Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
AWE, the final downloadable expansion for Remedy Entertainment’s excellent Control just dropped recently, and with it comes a more explicit connection between Control and Remedy’s earlier cult hit Alan Wake. (Not to mention Remedy’s Max Payne, though the serial numbers have been filed off in that case since publisher Rockstar owns the Max Payne license.) In the process, it creates a Remedyverse of sorts that any of the studio’s future games can then build off of. I’m going to break down how that works, since it’s pretty cool—but doing so will require spoiling Control and Alan Wake and AWE. If you haven’t played all of them, and intend to do so someday, you’re better off skipping down to the comments and talking about whatever you are playing right now. (Also, if you haven’t bought Control and/or its expansions, maybe hold off a bit until you can get the better version that will take advantage of all the bells and whistles on the new consoles, so you don’t get screwed over.)
Before I get to the spoilers, though, I will say that AWE is both pretty cool in its own right, and an exciting tease for future Alan Wake-related stories—but it is not any sort of definitive conclusion to that game, or its very good cliffhanger ending. If you’re curious about anything happening in this new Remedyverse, though, it’s worth checking out. And now: Time for spoiling.
First, let’s recap: In Alan Wake, you played as a successful novelist struggling to come up with a follow-up to a series of crime books about a hardboiled detective named Alex Casey, who is definitely supposed to be Max Payne, but can’t be called Max Payne for legal reasons. Wake’s wife takes him to a town called Bright Falls, Washington, which has a reputation for refreshing and inspiring creative types. As it turns out, though, that’s because Bright Falls contains a portal into an evil shadow universe controlled by an entity called the Dark Presence that feeds on creative output and turns people into shadow monsters, with a therapist in Bright Falls named Dr. Hartman trying to study the Dark Presence by bringing in struggling creators like Wake for “treatment”—a.k.a. “forcing them to create spooky things that make the darkness stronger.”
Wake’s wife gets captured, and in order to save her, he gives himself up to the Dark Presence and takes her place. The Dark Presence essentially chains Wake to a typewriter, forcing him to write forever and feed it with stories and ideas. Meanwhile, the things Wake writes for the Dark Presence can also magically influence what happens in reality—which is how he’s able to save his wife—and so the idea is that if he comes up with the perfect story about how he escapes from his terrible shadow dimension, it’ll come true.
In Control, meanwhile, you play as a woman named Jesse Faden, who experienced a supernatural event as a kid that involved a bunch of people dying and a mysterious government organization called the Federal Bureau Of Control kidnapping her brother. At the beginning of the game, she finds the FBC and inadvertently gets appointed as its new director, at which point she’s tasked with flushing out an evil extra-dimensional entity called The Hiss that is infecting everyone and turning them into monsters. AWE (which stands for “Altered World Event”) starts with Jesse getting a telepathic distress call of sorts from none other than Alan Wake, whose disappearance was mentioned previously in the game as an Easter egg. Wake tells Jesse to go to an area of the FBC headquarters that has been closed off because of some terrible threat inside, and when she arrives, she discovers that the threat is none other than Dr. Hartman from Alan Wake—now super-corrupted by both The Hiss and the Dark Presence.
Stopping him from escaping and spreading his multiple corruptions into the outside world is the main plot of AWE, but like the base game of Control, the best storytelling comes from the supplementary reading materials you can find scattered around its abandoned offices. One memo mentions an FBI agent asking for materials that the FBC has collected about Wake, a request that would typically be ignored or denied—but the agent’s name happens to be Alex Casey, the same as Wake’s detective character (who, again, is Max Payne). Essentially, it seems that Wake’s creations are coming to life and trying to find out how to help him, which is worth remembering later on in AWE when you find script pages revealing that Wake wrote for a Twilight Zone-style horror anthology. The script mentions a government organization tasked with investigating supernatural events that gets invaded and corrupted by a terrible force from some alternate dimension—which happens to be the basic setup for the plot of Control itself.
Control had some really good storytelling—and AWE wisely doesn’t beat you over the head with this—but the implication from that and some other comments that Wake makes when you get little glimpses of him in his personal hell dimension is that, through his writing, he consciously created the Federal Bureau Of Control in order to find someone like Jesse Faden who could figure out how to save him—and that he created The Hiss in order to teach this person how to fight an extra-dimensional force that takes over people and forces them to do its bidding. After all, the darkness-infected enemies of Alan Wake and the Hiss-corrupted creatures in Control are awfully similar, and in fighting the-thing-that-was-Hartman, Jesse gets experience dealing with both at the same time.
That’s as definitive as things get in AWE. You don’t end up saving Alan Wake, and no more light is shone on the other lingering mysteries of Control (including the intriguing stuff set up in the previous expansion, The Foundation). But we might not have to wait too long to get some answers. In the final moment of AWE, with the supernatural threat finally dealt with, an alarm goes off, indicating that another Altered World Event is happening… in Bright Falls, Washington. To steal the Twin Peaks quote that Control can’t resist dropping alongside this reveal: It is happening again.
So that’s where AWE leaves Control, Alan Wake, and the Remedyverse. Alex Casey/Max Payne is out there somewhere, the FBC knows that something is up in the town where Alan Wake disappeared, and Jesse Faden has some idea about how to fight the Dark Presence—not to mention that the events of Control may have been completely shaped by Wake himself. The table is set for something new to happen now, whether it’s Alan Wake 2, or Control 2 or both, and it’s all very exciting.