When players descend into the madness of Alan Wake 2 this fall, they won't just be playing as the game's titular grumpy novelist again. They'll also step into the shoes of a new co-protagonist, Saga Anderson. This surprise was teased in the recent story trailer we saw for Alan Wake 2, but even the most diehard Wake fans won't recognize Anderson--she didn't exist in the original game.
Why, then, is she playing such a prominent role in the long-awaited sequel, and who exactly is she? GameSpot sat down with creative director Sam Lake, performance director Hannah Price, and actress Melanie Liburd, whose likeness and voice give the character life, to get to know Saga, where she's come from, and why her place in the story is more important than even she realizes when she arrives in Bright Falls.
"We don't have that many playable characters through almost 30 years of Remedy history," Lake said. "[Creating a new protagonist] is a big event and we take that very seriously." The idea of Alan Wake 2, Lake told me, has changed several times over the last 13 years, and the team started to think about a sequel with multiple playable characters "a few versions ago."
"We wanted to be really, really ambitious with the story," Lake told me, "So having multiple points of view in the story, and having more tonal shifts with that, just felt like the right way to go. And out of that, Saga Anderson's character was born. Even though this is called Alan Wake 2, this is just as much a Saga Anderson game. They are very much at the heart of the story--both of them."
At the onset of the game, FBI Special Agent Saga Anderson arrives in Bright Falls to investigate the death of Special Agent Nightingale, whom players of the first game may remember as the G-Man obsessed with pinning a crime--any crime would've seemed to satisfy the agent--on Wake. But now, Nightingale's death not only remains a mystery, it's also an especially weird one, with apparent ties to ritualistic murder. Anderson is a renowned criminal profiler made famous among her peers for an unrivaled ability to solve the toughest cases, so she's called in to identify a perp. Of course, in Bright Falls, things are bound to get weirder than that.
To bring Saga to life, Lake, Price, and Liburd--a Hollywood actress who chatted with GameSpot before an early morning of shooting scenes for Bad Boys 4--collaborated on who she would become. Some of the character was already determined--her job, her name specifically--but lots of other bits were malleable. Remedy's newest hero wouldn't be set in stone until a while later, after the team discovered her together.
"The story was there, not the whole screenplay when we started shooting, that's how we usually work; there is an iterative process," Lake said. "But then, together with Hannah and Mel--and this has now been the process for us with Hannah and Control as well--we find the perfect actor for it through the casting process, and then we all sit down, start finding the character together, workshop it, start shooting material, and out of that we discover things. And then when we write more [of the] screenplay, we take all of these learnings into account, and that ultimately is [the process of] finding the character for the story."
"We really, really, really, really, really wanted Mel," revealed Price, emphatically. "We just felt like she was gonna bring so much to Saga so when she came on we were all just delighted." Price explained how creating the character with not just Lake, but Liburd too, has been such a rewarding experience. "It's one of the best things about working with Remedy. Obviously, the stories are so epic and brilliant. But there's room for everyone to come together and really explore the characters and make sure that the character is developed and rung for every little bit of storytelling that can come out of it." Price added that Liburd, perhaps best known for her role as Zoe Baker on This is Us, brought a touch of humor to the character.
Even though this is called Alan Wake 2, this is just as much a Saga Anderson game. They are very much at the heart of the story--both of them
"We talked about it from the beginning," Liburd told me, "How she's such a well-rounded, full character even from the page that Sam created. So it was just a really fun experience to discover more about her--what a great mother she is, and really what a geek she is about her job. She's so into it and so passionate about what she does, which adds to the humor, you know, because she's kind of crazy. She'll walk into something that's terrifying and just thrive off it."
In the trailer, gameplay moments starring Anderson as the playable character likely came as a shock to everyone who's been waiting years for this game. Yes, Alan is still playable and very much in a starring role, but players will split the story between him and Anderson. Lake said this is because players will come to discover that Anderson is of equal importance to the story in Alan Wake 2, and though Anderson doesn't understand it when she arrives in Bright Falls, she will soon discover her own purpose for being there.
"Once you start playing it, it makes sense why she appears and why she needs to be there," Liburd added. "Because she does need to be there. Alan needs Saga, and Saga needs Alan. And that is the main thing that fans will understand when they see her."
Lake said that, like Alan in the original game, players will better understand Saga through her inner voice. Except where Alan's was very writerly and telling that horror story almost after the fact, Saga's will be contemporaneous as a way to let players into her mind during her investigation.
I suspect casual Wake fans may see Saga and think, "Oh neat, a new character." And there definitely is that basic, broad appeal of a sequel doing something bigger and different. But for those who are well-versed in the lore of Alan Wake and the Remedy Connected Universe, her name seems to tease some of those deeper connections the group was alluding to during my time with them.
For one, the Alan Wake story already prominently features characters surnamed Anderson. I mentioned this to Lake, and he seemed to knowingly dodge that fact. "Oh, now that you say that, yes, there happen to be some Andersons in town," he told me, comically avoiding eye contact with his camera during our Zoom chat. It seems to me, whatever Anderson's purpose in Bright Falls may be, she may have ties to the town that perhaps even she is not aware of.
Then there's her first name--Saga. Remedy loves an unconventional or thematically resonant name. Alan Wake, Max Payne, Alex Casey, Beth Wilder, Paul Serene--the list goes on and on. It may be that the name Saga relates on a storytelling level--she is part of Remedy's saga, after all. However, it may go deeper than that.
Saga, in Norse mythology, is a "seer," one who communicates with a divine being and speaks on their behalf. Is Alan, imprisoned by and likely reshaped by supernatural darkness for more than a decade, that being? Remedy has already teased plenty of Nordic ties in its world, such as Ahti, the janitor from Control who is named after a Finnish god of the sea, as well as a "Cult of the Tree" mentioned in Control that seems to be built around ideas of the Yggdrasil tree. Together with Liburd's suggestion that the two heroes are symbiotic in some way, I wondered whether this Nordic influence may be more revealing of the nature of their relationship.
Can Saga communicate with Alan from his location in the Dark Place? If so, why can she, and presumably only she, do so? I figured that drilling down on these points anymore would either be met with no-comments or spoil the game for me, so I gave it a rest, but the gears were turning in my mind.
Anderson's presence in the story also helps serve the shift in tone. The original game was always billed as a psychological thriller. It was telling a horror story, but it was doing so in the framework of an action-adventure game. Now, with cultish murders occurring in the dizzying woods of Bright Falls, Saga's arrival harkens back to the X-Files pilot, when Special Agents Scully and Mulder find themselves investigating high strangeness in the Pacific Northwest in a similar fashion.
As Lake told me, there have been many different versions of what Alan Wake 2 could've become over the years. But the one we're getting is "by far the darkest version" of those, and for that, it needed someone like Saga, who has dealt with grisly crimes and can step into the scene and believably hold her own. Remedy likely could tell a darker, more horrific story than the original starring only Alan, but then presumably much or even all of the game would be set in the Dark Place as he wrestles his way out of it--something the series already experimented with in the game's DLC and its XBLA pseudo-sequel, American Nightmare in 2012.
With Saga shining a light around Bright Falls proper, it grounds both returning players in a locale they've longed to see again--and see in new ways--while also giving new players a character who similarly needs to catch up with the town's weirdness. The story takes place 13 years after the events of the original, so faces both old and new will appear, Lake revealed. By blending the game's narrative through eyes that will be, at once, new yet weathered, fresh but nostalgic, the game can tell both stories simultaneously. Through Saga, Alan Wake 2 becomes a jumping-on point for the uninitiated, while Alan's turmoil ensures it's still very much a continuation of a story years in the making. "This had to be an experience that you can go in cold and understand the whole ride and get enjoyment out of it," Lake said. "Of course it is a sequel too. It is part of the Remedy Connected Universe and we are being more ambitious with that than ever before."
Lake spoke at length about the structure of the game's story, which will see players experience both perspectives, weaving between Saga's investigation and Alan's attempts to finally escape the Dark Place. "For me, a big part of the ambition for Alan Wake 2 was that we should be more driven on a story-focused experience than we have ever been before, find ways to build on that, but at the same time, [experiment with different] methods of storytelling," Lake said. "We have certainly explored different ways of doing that in our past games. Here, we just wanted to take everything that we have learned and push it as far as we could imagine for this. So part of that is to have these two narrative journeys almost floating side by side and giving freedom for the player to explore and progress in these stories."
While Remedy wasn't ready to chat about gameplay much just yet, the trailer does reveal some fascinating new details. The camera is much closer to the character and movement seems slower and more cinematic, more like a modern Resident Evil than the original Alan Wake. When the sequel was revealed, it was billed as Remedy's first survival-horror game. For players, that doesn't just mean a darker story in which an FBI agent investigates cultish murders in a haunted logging town, it means a reassessment of how it feels to play an Alan Wake game.
Based on the gameplay moments in the new trailer, I expect it to lean into the genre's tropes in satisfying and surprising new ways for the series--less ammo, fewer resources, and longer, scarier enemy encounters. Rather than bob and weave through a small horde of six or seven shadowy enemies like Alan once did, players may deal with one or two massive Taken enemies for just as long as the group would've taken in 2010. Like Alan, Saga will fight with light--burning away the darkness from enemies to leave them vulnerable to traditional weapons--but Remedy is using her backstory to flesh out the gameplay, hinting that there will be new investigative elements when players are controlling Saga.
Still, she's not a superhero, Lake said. She's capable, brilliant, and passionate about her work, but she--and Alan, who seems to have "leveled up" a bit over the years--will still be staring down horrors that go well beyond what sort of sights players saw in the original game, and for Saga, go beyond anything she's seen on the job to date. Whereas Bright Falls' invasive darkness once seemed like the stuff of local legend, in Alan Wake 2, it feels like it's bubbling to the surface of Cauldron Lake and spilling across town more pervasively than ever.
With fans clamoring for this sequel for over a decade now, Remedy has a lot to live up to, but based on what I've seen and heard so far, this cult classic looks ready to go mainstream, especially after 2019's Control seemed to elevate the studio's profile more than ever. I asked Liburd if she, coming over from Hollywood as she is, knew what she was getting into with this--the game's weirdness, the fanbase's passion. Had she gotten a sense for those obsessive players yet? "I think I'm about to," she said. "Sam has kind of prepped me to be ready for the passionate fans. I understand that people bring [these characters] into their homes and their lives and they sit with these characters for a long time. They're important, and it's gonna be interesting. I'm really excited. I hope they really like [Saga] as much as we do."
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