Though it may have had a few broken gameplay elements, if there’s any one thing that Remedy’s impressive survival horror Alan Wake did, it was tell a story – and tell it exceedingly well. The tale of the writer writing his own nightmare had been done before, but it works incredibly well in a videogame setting; providing intense psychological horror, fear, suspense, panic and urgency. It also featured incredible character and plot development – things intrinsic to a good story.
None of those things are present in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
Not quite a sequel, and not quite a spinoff, American Nightmare finds our titular hero trapped inside of a script he’s written for Night Springs, the Twilight Zone inspired show that could be seen on the tiny TV’s in the first game. Curiously, though it’s a standalone experience and not exactly a sequel, it is set directly after the events of the first game’s DLC, “The Signal” and the “The Writer,” and is a more rewarding experience if you’re up to date with the whole narrative as it stands. Wake’s evil Doppelganger, Mr. Scratch has broken through reality and unleashed waves of dark-presence possessed Taken upon a small Arizona town.
With its sandy red American southwest desert setting, American Nightmare shakes off the Stephen King and Twin-Peaksy David Lynch horror inspiration, for a more grindhouse, pulpy feel that feels more like something from the minds of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez – and it’s something that carries through to how the game plays; the survival-horror’s been replaced with more balls-to-the-wall action – and with ammo strewn about pretty much everywhere, it completely loses the urgency and scares you’d expect from Alan Wake. And though you still need to break through enemies’ darkness with Wake’s flashlight, with new armaments like combat shotguns, nailguns and fully-automatic rifles at your disposal, the game’s lost any sense of challenge. The tension’s completely removed too; the single consequence for death is that you respawn at the last checkpoint – with your health completely restored.
In-game collectibles have been reduced – so you wont be searching for thermos flasks everywhere – but you’ll still have to find manuscript pages scattered throughout the wider open, environment. They’re much easier to find this time around, because they emanate a bright glow – but you’ll soon find that there are far more missing pages than you’re able to find in a given level – and the reason for that soon becomes apparent – when you’re stuck in a Groundhog day-esque time loop that has you replaying whole parts of the game, allowing the developers to recycle environments and forcing you to retread the same levels multiple times. It’s all part of the thin, confusing and muddled exposition that never really gives you any insight as to why the nefarious Mr. Scratch is motivated to be as evil as he is – though the TV sets scattered throughout the game do an incredible job of fleshing out the charismatic dastardly double.
It’s easy to believe, having read the review so far, that I hated American Nightmare – but nothing could be further from the truth. It might eschew everything that Made Alan Wake an incredible experience, but it’s an incredible action game – especially when viewed from the angle that it’s a $15 XBLA game. Remedy has managed to pack in the original game’s engine and entire aesthetic in to a downloadable arcade game, looking just as good as the original game. The 6 hour campaign – even on its own, presents incredible value for money, even though it’s been bolstered by a new arcade mode that takes Alan Wake’s core gameplay and transplants it in to Resident Evil’s Mercenaries mode . you’ll take on wave-upon-wave of enemies from the game; regular Taken Splitters that well, split into two when you shine a flashlight on them, giant hulking hillbilly brutes with buzzsaws in ten minute rounds. It’s surprisingly addictive – and more than makes up for lack of challenge in the campaign.
If you’re a fan of Alan Wake, this $15 standalone game is a no-brainer – though it lack of challenge and departure from survival horror might dissuade some.
Gameplay is hardly changed from Alan Wake – though combat s a bit tighter, punchier. More combat-focused, there are even fewer puzzles this time around.
Design and Presentation: 8/10.
There’s some cringeworthy dialogue and the lip-synching is still awful – but it looks like retail release.
For its asking price of 1200 MSP, it’s really a no brainer – and a benchmark for what we should expect from downloadable games. There’s nearly as much content in this as there was in the whole first game.
This episodic styled release is perfect for Alan Wake, which was episodic in nature to begin with. Though there’s some repetition in the environments, the bigger arsenal of weapons, new enemies and new Fight ’til Dawn arcade mode make Alan Wake’s American Nightmare a necessary addition to fans’ digital collections.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200MS Points, and weighs in at 1.33Gb.
Last Updated: February 28, 2012