Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

The end of Alan Wake left us with many unanswered questions. Where did the Darkness come from? What (if any) is the connection between Thomas Zane and Alan Wake? Where the heck does Barry Wheeler get his fashion sense from?  But most of all, what happens next?! Alan Wake was unique for its combination of a novel thriller/suspense story mixed with television episodic pacing. While the ending left a big question mark over everything, an even bigger mystery was whether or not there would be a sequel. Remedy’s stand alone XBLA title, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, is not a full-fledged sequel but it is the first bit of content since “The Writer”, the last DLC for Alan Wake. Does Alan’s Nightmare stack up to the thrills that Alan Wake originally brought?

The Story

Nothing like a stroll around the motel with your Hunting Rifle to help calm your nerves.

I was initially nervous when I heard the developers talking about how they wanted to focus more on the combat and action in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (AWAN) rather than the story. For me, it was the thriller-like story with the unique presentation style that made Alan Wake one of my all time favorite games. The focus of the game has indeed changed. If Alan Wake was a Stephen King novel, then AWAN is a Quentin Tarantino movie. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an enjoyable story to be found.

The game begins as if the story were an episode of Night Springs (a TV show from Alan Wake in the style of The Twilight Zone). You find Alan sprawled on the ground along side a lake in a small dessert town. Having just barely been able to escape the hold of the Darkness, his short-term memory’s partially gone and what’s left is just bits and fragments. But like in Alan Wake, you find pieces of paper lying around written by you which help guide you and tell you what to do. And if wandering around a dessert with parts of your memory missing while being chased by the Darkness isn’t bad enough, you discover an evil doppelganger of you has been running around causing chaos through destruction and murder. You must again fight your way through Taken (people who have been consumed by the Darkness) using the power of light while piecing together how to defeat your evil doppelganger.

How does one spell psychotic? MR. S-C-R-A-T-C-H

While the focus isn’t as heavy on the story, there is plenty of twists, turns, and surprises in the game to satisfy Alan Wake fans. As you venture through the 4-6 hour campaign, you’ll meet several characters throughout the game. Most of the conversations are very well done, but there are some parts (specifically one particular character) where the voice acting just falls flat due to bad acting dulling these sections and pulls the player out of the game.  Luckily though, there is still plenty of excellent presentation outside these character interactions. Remedy again uses real life video of the Alan Wake actor and puts them into the game in several different places creating a unique style of presentation. The interactions between Alan Wake and his evil doppelganger are extremely well done and incredibly fun to watch. In addition, there are plenty of collectibles to be found. Pieces of paper, TVs, and radios will give more insight to characters and the plot creating a fuller experience for those seeking it.

One final note I want to mention is that while AWAN is a great continuation for Alan Wake fans, it is at the same time a hard place to start for those who have never played Alan Wake. Much of what happens in the story is based of the previous events from Alan Wake and there isn’t a “Previously on Alan Wake,” to catch up new comers to the game. There are several references that go back to Alan Wake that not having played it may leave you feeling very lost and confused and you may not get the full enjoyment out of the XBLA title without it.

Gameplay

Balancing when to attack and when to run away will help slay the many foes you’ll encounter.

Alan is introduced as “The Champion of Light” in the game and rightfully so. The main combat centers around using light from a flashlight or other various light sources to fight off enemies of Taken. Several new enemies are introduced into the game changing the basic “Use Light, Destroy Shield, Kill Taken” formula. For instance, one of the new enemies, Splitters, no longer have a darkness shield. Instead, if you shine any light on them they will split and become two enemies. This adds an enjoyable twist to the combat making you think twice before shining a light on a group of enemies approaching you. Another improvement is Alan’s ability to run and dodge has greatly improved since Alan Wake. No longer does Alan feel like an old man with asthma that can run for 3 seconds before hunching over to walk at a snail’s pace.

Dispatching the Taken has been made fairly easy work thanks to the several new weapons that have been added to Alan’s arsenal. Weapons can easily be found through short exploring of the area or by unlocking trunks throughout the map by collecting manuscript pages. But while it may seem they are giving you a variety of weapons to choose from, many of the weapons you collect right at the beginning of the game are so powerful, you don’t need any other weapons. Many of the higher unlockable weapons pale in comparison to the guns you can find just wandering around. Combine that with the fact that there is plenty of ammo and health stations, no difficulty adjustment, the story mode campaign feels extremely too easy and unchallenging. This does take away a lot of tense, thriller action that was found in Alan Wake, but it still is an enjoyable experience overall.

BEHOLD! It’s my Burning Eye of Mordor!

The new addition of Arcade Action Mode makes up for the lack of difficulty in the story mode. The Arcade Mode is a survival horde mode using the same action mechanics found in the story mode. In it, Alan has to survive till morning by fighting wave after wave of Taken. Each passing wave ups the difficulty. It is a nice change of pace compared to the combat in the story mode since you can truly focus on fighting and spend less time worrying about missing any collectibles or trying to advance the story. There is also a Leaderboard for the Arcade Mode letting you compete and show off your flashlight fighting skills with your friends for the highest scores, best times, etc…etc. This adds a nice bit of replay value to the game, especially for those of the competitive nature.

Final Verdict

Overall, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is not the most approachable game for a newcomer to the story. But if you have played it, it is a fantastic game for those who are fans of the series. It has plenty of what made the original Alan Wake made great and builds on it and improves from it. And while it may not be the biggest or most perfect sequel, it certainly is worth the $15 (1200 Microsoft Points) for those looking to continue Alan’s adventure.

[starreview tpl=14 size=’30’]

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