Alan Wake's new nightmare isn't all that it seems
It's hard to imagine many games that I would want less gameplay but more story involvement in, but if you've been following Remedy games for a while, you know that their penchant for gritty near-noir type settings and dark, imperfect protagonists is best-in-class. The combat always just feels a bit off, even for the people who made bullet time such a popular concept.
The next chapter in Alan Wake's saga is more combat than maybe fans of the first game might want, but is ultimately worth it to see the excellent story and little details put into the characters. Remedy leans hard into the Night Springs pseudo-TV show setting this go-around, leaving a delightfully bizarre and macabre atmosphere. The writing and voice acting is great and makes you feel like you are really experiencing a Twilight Zone reboot, more than just an homage the first Alan Wake paid tribute to.
This time, Wake is up against Mr. Scratch, a much better foil and sinister villain then the simple Dark Presence of the first game. And it picks up in Arizona two years after Wake's last adventure. Without spoiling much, old characters pop up in some surprising ways in American Nightmare and Wake's new friends in this small adventure, though minor, really feel fleshed out.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game seems kind of half-baked. It is all over too soon, the "Oh Snap!" moment is ruined by recycled environments and scenarios, the weapons lack a lot of punch, the enemies aren't that challenging (largely because there is tons of ammo lying around), and manuscript pages, the one collectible worth collecting from the last game, have became this game's great Thermos hunt - by searching for these tidbits of extra story designed to get you deeper into the story, the game forces you to go too far off the beaten path and sucks you right out of the narrative. At least they have made it easier to track these things by adding question marks to the minimap and making them gleam brightly. If you're not so much into the story elements of these collectibles, they also serve as the keys to getting new weapons scattered in briefcases over the course of the game.
For a downloadable title, the game does look great despite the reusing of some assets. I ran into some framerate stuttering during part 2 of American Nightmare with lots of Taken surrounding me, so be mindful of that.
After the roughly 3-hour campaign, there's Arcade Action - a Horde Mode-type survival mode that feels a little tacked-on. You get 10 minutes to try and survive the night against a bevy of Taken with your flashlight and weapons found nearby, but without the context of the larger story, it just serves to remind you how mundane the combat can be. There's leaderboards and half of the game's achievements are devoted to it, but no online multiplayer/co-op. This isn't a big deal (four dudes with flashlights and guns seems a little ridiculous, given Alan Wake's central conceit), but the inclusion of Arcade Mode has me worried Remedy may try to put multiplayer in Alan Wake 2.
The campaign is substantial enough and absolutely worth seeing for Alan Wake fans, but this is not a good jumping point for newcomers. The Arcade mode isn't as addicting as the plot thread in Alan Wake and even if you're here for the combat, the challenge just isn't there with the ludicrous amount of ammo the developers give you. All told, much like Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, American Nightmare is a nice appetizer for the next part of Wake's saga that leaves you wanting more.