Alan Wake 2 is so stuffed with jump scares it cheapens the good horror

Alan Wake 2 is a worthy successor to the original, and dare I say, even outdoes it in many ways. But there is one thing that Remedy’s long-awaited sequel has in abundance that I wish there were less of—or none at all—and that is the jump scares.

I get it: a well-placed jump scare can work wonders to build tension and give you something to be afraid of. The threat of one can have you holding your breath in anticipation around every corner or the opening of every creaky door. Too many though, and they start to feel cheap and you become desensitised to them. Or you do what I do and flatly refuse to engage with them after the first couple and play out any scene that seems remotely jump-scare-y with the volume down and the lights on.

The jump scares start pretty much from the get-go and there’s no getting away from them. They aren’t subtle or “blink and you’ll miss it”—they take up your entire screen and fill your ears with a sudden, loud shriek, and the worst bit is that they come out of nowhere. 

(Image credit: Remedy)

I mean, yes: that’s a jump scare by definition, but these literally have no bearing on what’s going on around you. You’re not stepping into a deserted room where something might be lurking and “Oh crap! I didn’t see that thing hiding in the corner!”. It’s in your head, or rather, in the protagonist’s head, so it can come at any time and does so, often.

You generally only get these scares when you’re playing as Saga, and I suppose, to some extent, it makes you the player, feel less in control just as Saga does: I can see the purpose if that was the intention, I just wish the game hadn’t been quite so littered with them because it ruined a lot of those chapters for me. I refused to play with a headset—or the volume up at all, honestly—so lost a lot of the atmosphere they were trying to build.

Clearly, that’s not how the game is meant to be played but it’s the only way I can play without risk of doing myself or my keyboard—and anything else fragile in the immediate vicinity—serious damage. Scary is good but I’ve always preferred a more subtle kind of horror. 

I don’t recall any jump scares in the original Alan Wake game. There may well have been, but the fact that I don’t specifically remember means that if they were present, they weren’t overused. In fact, at the time I remember feeling like Alan Wake was the Silent Hill game I’d been waiting for since the series got a bit lost after The Room, and those games were always notoriously about psychological horror, with the outright gore and cheap scares used sparingly.

(Image credit: Remedy)

That’s not to say they don’t have their place. Done right, jump scares are incredibly effective. Staying on the subject of Silent Hill for a second, I’ll never forget the locker room in the first game—the only jump scare I actually remember from the series—which was so effective because it wasn’t overused.

Maybe I’ve just not played many horror games in recent years, but the jump scares in Alan Wake 2 started getting annoying after the first handful. It’s not like the game even needs them: it is perfectly capable of scaring the shit out of anyone without the cheap tricks. The cultists, the ritualistic murders, the mystery surrounding Cauldron Lake, Saga’s bizarre memory lapses—these are more than enough to keep me on my toes.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way: a lot of friends I’ve spoken to say they’d love to play but won’t even entertain the idea of picking it up because of the jump scares. In an ideal world, it’d be great to have some sort of sliding scale that would let you dial back the jump scares—or turn them off completely. Not being a developer, I have no idea how viable that is but I bet it would get a bunch more people playing, were that ever an option.

In a game that does literally everything else so well, it’s a shame that Remedy felt like it needed to stuff Alan Wake 2 full of jump scares. There’s more than enough horror to go around without them.

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