Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review

by on February 20, 2012

Alan Wake's American Nightmare ReviewGame: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade only

After two years, Alan Wake returns in American Nightmare; making the jump from full retail title, to a smaller downloadable Xbox LIVE Arcade experience but how has the transformation fared? Allow me to shine a light upon the darkness…

Released in 2010, the original Alan Wake arrived on Xbox 360 with all the hype of a game that had a development time of at least 6 years. Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations that had been built; but in looking past the hype, we were left with a title, that despite the odd flaw, offered oodles of unnerving atmosphere, a unique story and even the odd scare or two.

Fast forward to 2012, and Remedy have given their titular character his second outing; serving not so much as a sequel, but an episode of the original game’s in-game television show, Night Springs.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

The entire game is framed around an episode of Night Springs. Following on from the end of the original game, Alan Wake is still trapped in an alternate dimension; his wife now safe in the real world, but believing him to be dead.

Alan’s evil doppelgänger, Mr. Scratch has entered the real world, hoping to take Alan’s life and wife for himself, all while indulging in all manner of murderous acts. Our favourite horror writer must use the skills he has learnt from the previous game, to rewrite history and defeat his psychotic twin.

What made the original Alan Wake so interesting, were the manuscripts littered across the game’s world; offering deeper explanations of the game’s admittedly cryptic and occasionally confusing events. Thankfully, these have returned in American Nightmare, helping to make sense of everything (while also unlocking weapons for use in the game’s Arcade Action mode). Another welcome return comes from the televisions and radios that offer even more narrative for those willing to hunt them down.

Remedy have ensured that nothing has been compromised when making a more compact Alan Wake experience. The use of darkness and light sources still looks as good as it did back in 2010, with Alan’s torch illuminating the dark environments within the fictional confines of Night Springs.

Helping to make American Nightmare even more unique, are the occasional live action cut-scenes. While they are quite camp at times, they add character, and the game would be all the worse off were they not included. It takes a lot of balls to add live action cut-scenes to a game in 2012, so kudos to Remedy for having a go at going against the grain.

American Nightmare follows the original game’s lead, with the outdoor environments containing their fair share of ambient noise, the occasional rustling of trees reminding you that danger is out there and not as far away as you may think. Suitably dark pieces of music and soundscapes narrate the on-screen action, never overshadowing the environmental noise, yet still adding to the atmosphere. This game deserves to be played in the dark, with a 5.1 surround sound setup.

There is one memorable piece of music that is completely betrays the game’s atmosphere, but is so unashamedly awesome that I can forgive it for that (I shan’t spoil anything, but those who played through the original game might be able to hazard a guess at the fictional musicians involved, that make an off-screen return here). There is also a Kasabian track in there too, and you will here it multiple times; whether that is a good thing or not, depends on your feelings for the band.

American Nightmare’s dialogue is better than most games, even if there is the regular whiff of ham in the voiceovers. Mr. Scratch is particularly overdone, but that compliments the character and what he is. Overall it suits the tone of what is supposed to be a Twilight Zone-style television show.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

For the most part, American Nightmare plays exactly like the original game, with a couple of differences. Alan’s Torch feels like it has a bit more battery power (throughout the whole game, I never had to change a battery once), and weapons/ammo are much more readily available. Weapons are everywhere, including cases that are opened by collecting a certain number of manuscripts, plus there are also easy to find ammo boxes that replenish all ammunition, which also respawn after a while. Due to this, the game is a lot easier than the original (it doesn’t help that there are no alternate difficulty settings, unlike the previous game).

As a result of these changes (and the fact that enemies can come from all sides), American Nightmare plays a whole lot faster than Alan Wake’s previous outing. While the more open environments aren’t as unnerving as the forests of old, the danger is still very much everywhere, so this more action-orientated style of gameplay is much appreciated. You’ll be mobbed by several adversaries at any one time, and they’re clever enough to try and sneak behind you while you’re concentrating on their colleagues, so you’ll need to be on your toes at all times.

My main beef with American Nightmare, is the repetitive nature of the game’s Story mode. To say that the game plays out like a psychotic version of Groundhog Day is no exaggeration. There are a mere three areas of the game, which wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t find yourself playing through these areas no less than three times each, in sequence. What makes matters worse, is that the missions you perform each time you replay an area, are exactly the same each time. It’s laziness on Remedy Entertainment’s part, and is enough to sour anyone’s’ enjoyment of the game. While they cut the number of steps taken to perform the objective in each area, the primary mission plays out the same, and is no different the second or third time. Despite the explanation for this in the narrative, it’s irritating that there is little to differentiate each repeat visit.

Should the repetition of the Story mode get too much, an Arcade Action mode is also available. This is essentially American Nightmare’s Horde mode (It is now apparently the law for all games to have this feature somewhere). As is now customary, players will need to fight waves of enemies to survive a 10 minute time limit; all while killing enemies without taking damage, to earn score multipliers for big points.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

You’d think that this sort of mode wouldn’t suit Alan Wake’s style of combat, but it actually works rather well. There is a balance of offensive and defensive play here that creates a surprisingly fast paced action game. Sometimes it’s safer to run away and find more weapons, than stand and fight.

When all is said and done, the Story mode portion of American Nightmare can be breezed through within five hours (which makes the constant repetition all the more annoying). There are manuscripts to be found, but as they are now visible on the in-screen map (unlike the original game) they aren’t too difficult to find. There are so many weapons and ammo boxes around that despite the regular enemy ambushes, it won’t be too taxing to see everything the Story mode offers.

Arcade Action mode adds a couple of hours worth of added gameplay; especially for those either looking for more Achievements, or wanting to climb the leaderboards; others may not find it interesting enough though.

VERDICT: It’s good to see Remedy Entertainment give us some more Wake, even if it is in a slightly diluted form, but it’s hard not to be disappointed about the lazy Story mode. The combat in American Nightmare is greatly improved over the original, but at a cost to the game’s difficulty level. Arcade Action is a nice addition, but I would gladly drop it for a better Story mode.

At 1200 Microsoft Points, American Nightmare might be a little overpriced, but much like the original Alan Wake, if you can look past the flaws, you may well find a little light in the darkness (try the demo, and see whether you feel the game is worth 1200, or if you are able to wait in the hope the price drops in future). Here’s hoping Remedy are given the chance to give Alan a proper sequel, and put in a little more effort, next time.

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