Remedy has been playing the long game. Ever since the release of Alan Wake in 2010, the studio has been teasing the tortured writer’s return through sneaky easter eggs, retrospective references, and alternate reality games. But with Control: AWE and the official launch of the Remedy Connected Universe, the studio’s methods have pivoted into something far more surreal.
Remedy regained the publishing rights for the Alan Wake franchise back in 2019. Then, in March 2020, the studio signed a deal with Epic Games to publish two next-gen titles. The first is a AAA multi-platform game already in pre-production – which plenty of fans are hoping is a sequel to 2010’s cult hit Alan Wake – and the second is a smaller-scale project within the same franchise. Remedy is also working on a live-service multiplayer title called Vanguard.
Narratively, the team’s most recent release – the AWE expansion for Control – has raised far more questions than it answered, and we’re going to do our best to piece together Remedy’s fractured web of interconnected worlds, stories, and games.
SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS FOR CONTROL, ALAN WAKE, QUANTUM BREAK, AND THE AWE EXPANSION
Note: the video above was produced prior to the release of the AWE expansion – if you’d prefer to watch that, you can pick up where it leaves off by clicking here.
Control and the RCU
First things first: let’s talk about Control. A masterclass in atmospheric game design, IGN named Control its Game of the Year in 2019. But after the AWE expansion, which Remedy calls “the first RCU crossover event,” Control feels a little less like a game and more like a platform for shared-world storytelling.
The base game establishes the Federal Bureau of Control, a shadowy government organisation that investigates paranatural happenings known as “Altered World Events.” The Bureau stores their findings in The Oldest House, a Brutalist-inspired skyscraper that doubles as a dimensional gateway, as well as a living library and prison for otherworldly monsters and artifacts.
Given their supernatural nature, the FBC has documented the events of Alan Wake – but while it originally appeared to be little more than a fun reference to another Remedy game, the AWE expansion directly addressed Alan Wake’s relationship to The Oldest House.
Control’s setting has become a heterotopia – a portal to worlds within worlds that lead to other worlds within them – and appears to be being set up as the nexus of the Remedy Connected Universe. Whatever the next step in the studio’s crossover plans may be, Remedy’s been planning this for a long time – and it all starts with the events of Alan Wake.
The Story of Alan Wake
Alan Wake centers around Cauldron Lake in Bright Falls, WA. In Control, we find out that the Bureau has studied this area over the span of several decades, as the lake is both a Place of Power and a dimensional gateway containing an evil entity currently known only as “the Dark Presence”. There’s a lot going on, but the short version is that the lake can manifest people’s imaginations as reality, and the Dark Presence is trying to exploit that ability to escape the lake – which is where our titular writer comes in.
Wake, a mystery author and thinly-veiled Steven King allegory suffering from a bad case of writer’s block, arrives in Bright Falls to kickstart his creative process. However, the Dark Presence has other plans, kidnapping his wife and turning the townsfolk into shadow monsters in an effort to get Wake to help it free itself.
Wake ultimately prevents the evil from escaping, saves Bright Falls (and presumably the rest of the world), and frees his wife, but in order to do so – to maintain the cosmic balance of good and evil – he has to take her place as a prisoner of the Dark Presence beneath Cauldron Lake.
In subsequent DLCs and the standalone expansion/spinoff Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, we learn that an evil doppelganger of Alan has escaped into the real world. Known only as Mr. ██████ – the █████ being a static, scratchy sound that obscures his true name, thus earning him the nickname “Mr. Scratch” – this “Nega-Wake” is all the negative rumors and theories surrounding Wake’s disappearance manifested in the flesh by the power of Cauldron Lake… but we’ll get to him a little later.
Wake overcomes his predicament in the base game – as much as one can while being trapped in an evil demiplane, we suppose – with the help of a writer named Thomas Zane. Also called “The Bright Presence,” Zane is a (literal) beacon of light for Alan, guiding him along and offering supernatural assistance much like Polaris does for Jesse in Control.
Zane is a writer who had his own run-in with a Dark Presence in Bright Falls decades before Wake, and had to use the power of Cauldron Lake to write himself out of existence. Before doing so, however, he wrote one rule — anything he left behind in a shoebox stayed in the real world. Alan finds two of these shoeboxes on his adventure – one in a mysterious cabin containing Zane’s books, and another with a manuscript page relating to Alan’s childhood and a device known as The Clicker, which he uses to subdue the Darkness.
There, is, however, a third shoebox – and this brings us to a little town that’s long been part of the Remedy conspiracy – a hidden village in Maine called Ordinary.
The Town of Ordinary
If you’ve played Control, you’re no doubt familiar with Ordinary. It’s one of the most important AWEs studied by the FBC and was the catalyst for pretty much all the events of Control.
For those unaware: in 2002, Control’s protagonist Jesse Faden and her brother Dylan found a slide projector at the local dump which, when used, opened doorways to alternate dimensions. One slide led them to encounter an alien intelligence they dubbed Polaris, who imbued the Faden siblings with supernatural powers. Other slides, however, released far darker creatures. After one of them unleashed some sort of evil – which the kids called the Not-Mother – the siblings burned the slides and the Bureau arrived to clean up.
The Faden siblings were fast-tracked into the Bureau’s Prime Candidate Program after the Ordinary AWE, with the goal that one of them would be the next director of the FBC. One of the burned slides was also stolen by Jesse’s predecessor, former Bureau Director Zachariah Trench, who would later use it to unleash The Hiss, an alien resonance that serves as Control’s main villain.
Yet this isn’t the first time a town called Ordinary has appeared in the RCU. The first reference to it was hidden deep within American Nightmare in 2012: there’s a song played in-game called Balance Slays the Demon, which if you reverse the final part of the music, you’ll hear the hidden message: “It will happen again, in another town, called Ordinary.”
But where do Thomas Zane and the shoebox thing fall into all this, you may ask? Well, if you head to a blog called This House of Dreams – originally published in 2012 as a viral marketing stunt for the unproduced Alan Wake 2 – you’ll learn about a woman named Samantha Wells, who also lived in Ordinary.
The blog follows Samantha as she renovates an “old house.” In the attic, She finds a shoebox that seems to have belonged to Thomas Zane. It’s full of black and white photographs of people with faces blocked with inky smoke, and several poems – one of which Zane recites at the beginning of Alan Wake. Other notes on the poems are marked with initials T and B (Zane’s wife was named Barbara).
Soon after, Wells starts having vivid nightmares where federal agents with ‘AWE’ badges visit her house enquiring about the shoebox. When she wakes up, the shoebox has vanished. Nearly a decade later, you can find a whiteboard in Control which confirms that Wells’ nightmare wasn’t a dream, but a memory.
The whiteboard mentions a shoebox retrieved from Ordinary in 2012. During testing, the Bureau realised that the shoebox and its contents were unalterable (due to Zane’s absolute rule). As well as referencing the ‘House of Dreams’ blog directly, there’s a note in the corner of the whiteboard explaining that the shoebox disappeared from The Oldest House before they could finish testing it.
Luckily, Wells took pictures of the poems before the FBC stole the shoebox, and scans on her blog give us a look at all the items found in the box. Wells enquires locally about Zane, only to find out that nobody knows who he is.
There’s a similar scene in Control, where Jesse Faden says she is fond of Zane’s poetry and her psychiatrist promptly tells her that there is no poet by the name of ‘Thomas Zane’. It confuses Jesse, but off course he doesn’t exist, because he wrote himself out of reality. Yet it’s reasonable to think that Faden may have still been exposed to his poetry, given that she lived in Ordinary, in proximity to Wells and the shoebox he left behind.
The psychiatrist says Zane was a filmmaker, who moved to America in the 1960s. The ‘filmmaker’ Thomas Zane referred to in Control could be connected to Blessed Pictures, an arm of The Blessed Organization – a cadre of paranatural criminals often referenced in FBC documents. Sort of like the FBC’s version of James Bond’s SPECTRE or Assassin’s Creed’s Templars, the Blessed Organization manufactures Altered Items and purposefully creates AWEs to disrupt reality.
Following the enquiry, Wells has a dream in which she sees Alan Wake, calling him the previous owner of the “old house” that she moved into. Shortly after the dream, monsters descend upon Samantha’s house in Ordinary, causing her to suffer a concussion as she fled. When she wakes, the shoebox has suddenly returned.
Upon its return from the FBC, however, there are even more Thomas Zane poems, as well as a title page for a new manuscript, called ‘Return.’ It’s implied that this is the sequel to ‘Departure’, the manuscript written by Alan Wake during that first game. There’s also an old light switch that seems similar in concept to Wake’s Clicker.
Samantha says that the first time she flipped the light switch, all of the lights went out in her house. She alleges that this power cut was due to a thunderstorm, and the outage affected the whole town. Remedy’s not big on coincidences, however, and we think this is where Quantum Break comes in.
The Quantum Connection
In addition to AWE graffiti on buildings that confirms at least some level of awareness of the FBC and paranatural events, during the first act of Quantum Break players can trigger an optional event where Will Joyce solves an equation that eventually prevents a critical miscalculation in Riverport University’s time travel experiment. This causes a massive power outage in Ordinary, assumedly the same place Samantha Wells resides when she suffers a sudden power cut after using The Clicker from Alan Wake.
“But Quantum Break is set in 2016, and that blog is from 2012!” you might argue – and would be well within your rights to do so. However, lets not forget that Quantum Break is a game about time travel, with characters’ actions rippling across time left and right. It’s entirely possible to conclude that the power outage noted in Monarch’s report was such an occurrence as well. Also, in the Riverport University section, players can find a busy blackboard which references Alan Wake’s disappearance, the unalterable shoebox, the paradoxical relationship between Wake and Zane, the ‘This House of Dreams’ blog and Altered World Events from Control.
Another item worth mentioning is the live-action trailer for a TV show called Return, which is ostensibly a teleplay of the manuscript found in Ordinary and a possible version of the end of Alan’s story.
Remedy’s real-life Creative Director Sam Lake plays Alex Casey, the FBI agent who is the subject of Alan Wake’s novels (many speculate that Casey is a stand-in for one of Remedy’s early hit characters, Max Payne, whose character model was provided bySam Lake). Casey is studying Wake’s disappearance and using The Clicker in this video. Eventually, we see Alan Wake emerge from a “dark place,” only for Mr. Scratch – the evil doppleganger from American Nightmare – to emerge and murder Casey. The trailer ends with Wake in an evidence room reading manuscript pages which describe Casey’s death, only they implicate Wake and not Mr. Scratch as the culprit. All of this appears to suggest that Wake and Mr. Scratch have the power to influence the world of Quantum Break, beyond the scope of the Alan Wake game.
There’s also a potential Quantum Break connection in Control. Near the end of the game, we find out that Dylan Faden seems to be aware of the Remedy Connected Universe. He says he dreams about a Mr Door, who tells him about parallel universes. Dylan notes that ‘Mr. Door’ was present in all of these worlds at the same time, endlessly shifting between them. This could be a reference to Lance Reddick’s character in Quantum Break, Mr. Hatch – “Mr. Door” is a close enough pseudonym (and different enough to argue against copyright infringement), and it’s revealed in QB that Hatch is what’s known as a Shifter, paranaturally-empowered humans able to travel across dimensions.
Faden also mentions a universe where “there was a writer who wrote a story about a cop,” alluding to Wake and his detective series. Interestingly enough, in Control AWE, we learn that an FBI agent called Alex Casey has filed a special request for all of the FBC’s files on Alan Wake. Does this mean Wake has written his protagonist into existence? Or is somebody at the FBI just a fan and using Alex Casey’s name as an alias?
Control: AWE and the RCU
Of course, the “main event” for the RCU so far has been the AWE expansion for Control, and this is where things get really wild. In it, we not only learn about more connections to other Remedy games – one of the doors in the Oceanview Motel (a dimension-hopping Place of Power in the Oldest House) is named Vanguard in the game’s code, presumably after the multiplayer game Remedy is working on, and references an AWE where an entire town disappeared – but we get also some potentially revelatory insight into the true nature of the RCU.
As the Control AWE expansion starts to wrap up, Wake reveals that in order to “write his escape” from the Dark Place he had to use the reality-altering powers of Cauldron Lake. He talks about using the “materials he had” as a conduit for his return: his home city of New York, his wife, Alice, and – above all else – his talent as a writer.
“For the part in the story about the government agency, Wake needed something special,” he says – all but spelling out with a big neon sign that everything in Control was set in motion by his writings from the Dark Place. His haunting of Alice, detailed in one of Control’s collectibles, led her to the FBC in 2017, and a file found in AWE reveals that the door in the Oceanview Motel — the one which Jesse finds Alan behind — appeared shortly afterward. Then in 2019, an Altered Item called the Typewritten Page was slipped under the same door. The page was written by Wake and appeared to be the start of his ‘Return’ manuscript. Faden traveled to the bureau shortly after, and the events of Control were set into motion.
“Wake needed a hero,” he says, pounding away at an old typewriter, “and a hero needed a crisis.” It’s implied in AWE that while Wake may not have invented the FBC itself, his guiding hand was responsible for Jesse’s ascendance to the Directorship and the events of the Hiss takeover. He talks about creating a monstrous resonance, similar to the Dark Presence but slightly altered, and old scripts – written by Wake – for the in-universe TV show Night Springs (which has appeared in every Remedy game since the original Alan Wake) tell the tale of former FBC Director Trench’s discovery of The Hiss via a slide he stole from Ordinary. At the end of Wake’s screenplay, Trench shoots himself – allowing Jesse to step in.
Jesse is, herself, another mystery all its own thanks to these revelations. Wake is shown to know some of Jesse’s deepest secrets (like her otherworldly guide, Polaris), and is able to manipulate her story in AWE. Of course Jesse knows about Zane the poet when no one else does. Not because she’s from Ordinary, but because Alan Wake knows who he is and he all but invented Jesse Faden. Or maybe he did invent her entirely – can Cauldron Lake manifest an entire person? Her family? These are some of the biggest questions we’ve been asking ourselves since rolling credits on AWE.
The most important question, though – maybe for the entirety of the RCU – isn’t “who is Jesse Faden?” it’s “Who is Alan Wake?” Or, perhaps more accurately, “Who is Thomas Zane?”
The last we heard of Zane was in AWE, where Wake speaks to a doppelganger of himself called Tom (not Thomas) Zane. When Wake asks whether he’s the poet that he knows, Zane tells him that was just “the protagonist I played in my old film.”
Here, Zane describes himself as a filmmaker who is working on an “artistic collaboration” with Wake, the implication being that they’re creating the ‘Return’ manuscript to write them both out of the Dark Place. This ‘Tom Zane’ has also been in touch with Mr. Scratch, it seems. Even though we’re led to believe that Wake defeated Mr. Scratch at the end of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, Wake still says his “double… is out there. ”But if his double is out there, how has Zane – who’s ostensibly been trapped in the Dark Place with Alan – make contact? Are they working together? Are they one and the same?
Ultimately, because of the remarkable similarities between Zane and Wake, it’s not clear who is actually in control here. Did Zane write Alan Wake into reality to be the hero, or did Wake write Thomas Zane into existence to help him defeat the Dark Presence? Thomas Zane wrote about Alan’s childhood, but Wake has also controlled Zane with a typewriter. Perhaps both of these characters could be plot devices in each other’s stories? It all depends, ultimately, on how powerful Cauldron Lake is – can it create life, or just guide the hand of fate? All we know is that it seems like the Zane Wake knows now is up to something, and he may no longer be the helping hand that Wake needs.
It’s unlikely that we’ll get any more concrete info on just what’s going on with Remedy’s tangled web until the studio reveals their next project. AWE teased that we may be heading back to Bright Falls, but it’s going to be “a couple of years” at least until we know for sure. What do you think? Have you found any of your own RCU connections that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below as we wait in anticipation for more information about Remedy’s future projects.
Jordan Oloman is a freelance writer from Newcastle. Follow him on Twitter.