It’s still an ocean, but Alan Wake’s return to games shows us there’s a lot more to explore.

This review contains spoilers for Control and Alan Wake.

I’m not one to replay games (it’s quite a commitment when I have over 100 games in my backlog) but there is one game I seem to have played more than any other: Alan Wake. The 2010 horror-adjacent action title from Remedy Entertainment was imperfect, but there’s something about it that has stood the test of time. If anything, its blend of Stephen King-inspired horror, camp, and what has become Remedy’s trademark uncanniness has made it work better in 2020 than it did a decade prior.

It also helps that Alan Wake clearly set the stage for Control, Remedy’s hit from last year. The two are linked in so many respects, from their narrative choices to a lot of the gameplay mechanics. Both have in-universe TV shows that tie directly in with the plot, protagonists that get pulled into something otherworldly and accept it with relative ease, and solutions to the main conflict that are enjoyable but abstract and obtuse. They’re kindred spirits, and that’s not even talking about how Remedy decided the games take place in the same universe.

One of the more surprising aspects of Control were the many Alan Wake Easter eggs, which culminated in Alan himself showing up in a hidden section of the game. Considering he disappeared at the end of his game, with his fate left mysterious even after spinoffs and DLC, this was a huge revelation. With the announcement of Control’s AWE expansion, the idea that we could be getting answers a decade later was too appealing to pass up.

The AWE expansion came out on Aug. 27, 2020 — exactly one year after the main game’s release — and promised the crossover fans didn’t realize they needed. Remedy also took to blog posts to tease that AWE would be introducing the Remedy Connected Universe, which seeks to tie together a lot of its games, with more to come. The company fulfilled its promise of introducing that universe with AWE, along with teasing an upcoming Remedy project. Alan and Jesse interact, some residual plot points from Alan Wake show up in Control, and Jesse has to take on the Darkness that plagued that earlier title.

Unfortunately, the expansion fails to do much more than that. Remedy seems to have gotten lost in what the goals were, focusing way more on what’s to come rather than what could’ve been done now. Considering fans have been waiting nearly a decade for more Alan Wake content, there could’ve been so much more.

Control: AWE Expansion

Bottom line: Control’s AWE Expansion will satisfy a lot of Alan Wake fans who have been theorizing for nearly a decade about what happened to the writer. While it does introduce some great ideas, you’ll ultimately have to wait for whatever Remedy does next to get real resolution.

The Good

  • Great scenes with Alan Wake
  • Documents, audio logs provide great world-building
  • New Multi-Launch ability is useful
  • Maintains a lot of its charm even in sidequests

The Bad

  • Mostly a teaser for the next game
  • Alan not in it nearly enough
  • Hartman becomes a predictable boss
  • Sidequests are mostly distracting

$15 at Microsoft

Control AWE expansion: What I liked

The expansion starts off immediately with a Hotline message from Alan. He’s sending out a distress call, telling her to go to the previously closed off Investigations Sector. This is where you’ll spend all of your time in the DLC, going through the expansive area and unlocking a lot of its secrets. You find out rather quickly that it was closed off after a creature, previously known as Dr. Emil Hartman from Alan Wake, escaped and killed a lot of bureau employees. You’re tasked with stopping it.

The setup is straightforward, but in typical Control fashion, the execution is anything but. Alan is calling out for help from behind a spiral door in the Oceanview Motel. He’s been trying to escape but can’t seem to. He keeps getting drawn back down somewhere, continuously drowning after jumping into Cauldron Lake at the end of his game. He has a conversation with something calling itself Thomas Zane, but it’s not the diver we know, but rather a copy of Alan. The two share a drink as overlapping images of Alan’s face twist and turn. He shouts about a “double” that’s out there that Zane tells him not to worry about. Then the spiral door slams shut, and Jesse (and therefore the player) is left on her own again.

The setup is straightforward, but in typical Control fashion, the execution is anything but.

We see Alan this way one more time towards the end of the DLC. He shows up on occasion through the Hotline, but for the most part, is relegated to the copious documents you find throughout the sector. In the first section alone, you can find around a dozen collectibles, and a lot of them fill in the gaps between Alan Wake and Control. Throughout the 4-5 hours I spent playing AWE, I found a ton of documents that explained what characters have been up to over the past decade, including Alice Wake, Hartman, Sheriff Breaker, and, of course, Alan himself. It builds on what was introduced in the base game with what happened at the Bright Falls AWE (the setting of Alan Wake) and continues the story. We especially learn a lot about Dr. Hartman, his motivations for starting his Lodge in helping creatives, and what he did after the events of the first game to get arrested by the Bureau.

Unfortunately, a lot of this information is introduced via supplemental material, and a lot of it is easy to miss. AWE’s actual narrative involves Jesse going up against the stretched-out thing known as Hartman in three different sections. You learn about two AWEs (altered world events) beyond the Bright Falls one, and they’re both creative in their own ways but ultimately extraneous. You get back on track in the final section, but it comes a little too late. By then you’ve been distracted by sidequests, including the introduction of Shüm — an arcade machine that lets you go back and replay boss missions and special sections like the Ashtray Maze — and one involving chain letters.

If you do engage with every audio log and every Bureau document, you’ll get a much clearer picture of what Remedy wanted to accomplish. There’s a lot to like here as well, especially if you’re an Alan Wake fan. Outside of the text, however, the Remedy Connected Universe seems to vanish.

Control AWE expansion: What I didn’t like

The AWE expansion is a celebration of Alan Wake but seems to forget that he exists most of the time. There are large chunks where you don’t hear about him or Bright Falls at all. The DLC gets off track a lot, sending you on sidequests and having you deal with puzzles that are mostly distracting. In the end, you don’t get a solid answer for Alan, but rather a tease for what’s to come. Sam Lake, creative director at Remedy, has already announced that one of the company’s next titles is set in the Remedy Connected Universe, and the final moments directly tie to that, setting up a new encounter in Bright Falls but set years in the future.

Even more disappointingly, Hartman, who is the boss of the DLC, is uninspiring. He shows up often, and his first appearance and fight is tense, but dealing with him becomes predictable. In each encounter, you have to traverse a large room moving around power blocks to turn on the lights. Once you’ve placed them all, you can turn on the main lights and he runs away. While you’re in the dark, he can drain your life and energy, which makes the first couple of fights difficult and intense. However, once you learn his secrets, this dies down, especially since every encounter follows this pattern.

The only one that differentiates itself is the final one, which combines having to place power blocks with actually fighting Hartman. However, he also now can force them out of place and can heal himself when it’s dark. The jump in difficulty here isn’t new for Control bosses (a lot of them are immensely difficult compared to normal encounters), but it makes him more annoying to deal with than terrifying. The tension is less with the character itself and more with managing to get around his wild ability to regenerate, and that takes away a lot of his power.

Beyond the darkness aspects, there are only vague references to the mechanics involved in Alan Wake. Darkness will sometimes block a doorway or power node, but shining light can melt it away. You can find lanterns scattered around the levels, and considering they’re usually near the darkness in question, it becomes easy to realize what you have to do. Eventually, it becomes a chore to melt these away while in Alan Wake, its existence was a constant obstacle to overcome.

Beyond Hartman, there are a couple of other additions to your repertoire. The new Multi-Launch ability allows you to pick up multiple objects at once and throw them at enemies. Considering Launch is one of the key abilities in your kit, it’s only an improvement. However, Surge, the new Service Weapon form that allows you to remotely detonate grenades, isn’t all that useful. It’s a slightly more powerful Charge but is more unwieldy to use. It’s made even more useless with the new enemy type, a floating Airborne Hiss Ranger that likes to dodge and deals a lot of damage with a shotgun.

Bottom line: Should you play Control AWE expansion?

Alan Wake returned, but not really. Bright Falls is making a comeback, but not for a few years. Hartman became a stretched out, darkness-filled monster, but he became a by-the-numbers boss. Jesse and Alan crossed over, but just barely.

The Control AWE expansion is filled with details about Alan and Bright Falls that will satisfy a lot of Alan Wake fans. The dedication to crossing the two games over pays off in the supplemental material found around the Investigations Sector. It introduces a lot of horrifying and sometimes hilarious revelations about what happened to Alan, his wife Alice, and the town following the events of Alan Wake, and they all fit well into the tone and universe Control has built. People who have been theorizing about Alan Wake for years, and the ideas introduced here will only fuel even more of those predictions.

out of 5

However, the AWE expansion doesn’t do much more than this. It mostly serves as a teaser for whatever project Remedy is working on next, which feels like a promise only half-fulfilled. Combined with lackluster gameplay and few novel ideas, the expansion feels even more like it was only there to promote Remedy’s next project. It’s only a partially-conveyed idea, and we’ll have to wait years to see if any of it will pay off.

Fortunately, thanks to a few standout moments with Alan and some good writing, our anticipation hasn’t died down just yet.

Control: AWE Expansion

Bottom line: Control’s AWE Expansion is a good placeholder for those interested in Alan Wake’s story, but it ultimately just serves as a teaser with half-baked ideas.

$15 at Microsoft