Video Games

What Happened in the Original Alan Wake?

Alan Wake the story so far

Alan Wake 2 has been confirmed for an October release date, featuring both the imprisoned novelist and an FBI profiler who will likely be instrumental in his escape. But just how did Alan Wake end up imprisoned in some shadowy otherworld anyway? If you’re wondering what happened in the original Alan Wake, here’s the answer.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Alan Wake and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

If you’ve not played the Alan Wake series, here’s an explanation of what happens during the first game and its sidequel. And even if you have played the game you should still read on, just to clear up any misconceptions. 

Before I replayed the Alan Wake remaster, I could have sworn that Alan Wake was a horror writer and that he was born in Bright Falls. Neither is correct, though Alan’s connection to Bright Falls becomes more apparent as the game goes on. 

Alan Wake, the first game in the series, introduces writer Alan Wake. He’s Stephen King-level successful, so much so that bookshops have standees of him. He writes crime fiction, not horror, though there are supernatural elements to some of his stories. 

Alan Wake popular novelist

After a brief nightmare sequence, the game begins in earnest. It sees Alan visiting the town of Bright Falls, Washington, along with Alice, his photographer wife. He describes it as a vacation but he’s taken the trip at the advice of his agent, to get over his writer’s block. However, Alice is captured by what becomes known as the Dark Presence and dragged into Cauldron Lake, the lake next to the couple’s cabin. 

The Dark Presence grows in power and manifests itself outside the lake, taking control of people and turning them into its shadowy minions. These minions can only be defeated with light, which becomes Wake’s chief weapon. 

Wake discovers that the Dark Presence uses the power of visiting writers, and their fiction, to will itself into the world. It was previously locked away by a writer known as Thomas Zane. The spirit of Zane assists Alan, helping him defeat the Dark Presence. However, while Alice is ultimately returned to the world, Alan remains a prisoner within the Dark Presence’s realm, the Dark Place.

The Signal and The Writer DLCs don’t add much to the story, but it ends with Wake determined to escape, using the power of fiction. By the conclusion, Wake starts writing a story dubbed “The Return.”

What Happens in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare?

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place in the fictional town of Night Springs, from a show Alan wrote scripts for. It doesn’t advance the plot a great deal and instead it has Alan dealing with Mr. Scratch, a doppelganger created by Cauldron Lake/The Dark Place. 

Alan Wake American Nightmare

There’s a looping element to this game which underlines that it’s not real. It’s either all taking place in Alan’s imagination, or it’s a power struggle between Alan and the Dark Presence, represented by Mr Scratch.

Either way, he’s still a prisoner in the Dark Place. It ends with Alan’s agent hearing Alan’s voice, suggesting Alan is getting closer to finding — or writing — his way out of the Dark Place. I very much doubt you’ll have to have played this to understand Alan Wake 2. 

Does Control Add to Alan Wake’s Story?

Control, the latest game from Remedy, progresses Alan Wake’s story in the AWE DLC. We discover Dr Emil Hartman, the human antagonist who orchestrated Alan’s trip to Bright Falls in an attempt to study the Dark Presence, was eventually dived into Cauldron Lake and was possessed by the Dark Presence. The FBC seized his research and captured and imprisoned Hartman in the Oldest House.

During the events of Control, Hartman, still possessed by a weakened Dark Presence, escapes confinement and has to be killed by FBC director and Control protagonist Jesse Faden. Afterwards, Jesse receives a message of an Altered World Event from Bright Falls, dated several years in the future.

So, Alan Wake is still trapped in the Dark Place beneath Cauldron Lake, and the Dark Presence is contained and weakened but not dead. His wife Alice is free, though if enough time has passed it’s possible that she will have “gotten over” (in as much as anyone can) Alan’s apparent death.

If you wanted to know what happened in the original Alan Wake, that’s your answer. 

About the author

Chris McMullen
Freelance contributor at The Escapist. I've returned to writing about games after a couple of career changes, with my recent stint lasting five-plus years. I hope, through my writing work, to settle the karmic debt I incurred by persuading my parents to buy a Mega CD. Aside from writing for The Escapist, I also cover news and more for GameSpew. I've also been published at other sites including VG247, Space, and more. My tastes run to horror, the post-apocalyptic, and beyond, though I'll tackle most things that aren't exclusively sports-based.