Alan Wake’s American Nightmare: A Waking Pleasure.
After the underrated classic that was Remedy’s Alan Wake, with its great setting, storytelling, and gameplay mechanics, I was more than excited to sink my teeth into a new game based around the character. Though not thrilled it had been downgraded to an XBLA title, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that it would seemingly give a better insight into the world of Alan Wake, exploring new avenues of the light/dark mechanics, or expanding on some more literary ideas that the first game presented.
So does American Nightmare stand up to the huge name of an amazing cult title? Or does it fall flat like so many spinoff games?
The answers will surprise you.
American Nightmare’s story mode, one of two available, takes place two years after the end of The Writer DLC for the first game. It has a very ‘twilight zone’ feel to it, attributing itself to the ‘Night Springs’ show you could watch in the first game. Alan is trying to hunt down and defeat his doppelganger: Mr. Scratch, who has been murdering his way across America, forming a plan to completely ruin Alan’s life, and utilizing the Darkness to do it. The game takes place in three separate areas of Arizona, where the player must find copies of manuscript pages that will help them change reality in such a way as to stop the Darkness from spreading. These are actually quite creative and interesting, though not as interesting as using flashlight on floating words to make them materialise in physical forms, which was a thoroughly unexplored mechanic in the previous game, but it’s a nice way to move the plot along. There is a certain plot-point that will send you back to the previous locations, but it’s actually quite interesting if you enjoy exploring old levels and finding some new manuscript pages and fighting new enemies. Not a whole lot changes throughout, but it’s a narrative point that makes sense in the world of Alan Wake, and is actually pretty interesting. The story is constantly aware of itself, insofar that Alan now understands his ability to rewrite reality, and it’s a nice, quirky idea, that people might enjoy.
Graphically, the game looks just as good as the previous title, utilising rather beautiful scenery with some great use of the lighting the previous game was so famous for. The levels are actually quite big, with multiple hidden locations yielding manuscript pages, weapons or ammunition. Character models do look as bad as they did from the previous game though, something that, while a nice throwback, could have been upgraded to give the game a little more polish. However, the atmosphere still remains, and I often found that I was partaking in some shallow breathing when it all got a little too quiet during the game, still showing that the game’s atmosphere hasn’t suffered in this title.
Mechanics-wise, it’s a little more refined that the first game, combat is now much more responsive, and weapons a lot more abundant. While that takes away from the survival aspects a little bit, the sheer number of enemies between the player and the next ammo cache has increased in frequency, allowing for a lot more of the tense, 'will-I-make-it?' combat that is actually quite fun. Enemy variation has also increased, from just the regular Taken, to enemies that can turn into a flock of birds, to enemies to have no darkness-shield, but split into smaller, weaker versions of the larger enemy. These are some interesting design choices that are a welcome change, but there could always have been more. Light is your friend in this game, and now, more than ever, its hard to come by. The flashlight, the most important and trusty tool in Alan’s arsenal, has been downgraded to the basic model, which eats through power whenever you focus the light to dispel the darkness from around taken. Batteries are now given to the player in tens, and can be restocked along with ammo in ammo boxes.
American Nightmare also refines the collectibles mechanic, replacing the random homage items from the first game with manuscript pages, which are read by Alan with the screen scrolling down as he narrates, which is a nice touch, which benefit the player a lot more than before, allowing them access to weapons in cases spread throughout the various levels. These weapons are sorely needed at times, with the player often coming up against enemies whose threshold for damage vastly increases as the game progresses. This is a nice touch, and I’d like to see it applied to a direct sequel if we get one.
The music is a bit of a let down, with the orchestral scores too few and far between to make any real impact of high-tension situations, but the few original full songs used in the game actually complement some of the later situations quite well, so its not all bad. Voice-acting is…highly varied, with Alan and Mr. Scratch delivering lines with the conviction the previous game had, but some of the supporting characters are a little lacking, a few have interesting roles to play overall, but they don’t really range beyond average voice acting in some cases. Previous characters also make cameos on radio-shows, you can hear them after finding radios littered throughout the levels, and they’re delivered as well as Alan’s dialogue. The Narrator gets a special mention, as he delivers the cheesy, yet excellent twilight zone narrations convincingly, and it makes the game highly enjoyable, as he always questions the reality that the player is experiencing. Dialogue between character still carries the wit from Alan that it did in the previous game, though the same can’t be said for the few other members of the supporting cast, which is a pity, because I miss the back and forth between Alan and Barry, along with the Sheriff.
Overall, the story mode is great, though it doesn’t deliver the same narrative slickness of the first game, the fact that it’s a single story on an arcade title is something that you can let it slide on.
Arcade plays like a Horde-mode situation, wave-based combat, giving you weapons and a torch, and asking you to fend off the hordes of the Taken for ten minutes at a time, until dawn, trying to get the highest score possible. This is purely for combat-lovers, and is actually a pretty fun mode, as you’re constantly keeping an eye out for where the next wave is emerging from. The weapon unlocks are effected by the number of manuscript pages you have, so the story mode and arcade mode are tied closely together, as without one, you don’t really get a full experience. It’s a nice way to include the story mode in the arcade, giving it a bit more reason for existing after you’ve finished the main story.
Taken on its own merits, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is actually a pretty fine game, with some interesting ideas that it utilises pretty well into the gameplay. The story is interesting, that battle between light and dark is actually plausible, the dialogue between Alan and other characters carries the same humour as before, and the combat has been refined to make the overall experience more enjoyable. All of this was done without sacrificing the atmosphere, which is something to be praised. The voice acting does let it down, and some might find the plot point driving the campaign a little tedious.
While not a perfect game, leaving out some of the more adventurous mechanics of the first game, American Nightmare is still a fine title, and a bargain at 1200 MS points.
- Excellent use of lighting
- Atmosphere is intense
- Mr. Scratch is a great villain
- Alan’s voice acting is top-notch
- Combat has been refined and is much more reactive
- Manuscript pages give the player information and unlock weapons
- Enemy variation is a nice change of pace
- Story and Arcade modes go hand-in-hand
- Character models are blocky
- Extra voice actors sound unconvincing
- Repetition in levels, despite plot, may grind of the player
- The music doesn’t really suit the situations in high enough frequency
- The ending leaves a lot to be desired, with a cliff-hanger that is classic Alan Wake...not a good thing.
WTF? Moment: A dancing Mr. Scratch…that can never be unseen.