GAME NAME: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
DEVELOPER(S): Remedy Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Studios
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): February 22, 2012
If Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake (and its follow-up DLC) could be described as the first season of a TV series, then Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is the made-for-TV movie meant to bridge the gap between seasons. It’s shorter in length and light on story, but it’s a bit more digestible and the action is more intense. American Nightmare is more than just an expansion for Alan Wake, but it’s also not quite a sequel. Like the questionable reality of the games, it exists somewhere between both worlds, creating an experience that’s both familiar and new.
It’s been two whole years since the titular writer Alan Wake was trapped in the dark dimension that he encountered in the last game, and after all this time he’s still fighting for a way out. Unfortunately his evil counterpart, the enigmatic Mr. Scratch, seems to be ahead of him at every turn, all while wrecking his own havoc in the real world. American Nightmare changes the setting from the northwest forests of Bright Falls to the Arizona desert town of Night Springs, which also happens to be the setting of a “Twilight Zone“-esque show that Mr. Wake used to write for.
The change in setting does little to diminish the impact of the atmosphere. Alan Wake was one of, if not the most, atmospheric games of this generation, and this carries over to American Nightmare as well. Surprisingly enough, the open plateaus and canyons of Arizona are just as unsettling as the condensed forests of Washington state once you apply enough darkness, flickering lights and bumps in the night. Shadows bounce off of every surface, and the effect is enhanced by the best lighting engine I’ve ever seen on a console.
There’s an air of unearthliness to this deceptively mundane area, and the quirks of its few inhabitants are simultaneously creepy and endearing. Play their cards right, and Remedy could easily make Alan Wake the Silent Hill of our generation. Old television sets are scattered throughout the game, in which you will be graced with increasingly unsettling monologues from a live-action Mr. Scratch, who quickly becomes one of the most intimidating antagonistic presences in gaming. Character model Iikka Villi and voice actor Matthew Porretta are both exceptional in their combined portrayal of Alan Wake, and I’m happy to say that the dubbing issues that plagued the last game have been fixed.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare hits the nail on the head in terms of presentation, but what about the gameplay? Well, it’s more or less the same as the original, with a few new tweaks. The core gameplay of shining your flashlight on your enemies, then dispersing them with gunfire remains the same, though now you have a few more options at your disposal. Missing pages also make their return, and collecting them not only gives you more insight into the world of the game, but also allows you to unlock new weapons. All of the weapons from the first game make a comeback, and the addition of new firearms, such as combat shotguns, an assault rifle, and a totally badass (if somewhat useless) nail gun should appease anyone who felt the original arsenal was too limited.
Unfortunately, repetition is not absent from this installment. There are only three levels in the game, but a sloppily introduced time travel subplot makes you play through each level three times, same objectives and everything. Sure, it makes sense in terms of the story, but also reeks of padding. This brings up the campaign to about 4-5 hours, which is more than worthy given the game’s production values and price point; it’s just a shame that they had to reach that length so artificially.
Those looking for more past the story will be delighted to find a survival-style arcade mode, that pits Alan against the Taken for ten minutes at a time. Each map is more difficult to survive than the last, and definitely shows that Alan Wake’s gameplay can hold its own outside its consuming story. Granted, this arcade mode is far from the main draw here, and without co-op or online multiplayer, it’s missing what makes “horde-mode” style gameplay like this so much more fun in other games.
With the status of a proper “Alan Wake 2″ up in the air, American Nightmare is both inviting for newcomers, and a welcome return for fans. It provides a proper conclusion to the story thus far, but also leaves the door open to interpretation. At its $15 price point, it’s an absolute must have for fans of the first game, and recommended for new players who would rather test the waters first. In any case, it’s simply a great game for those who just want a retail-quality experience at a downloadable price-point. Now please bring on Alan Wake 2!
A copy of the game was provided to us by Microsoft for reviewing purposes.
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