Like the puzzling TV shows that inspired it, Alan Wake is full of mysteries. Presumably, Alan Wake 2 will be, too. After all, several of Remedy's other games, namely Quantum Break and Control, are laden with enigmas--many of which are left unresolved. Instead, players are left to try and unravel these lingering mysteries in their own heads. I sat down with Remedy creative director Sam Lake to discuss the team's approach to writing mysteries and ask why, as he put it, questions are sometimes better left unanswered.
"To me, usually the tension goes away when you have one definite answer," Lake said. "And to me, in fiction and in real life, there rarely is one clear, defining answer. [There's] a way to kind of spin it around and look at it from different directions," Lake said, going on to admit, however, that there are some definitive answers in Alan Wake, and the recent QR codes hidden in Alan Wake Remastered do provide details to answer some of the lingering questions fans have been discussing over the last 13 years.
"For those fans who really really want to dig in, I feel that there are answers[...] I feel it's about balance," Lake continued. "It's about giving breadcrumbs of answers but always asking enough new questions or leaving some big fundamental things open for interpretation."
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To me, the question is a fascinating one not just as an Alan Wake fan, but as a fan of the mystery-box genre. Things like Lost, Twin Peaks, Westworld, Cloverfield, and other mystery-laden series over the years have made a habit out of weekly cliffhangers and years-long riddles that work fans into a frenzy, sending them onto fan sites, Discord servers, and subreddits where they tirelessly theorize about what's unfolding. Alan Wake is very much a part of that genre, albeit in video game form, and it's a big part of why I love it.
For those hoping for clarity in the case of Wake, however, it may be best not to forget that the original game opens with a Stephen King quote addressing the natural desire for cognitive closure and how, in a horror story, the author ought not provide it.
"Nightmares," said King, "exist outside of logic, and there's little fun to be had in explanations; they're antithetical to the poetry of fear. In a horror story, the victim keeps asking, 'Why?'--but there can be no explanation, and there shouldn't be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it's what we'll remember in the end."
To me, horror is about uncertainty. To not be given that release from something that conclusively wraps everything up
For Lake, the quote seems to be a guiding light all these years later. "I love the quote myself," he said. "When you don't have that answer, your mind tends to go back to the question and spin it around and be engaged with it. And often when everything is wrapped [up] very neatly and conclusively, we tend to forget about it and move on to the next set of questions."
With Alan Wake 2 leaning more into the horror elements that the series has previously only toyed with but never fully committed to, it makes me wonder just how many conclusive answers players will get. And does a writer even have an obligation to give a concrete answer to fans' questions? Not always, says Lake.
"I do think this is a big part of the storytelling that I'm interested in, with questions and sometimes no conclusive answers," he told me. "To me, horror is about uncertainty. To not be given that release from something that conclusively wraps everything up. I think that there is horror, also, in having this nagging question that you don't know the answer to. I think that is part of the style of psychological horror that we are exploring [in Alan Wake 2]."
That chase for closure, for me, is a big part of the fun for any mystery, but even before my chat with Lake I've been wondering whether I really do want all of my burning questions answered. When I watched Lost around 2010, I definitely felt like I needed answers to the seemingly record-setting number of mysteries it set up, but when I watched The Leftovers about seven years later, I was entirely content not having the show's central question resolved in a neat and tidy way.
Looking back, it feels like my strongest memories with the mystery-box genre are always related to the speculation and rarely the resolution. The Leftovers' ambiguous ending, for example, only helps cement it as my favorite TV series of all time, but some of Lost's answers on the other hand don't make a ton of sense and weaken an otherwise great series. Will inarguable clarity improve Alan Wake 2? Only time will tell, but after talking to Lake, I think it's easy to see the logic of the team wanting to keep Alan Wake 2's answers ambiguous.
So, if you're like me and you've been waiting over a decade to have your questions answered, you may not want to hold your breath. It seems as though Alan Wake 2--and perhaps any Remedy project in which Lake is creative director--will provide few, if any, definitive resolutions. And wherever it does provide an answer, be prepared for several new questions in its place.
Alan Wake 2 launches on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on October 17. It may be that we get few definitive answers in this sequel, but that didn't stop us from listing seven unresolved mysteries in Alan Wake that we'd like to see addressed. For more on Alan Wake 2, don't miss our exclusive deep dive on the game's co-protagonist, Saga Anderson, read Lake's thoughts on the 13-year journey to Alan Wake 2, and catch up on a few clues you may have missed from the most recent trailer.
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