan Wake’s 360 release: the low res buffers for lighting effects and shadows. Both light and shade are dynamic – with cloud scattering overhead too, which was impressive for its day. The downside is these elements are visibly degraded to support a playable frame-rate on Xbox 360. In the woodlands for example, you’ll see heavy aliasing artefacts – or dithering – on points where light intersects with fog, producing visible gradients of shade on lit areas. It’s expected given the age of Xbox 360 technology, but the new consoles solve all of this with higher resolution lighting buffers, fog effects and shadows.
There’s another major pillar to this remaster though: the characters themselves. Character models are updated with new shaders for skin and hair, and all round, designs now manifest very differently to the Xbox 360 original. Lighting properties are more exact on the new materials and hair takes on a glossier appearance in some shots. Clothing materials are also visibly crisper for characters, and Alan even sports a thicker beard. That said, some examples might be too far removed for purists, for fans of the original designs.
Cutscenes are updated too. The original Alan Wake mixed in pre-rendered scenes, but with such heavy reworking to characters and environments, many of these had to be ‘re-rendered’ to stay consistent with gameplay. As a result, we have all-new cutscenes – which unfortunately remain at 30 frames per second, which can be a little jarring coming from 60fps gameplay. Performance? This was problematic on Xbox 360, with a 20-30fps performance level and some obvious full-screen tearing. The new consoles are radically improved. 60fps is the rule, but there are exceptions – big battles using the flare gun, for example, pull performance down to the 50s, and very, very occasionally under that. It’s not a total deal-breaker but still, a surprise that the most powerful consoles on the market can’t quite cut it. Both Xbox Series console also exhibit some tearing at the top of the screen. PS5 seems to behave similarly to Series X, the difference being that there’s no tearing but a slightly higher degree of v-sync stutter. All round, it’s a decent showing a majority of the time on all three machines – just don’t expect a rock-solid lock at 60fps here, as things currently stand.
Alan Wake stands the test of time surprisingly well, and as a remaster, it’s been very pleasant to see the game looking so good on the latest consoles. Remedy’s storytelling, its technology – and even the controls – translate well to the modern day, a sign of just how forward-thinking Alan Wake was when it launched back in 2010. The visual upgrades help smooth over the rough points, as does the jump to 60fps on modern consoles. Perhaps more divisive are the changes to the character models, but it’s undeniable that it’s a better presented package overall. Alan Wake set a standard within Remedy that laid the foundations for what the team would achieve later in Quantum Break and Control. For those looking to trace the developer’s legacy back through the years and to return to one of the Xbox 360 era’s more fascinating games, it’s well worth checking out.