Chapter 1 – An Overdue Return
In the pleasant, reasonably well-kept living room of my small, comfortable home, I sat down on the sofa with a warming mug of strong, milky coffee and booted up my Nintendo Switch. As the main menu flashed into existence before me, a new icon caught my eye. It was bold in its simplicity; a name encompassed the otherwise black image, with a silhouetted man standing within the capital letter ‘A’, flashlight in hand. The name was instantly recognisable, yet I hadn’t seen it in what felt like years. It was Alan Wake.
My mind was instantly thrown back to the year 2010 when I was a scrappy 21-year-old holding down a part-time retail job while just starting what would ultimately be a fruitless three-year course at university. I remembered that Alan Wake had been released on the Xbox 360 to critical acclaim, and the game itself had a strong impact on my life. It starred a seemingly ordinary man — the titular protagonist and writer — who embarked on a desperate search for his missing wife, Alice, in the small mountain town of Bright Falls. He soon discovered that the town held dark secrets and a penchant for the supernatural.
It wasn’t your average action-adventure game. Split into chapters and presented as if it were ripped straight from the mind of its own hero, Alan Wake had flavours of Stephen King and Twin Peaks in equal measure, and this resonated with me deeply, ultimately shepherding the game into my top ten of all time thanks to its remarkable ability to tap into my own passion for quirky horror. It was the combination of this and the slick, intuitive gameplay that made Alan Wake a firm favourite among 360 owners, but, besides a PC release in 2012, the game was ultimately doomed to remain on a single home console.
So why is it here? Why is the Alan Wake icon on my Nintendo Switch? I had to know, I had to find out. Ah yes, Alan Wake was remastered for modern platforms in 2021, making its way beyond the Xbox ecosystem after its developer, Remedy Entertainment, broke away from its partnership with Microsoft and teamed up with Epic Games to launch a revamped version of the game. It also, to my delight, included the two extra DLC expansions: ‘The Signal’ and ‘The Writer’, making this as much of a complete package as I could hope for.
Nevertheless, I felt apprehensive. Would it live up to the memories that resided in my mind? I took a deep breath and entered the world of Alan Wake on Switch.
Chapter 2 – Visual Nightmares
I woke up on a deserted road, the darkness of night creeping in. A lighthouse stood in the distance, fog gliding through the air. As I gazed at the environment around me, a feeling of deep concern grew in my mind. The world looked the same and yet wildly different. The fauna looked softer, almost muddy, with jagged edges. Trees that once swayed in the wind now stood motionless, like cardboard cutouts dotted around a cheap film set.
I looked down at my own body and gasped in horror. The same effect that was warping the environment had apparently affected me too. My arms looked as if they were built by Lego and my clothes jittered as I moved my limbs. I ran my hands through my hair. It too had lost its lustre and I could only imagine how bizarre it would appear to an outsider looking in.
As I progressed through the town of Bright Falls in what would ultimately be a 10-12 hour search for my wife before the credits rolled, I was horrified to discover that the visual downgrades I stumbled upon at the beginning of my journey appeared everywhere else. It was even more apparent during the day when I would encounter friends like my literary agent, Barry Wheeler, along with new faces like Carl Stucky and Deputy Grant. They looked blurred, their faces obscured not from the dark presence that would befall many of Bright Fall’s inhabitants, but from a Nintendo Switch port which, somehow, makes them look worse than they did a dozen years ago.
When I faced off against the Taken — the plight of Bright Falls and my primary enemy during my journey — the visuals became even worse to the point of almost becoming incomprehensible at certain points. How I made it through alive is beyond me.
Chapter 3 – Necessary Compromises
Yet somehow, I did make it through. Despite the jarring filter that had been applied to my vision, I was still able to face off against my enemies, a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. It felt easy to aim and when those moments occurred where I did need to run away, it at least felt smooth and comfortable; if I were to put it in a different way, I’d say that my frame rate ran consistently. Take from that what you will.
The audio also sounded exactly as I’d remembered it. Manuscript pages dotted around the environment would kickstart a burst of narration from yours truly, and the residents of Bright Falls are all charismatic and endearing in their own way. Music would inexplicably play in the background as I faced off against the Taken, yet its presence made the moments all the more intense, spurring me on to reach my dear wife, Alice. Between chapters, licensed music from the likes of established legends such as Roy Orbison and up-and-comers Old Gods of Asgard would bring comforting relief from the exhausting treks through the darkness and fog.
It was the same experience I’d remembered from all those years ago, then, but it looked severely downgraded. A byproduct of the lesser hardware found in the Switch, perhaps, although I had hoped for so much more. Still, something in my mind told me that newcomers to the experience probably won’t notice all that much, or simply won’t care. After all, the visual flaws, as disheartening as they are, felt ultimately like necessary compromises to ensure stable performance for this remastered version on Switch.
As the credits rolled on my time in Bright Falls, I exited the game feeling satisfied, yet with an intense longing for a more visually pleasing experience; one that I knew was already available elsewhere.
I put my Switch aside, my experience with Alan Wake finished. As I sat and allowed my thoughts to marinate, I came to the conclusion that, even with the visual drawbacks present on the Switch, it nevertheless felt like a complete package, with steady performance throughout, and controls that felt natural and intuitive. A welcome return for a literary icon, even with some significant imperfections.
I turned to grab my mug of coffee. It was gone.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Alan Wake Remastered looks pretty terrible in places. There have been some severe drawbacks to make this game run competently on the Switch: the swaying of the trees, while hardly a defining feature on paper, actually played a huge part in shaping Alan Wake’s visual identity and atmosphere, and now they’re static. The game plays exactly as you remember with consistent frame rates throughout and intuitive controls, but if you’ve played Alan Wake Remastered on a different platform, then you need only apply if you’re a hardcore fan of Remedy’s creation. Newcomers, however, should definitely consider checking this out if the Switch version is your only viable option, and if you can accept the considerable visual compromises.