Alan Wake II accessibility review

Carlos Moscoso7 minute read

Alan Wake II is the sequel to Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 psychological thriller sleeper hit. Set 13 years after the events of the original title and trading the action genre in favor of taking their first shot at survival horror, the sequel follows the titular Alan Wake and his reality bending writing abilities as he attempts to write a new protagonist into his story in order to escape the nightmarish parallel dimension he is trapped in known to him as The Dark Place. Alan Wake II blends Remedy and Sam Lake’s signature immersive storytelling with incredible atmosphere in order to create something truly incredible even if it falls short in key areas when it comes to accessibility.

Mobility

The title does its best to accommodate motor impaired players, but there are a few areas in which these players will likely struggle. For starters, the opponents of both protagonists must have light shined on them before shooting them will inflict damage. The player must boost the beam of the flashlight by pressing the appropriate button (R1 by default on PlayStation). Then press a button to aim and another to fire (L1 and R2 by default). Needing three separate buttons is unacceptable, specially considering the first game used the same button for flashlight boosting and aiming. That it isn’t set up this way in the sequel makes combat more difficult than it needs to be. Particularly in boss encounters when you need to keep up sustained damage. 

Gameplay options in Alan Wake II showing several assists like controller aim, single tap walk, quick turn, adaptive triggers, and button tapping to single tap.

Controls are customizable, and you can remap any of the buttons in any way you see fit. This includes changing rapid taps to holds. Unfortunately it doesn’t allow players to map two commands to the same button, nor can aiming be set to toggle. In 2023 this just seems like an oversight.

Aiming misses the mark

Unfortunately on the subject of aiming, the aim assist option is very inconsistent. While it is more responsive than it was in the first game, it seems to work a lot better when boosting your flashlight than it does when using a weapon. Both protagonists will easily lock on an enemy when boosting, however will not do the same when preparing to fire. This allows the enemy to get extra damage in.

If both actions could be set to one button this wouldn’t be a problem. As it stands it’s one of the biggest barriers the game has. There seems to be no reason why raising your flashlight cannot also raise your weapon. The character is already holding both for most of the game. The ability to fire while boosting is available, however the animation is so short-lived that doing both in tandem is near impossible.

There are also several sections where Alan must run from an evil paranormal entity that is chasing him. These sections are made more problematic because there is no option to have the camera follow Alan as he moves, like in Uncharted 4. This could limit the need for the right stick, preventing Alan from getting stuck on walls you couldn’t see. I can’t give a whole-hearted recommendation to the motor-impaired, as these sections alone almost broke the entire experience for me. If you’re willing to jump over some obstacles there is a great game here.

Visuals

The visual side of things is where I feel Alan Wake II struggles the most with accessibility. While there is a palpable sense of tension and the atmosphere is amazing, it can be very easy to get turned around. This is the biggest barrier for visually impaired players. Objects that can be interacted with are not highlighted well enough. The game does not give you any directional indicators or compass when you are trying to reach an objective. This means much time is spent opening the map screen just to make sure you are going in the right direction.

Saga in a very dark street. The light from her flashlight illuminates a fence and railing of a stair going down. A streetlight in the background illuminates a sign and some thrash.

Since the flashlight only lights what is directly in front of the protagonist, you essentially have no peripheral vision. You can often miss an object that you need to interact with because either you didn’t point the flashlight at it or the interaction prompt didn’t show up. 

A lack of guidance

Since the game doesn’t offer any indicators and objectives are often vague, it can take one out of the experience. Especially when they have to reference external guides to be able to progress. This is particularly problematic in the sections where you play as Alan, using a plot board to change his environment. If he doesn’t have the proper idea to make the change, he can’t do it. Players are never given any hints as to where to find the idea. This can often lead to long stretches of aimless wandering.

A slightly messy desk has multiple dossiers with a photo and name of the character attached.
The image contains faces and names of characters in Alan Wake II that could be a spoiler.

Sections where you play as Saga the FBI agent often suffer from the same thing. Her mind place must be used to connect clues, but there’s no guidance to find them. Once you gather appropriate clues they must be placed on a wall. Here Saga can make a deduction by connecting them. Sadly there’s no sense of gratification because there is little more to it then trial and error, connecting clues to each lead until they all stick. There’s no penalty for putting a clue in the wrong place. If it doesn’t stick players can just try all available options until one falls into place. It would have been a good idea to allow players to skip this, as after a while it starts to feel tedious. Even if some of the revelations you arrive at are pretty neat. 

Many of the aforementioned accessibility barriers are compounded by the entirety of Alan Wake II taking place at night. This makes it more difficult to see by default. As such I cannot recommend this title for the visually impaired.

Audio

Subtitles are implemented well and even contain tags should you wish to add them. Their default size is good but they don’t always transcribe what is being said properly. They also tend to not appear if a player is too far from the character who is speaking.

A ghostly surrealistic scene shows Saga, subtitles read: So is this coming from both of us?

As much as I would like to say there are no barriers for players with auditory disabilities, this is unfortunately not the case. While the majority of the game can be played without audio, there is one crucial part where it is needed. During visits to The Dark Place Alan and Saga must answer a payphone without indication where the ringing comes from. The player must walk until the ring gets closer (louder), and the story will not progress until it is answered. This blocks progress for players unable to hear where it is coming from. I have no problems hearing, and even I struggled to find it on several occasions. There should be a visual indicator in place to prevent this.

Conclusion

Alan Wake II abandons the action-heavy formula typically associated with Remedy, creating a truly engrossing and memorable survival horror experience. Unfortunately this Alan Wake sequel falls short in many of the most important areas with regards to accessibility. Which is a bit odd given that Remedy displayed a deep understanding of accessibility in the Definitive Edition of Control. Here’s hoping either a patch or a Definitive Edition in the future will address many of the issues. Despite not being the most accessible game in the company’s catalog, it’s clear they’ve learned a lot. For those who are willing to push through the fog, there is an unforgettable experience here. Using an excellent atmosphere to tell one of the most gripping stories I’ve played recently, it’s my favorite game of 2023.

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