Alan's next adventure isn't as thrilling, but it still entertains
The PC version of Alan Wake hit on Steam a week before this sequel was bound for release on Xbox Live Arcade. For whatever reason, it took a long time coming for Mr. Wake to move his torch shining skills to the PC. As a game, I found Alan Wake to be a brilliant title that combined solid shooting, tight gripping atmosphere and a fascinating story into one package. It seems this time around PC gamers won’t have to wait two years to play Remedy Entertainment’s next instalment of the Alan Wake series. This new title, dubbed Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, is a follow-up to the first game, but the developers aren’t calling it a sequel. After playing the game, I can understand this statement better, and so will you after reading this review.
Fans might remember the snippets of a TV show called Night Springs that featured on the television screens plotted around places in the first game. American Nightmare is set up by the narrative as an episode of Night Springs, and the star of the episode is none other than Alan Wake himself. The plot revolves around Alan – who has been given the name “champion of light” by the storyteller – as he hunts down an evil doppelganger created by the shadows (known as Mr. Scratch), who is trying to take away everything Alan cares for. Mr. Scratch is a bit of a nutcase that enjoys bringing suffering to people around him. It’s enjoyable to watch Scratch spout his craziness on TV (like Alan did in the original) and it slows down the faster pace of the game if you are willing to stop and watch them.
To escape the place known as Night Springs, Alan must overcome his evil, maniac self while finding items that will change the outcome of the story. The story causes Alan to travel three locations, a hotel, observatory and a drive-in theatre three times before the game is over. All these are relatively smaller than any of the places visited in Alan Wake, so I’m wondering if this was done to reuse assets to extend the length of this downloadable title. This Groundhog Daystyle almost becomes a chore as I lost motivation on my third revisit, but thankfully every loop is shorter as people remembe past experiences and help Alan progress faster, hopefully bringing him back to reality. As a person who was a fan of the first story, American Nightmare left me a little disappointed as it doesn’t do much to expand on the general story, instead feeling more of a side plot. If it was a TV show, this would be a filler episode. It doesn’t suck, but the overall quality isn’t on par with the first game as it takes a turn for cheesiness, and in that sense succeeds in representing an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” which is the obviously inspiration for Night Springs.
Combat is still built upon the flashlight and gun combination that was a big part of the previous game. The flashlight is used to force the darkness off the “Taken” so that bullets will harm them. Difference between the two games is that American Nightmare loses the sense of claustrophobic fear and the well paced tension that the first game had; instead, the developers have seemingly made the combat faster paced, but less about item and light management. The flashlight charges up much faster than before. I also never found myself running out of batteries as there seems to be plenty of them laying around the environment. Same goes for the ammo, with respawning ammo stashes that are planted around key positions. All of these changes to the combat cause the game to lose its psychological hold on you, and because of that direction, American Nightmare turns into a action shooter.
Enemy variety is increased in American Nightmare over its predecessor. Not every type of enemy you meet needs to be taken down in the classic way of removing darkness and then popping them with bullets. Take the small spiders for example; these can be killed by simply shooting them. The splitters – humans who haven’t got any darkness surrounding them – split into two if Alan points his torch at them. These splitters are weaker, but when there’s a few of them it doesn’t take long to be outnumbered by their copies. Another good addition to the enemies is the one that turns into a crow and flies off. It causes you to up your awareness as you wait for it to come back down from the sky and reform somewhere around you. I found myself surrounded by enemies much more in American Nightmare than compared to Alan Wake. Due to this, items such as flares and flash grenades feel much more useful than ever before as they stun or kill large groups.
Journals are scatter across Night Springs and finding them will open up more insight into the story. These bits of sparkling paper also play a part in unlocking more weapons. Special weapon cases lay around to be discovered, but will only open if you meet the require amount of discovered journal pages. Another incentive to find these journals is the fact that you get more access to guns in American Nightmare’s Arcade Mode. Arcade is new to the series, and it puts Alan Wake up against waves of enemies as he tries to survive ten minutes until the sun rises. Points are earned for kills, and if you keep killing you can build up a score multiplier, something similar to the mechanic in Resident Evil’s Mercenaries mode. It’s got an addictive mentality as leaderboards are in place, showing friends and the globe’s best scores. I found myself rerunning through the five levels (and five harder versions) to see if I could find better ways to increase my score in the fixed time limit. My only complaint is the way the journals are used to force you to replay the story. I wish you could get all the weapons straight away in Arcade Mode without having to hunt down 53 pieces of paper.
Even though the game has lost its thrilling moments and the story feels like filler in the grand scheme – making me not care much about Alan this time – Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is still a good and entertaining shooter. The story will last around four hours and the Arcade Mode will keep you coming back if you enjoy that type of gameplay. Thinking about it now, Arcade Mode is a great feature and shows that the combat in American Nightmare is enjoyable and works, even when it’s used for scoring based gameplay. I hope Remedy takes this idea and builds on it in the sequel, but while we are waiting for Alan Wake 2, you can take part in this direct-to-DVD addition to the Alan Wake franchise that fans will most likely want to do.