Alan Wake is not one of my favourite games. But it is one I always remember of fondly. It is no surprise then that I tend to have the exact same relationship with the game’s soundtrack. In a way I remember some of the game’s music even more fondly than the game itself. Does this mean this is one of my favourite soundtracks? No. Not really.
And yet, there are at least a couple of tracks that I find myself humming at random moments, even when it does not register to me where they are from. This is far from normal in my case, as I can be quite particular with the soundtracks I care about. And despite any shortcomings, Alan Wake’s music I do care for.
I wondered early on why that is. And the answer is not “Poets Of The Fall”, despite their contribution to the game. Technically, their work is not part of the original score of the game after all. The best answer I can come up with is… Petri Alanko. Awesome name aside (I tend to pay too much attention to name aesthetics, for whatever reason), despite being someone that enjoys rather than really understands the art of music, I must have some kind of alarm going off whenever I come across work from anyone with some or mainly classical leanings and training. So it was not a major surprise to learn that Petri Alanko’s pre-gaming work included Bach performances, string works and the like. If anything my internal alarm did not go off for naught. Still, the majority of Alanko’s work has revolved around gaming for quite a while now. Not only has he worked with Remedy Entertainment time and again since Alan Wake (both Quantum Break and, more recently, Control, include his work) but he has actually been a RedLynx staple, having worked on Trials Evolution and Fusion and has also done a couple of stints at Supercell (Hay Day, Gunshine Zombie Edition). Granted Alanko goes beyond composing and work on UI sounds etc. But still.
Why is he more known about his work with Remedy then? Maybe because he does well with moody compositions that can prop up unnerving mysteries. Maybe because he has worked on Imaginaerum The Movie’s score for Nightwish. Maybe.
But, really, it comes back to a very few Alan Wake tracks. Out of the 18 tracks in Alan Wake’s original score, only 5 ended up in my High Notes playlist for the game (you can find that at the bottom and you can add it to your libraries on Apple Music and Spotify if you fancy) And out of those 5, 2 are forever seared in my memory, the 2 that make Alan Wake for me. Perhaps ironically titular track named “Alan Wake”, the actual music theme of the game, is not one of them.
A Writer’s Dream
The string and piano combo opening this track is impossible to escape and then it just swells with yet more strings. This highlights a certain brand of dark hope that permeates the whole of the game and, to me, feels more indicative of the protagonists tale than pretty much everything else. The track grows darker still in the second half to end up a foreboding mix that, for those that have gone through the end of the game, also feels like an encapsulation of the whole. I would have named this track “Alan Wake” instead as I believe it deserves to be regarded as the overall theme and certainly a quick pass at the load on Alan Wake’s (the character) shoulders.
Welcome to Bright Falls
Many of my comments on the previous track can actually stand for this one as well. Here though that dark hope feels just a tad brighter and never really dissipates later on in the track. Naturally it is what we hear as Alan Wake reaches a new town, where he will be trying to set up his life anew. In a way, hope, even a misguided one, is mandatory, lest we be left with despair alone. This is —by far— my favourite track in this score.
Naturally the rest of the score riffs on the themes established with these two tracks but turns more workmanlike. In that sense the whole score is a success. I can quip all I want about which tracks are truly memorable but this is a score composed for a game and the point is to accompany the interactive experience of the player while setting and amplifying the atmosphere needed to make a walk in the dark, green, rural settings within feel just right. Where it all stumbles is when supporting the mild action within the game. The score could have been a bit more adventurous. Tracks like On The Run try their best but not exactly meant for… shotgun action.
Still a dream
Maybe the joke is on me though. It would not be the first time and it most certainly will not be the last. The hooks are there and I definitely fell for them, no matter what other gripes I may have. Alan Wake was never an amazing game but everyone felt from the off that it deserves to build a world around it. Hence all the theories about Remedy’s game taking place within the same world and whatnot. Partly I think this was due to the game’s mix of Nordic noir and horror, a combination we cannot reasonably expect most of the time. To this day though, I have a nagging suspicion that the score played a stronger role in all of this than we collectively care to realise. With Alan Wake Remastered out in the wild now —a classic move when trying to revitalise a franchise, before releasing a sequel or anything “Alan Wake-adjacent”— so we may all get to test our theories sooner or later.
In that sense, yes, come one, come all and welcome to Bright Falls.