On American Nightmare and Being A Disappointment

When Alan Wake's American Nightmare was announced, I got giggly with excitement. While many bemoan the combat of the original game and others herald the atmosphere and story that this "franchise" offers, there was a part of me that simply got excited because of a simple idea: more Alan Wake. The first game ranked at #2 for me in my 2010 Top 25 Games. It was the mixture of atmosphere, story, characters, pacing and most importantly a constant sense of mystery that made Bright Falls a wonderful place to visit.

Even Mr. Scratch's little parts and the narrator from Night Springs can't save American Nightmare from being...a nightmare.

It's all of these things, however, that American Nightmare truly lacks, particularly in the first three of those aforementioned fields. It's something that will drive any Alan Wake fan absolutely batty. Sure, you can say "well, what did you expect from a $15 downloadable game", and I will reply with "a lot...because it's a proven formula".

Take a look at Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, a perfect and shining example of how to take the core game and bring it down in size yet still capture everything that the full game could potentially be. It's about being a bite-sized chunk while making sure it's a truly satisfying experience. Granted, I never actually PLAYED Dead Rising 2 because there was not a single friend of mine that could recommend it, and that is rarely a good sign to purchase a game. Regardless, that little $10 downloadable was fucking excellent. In turn, why couldn't Alan Wake's American Nightmare be the same?

I don't want to say that the atmosphere isn't there, but little details that made the atmosphere work correctly are missing. There's no darkness fog that gets thicker as you walk into areas you shouldn't be in. Instead, you have invisible walls. The game isn't all that dark anyways, so you never feel like there is something out there you can't see. Even something as small as just pushing X to reload your weapon rather than mashing that button to reload faster makes a massive difference. The sprint lasts longer before exhaustion kicks in. The checkpoints are frequent. The enemies are too basic and non-threatening. Ammo is readily available at all turns, so much so that there is a box which will automatically give you full batteries and full ammo on your guns. The guns are incredibly powerful, basically handing you carbines and submachine guns and shotguns as if they were water: always flowing and never drying up. The characters (what few of them exist) are wooden statues with moving mouths, not the active and meaningful types you found in Alan Wake proper. Even then (***SPOILERS***), they rarely survive long enough to be meaningful anyways (***END SPOILERS***). The mini-map gives too much information.

Essentially, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is hand-holding in the most egregious way possible. If anything, it's downright insulting to what Alan Wake was all about.

While Alan Wake had too little light at times, American Nightmare constantly has too MUCH light all the time.

Why? What possible notion would make Remedy say "let's take out all the things that made Alan Wake unique and what it was supposed to be?". Was it sales numbers? Was it to try being like everyone else? Yeah, yeah...we know. It's "not a sequel" and they "focused on action" and blah blah blah. That's fine, but they could've left plenty of those things I mentioned above in this game instead of sacrificing them on an altar of sales numbers and mainstream popularity. Hell, even the DLC for Alan Wake was able to hold onto all of those elements while also introducing new ones and STILL remain more compelling than American Nightmare.

With American Nightmare, we get something that's not even quite a watered-down Dr. Pepper. We get that glass of lemonade that has been sitting around at room temperature for about six months while we've just been walking through a desert for two hours. We'll take it because it's what's there, but it doesn't mean the taste is what we want.

Unfortunately, this is a double-sided blade. We as consumers are supposed to vote with our dollars, right? Here's the dilemma that Remedy has created for themselves. If we vote by buying American Nightmare in droves, we are saying "we want a watered-down experience of hand-holding". However, we already voted on Alan Wake, a game that eventually became profitable but did not see the sales that Microsoft or maybe even Remedy was hoping for when it came out. In short, we've more than likely doomed Alan Wake already no matter which way we go.

Until next time, piece.

8 Comments
9 Comments
Edited by jakob187

When Alan Wake's American Nightmare was announced, I got giggly with excitement. While many bemoan the combat of the original game and others herald the atmosphere and story that this "franchise" offers, there was a part of me that simply got excited because of a simple idea: more Alan Wake. The first game ranked at #2 for me in my 2010 Top 25 Games. It was the mixture of atmosphere, story, characters, pacing and most importantly a constant sense of mystery that made Bright Falls a wonderful place to visit.

Even Mr. Scratch's little parts and the narrator from Night Springs can't save American Nightmare from being...a nightmare.

It's all of these things, however, that American Nightmare truly lacks, particularly in the first three of those aforementioned fields. It's something that will drive any Alan Wake fan absolutely batty. Sure, you can say "well, what did you expect from a $15 downloadable game", and I will reply with "a lot...because it's a proven formula".

Take a look at Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, a perfect and shining example of how to take the core game and bring it down in size yet still capture everything that the full game could potentially be. It's about being a bite-sized chunk while making sure it's a truly satisfying experience. Granted, I never actually PLAYED Dead Rising 2 because there was not a single friend of mine that could recommend it, and that is rarely a good sign to purchase a game. Regardless, that little $10 downloadable was fucking excellent. In turn, why couldn't Alan Wake's American Nightmare be the same?

I don't want to say that the atmosphere isn't there, but little details that made the atmosphere work correctly are missing. There's no darkness fog that gets thicker as you walk into areas you shouldn't be in. Instead, you have invisible walls. The game isn't all that dark anyways, so you never feel like there is something out there you can't see. Even something as small as just pushing X to reload your weapon rather than mashing that button to reload faster makes a massive difference. The sprint lasts longer before exhaustion kicks in. The checkpoints are frequent. The enemies are too basic and non-threatening. Ammo is readily available at all turns, so much so that there is a box which will automatically give you full batteries and full ammo on your guns. The guns are incredibly powerful, basically handing you carbines and submachine guns and shotguns as if they were water: always flowing and never drying up. The characters (what few of them exist) are wooden statues with moving mouths, not the active and meaningful types you found in Alan Wake proper. Even then (***SPOILERS***), they rarely survive long enough to be meaningful anyways (***END SPOILERS***). The mini-map gives too much information.

Essentially, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is hand-holding in the most egregious way possible. If anything, it's downright insulting to what Alan Wake was all about.

While Alan Wake had too little light at times, American Nightmare constantly has too MUCH light all the time.

Why? What possible notion would make Remedy say "let's take out all the things that made Alan Wake unique and what it was supposed to be?". Was it sales numbers? Was it to try being like everyone else? Yeah, yeah...we know. It's "not a sequel" and they "focused on action" and blah blah blah. That's fine, but they could've left plenty of those things I mentioned above in this game instead of sacrificing them on an altar of sales numbers and mainstream popularity. Hell, even the DLC for Alan Wake was able to hold onto all of those elements while also introducing new ones and STILL remain more compelling than American Nightmare.

With American Nightmare, we get something that's not even quite a watered-down Dr. Pepper. We get that glass of lemonade that has been sitting around at room temperature for about six months while we've just been walking through a desert for two hours. We'll take it because it's what's there, but it doesn't mean the taste is what we want.

Unfortunately, this is a double-sided blade. We as consumers are supposed to vote with our dollars, right? Here's the dilemma that Remedy has created for themselves. If we vote by buying American Nightmare in droves, we are saying "we want a watered-down experience of hand-holding". However, we already voted on Alan Wake, a game that eventually became profitable but did not see the sales that Microsoft or maybe even Remedy was hoping for when it came out. In short, we've more than likely doomed Alan Wake already no matter which way we go.

Until next time, piece.

Posted by zDarkHerald

I completely agree with this sentiment. I thought that American Nightmare was a relatively solid experience, but the narrative and music were both a huge letdown after the brilliance of Alan Wake. There was way too much combat, and the cheap retread of the same 3 areas was the killing blow.

Posted by chilipeppersman

its really too bad that this is such a letdown, I wanted it to be good.......

Posted by AndrewB

@jakob187 said:

Unfortunately, this is a double-sided blade. We as consumers are supposed to vote with our dollars, right? Here's the dilemma that Remedy has created for themselves. If we vote by buying American Nightmare in droves, we are saying "we want a watered-down experience of hand-holding". However, we already voted on Alan Wake, a game that eventually became profitable but did not see the sales that Microsoft or maybe even Remedy was hoping for when it came out. In short, we've more than likely doomed Alan Wake already no matter which way we go.

That was my thought on the matter since seeing it announced. But my stance is firmly that I don't buy bad games to fund good ones. Maybe if my money was going directly towards the next Alan Wake and towards getting a copy in my hands, but not for the exact opposite of what I want out of more Alan Wake.

The other things is... even a direct sequel to Alan Wake had better do a whole lot different. I liked the combat in the first game as well, but that won't hold up a second time. I don't want more of that.

Posted by benspyda

I don't think I liked the original as much as you but the atmosphere and story telling was certainly where it excelled. It's a shame this game seems to have taken out all the good bits and replaced it with backtracking and combat. I feel remedy thinks the combat is a main draw, where as everyone who enjoyed the game, enjoyed it for the story and atmosphere. I wasn't really planning on buying this and now I'm certain I won't be.

Posted by louiedog

I wasn't disappointed in this game at all. I really liked the story and the plot device that brings you back to the locations is a common one from every single scifi TV show that has ever aired. I loved that about it and those episodes are often some of the most memorable. It would have been nice to get some more music but I wasn't expecting that on a downloadable title's budget. I did find it a little weird that they felt the need to overload you with ammo and batteries, especially since I had no trouble managing that stuff in the first game, but based on Ryan's comments that was a problem for some players. I liked that the sprint lasted longer. That limitation was a pain in the ass in the first game for me, at least after my first time through the game when I just wanted to get past a certain section quickly. The trade-off in this one is that sprinting to a checkpoint doesn't remove the enemies that were chasing you as you so you can't just abuse it by running from every encounter.

I think my expectations of what an Alan Wake game is are different from other people's. I don't expect the same exact game in a different setting. I think what they did worked perfectly as a standalone episode and I'd like to see more.

Posted by Dookysharpgun

I couldn't agree less, if you watch the dev diaries, they state pretty clearly that American Nightmare was an arcade title, with a storyline element thrown in because, and I quote "we're Remedy". This doesn't seem like a mainstream sell-out, more a game that tried to give people a little something to tide them over before the sequel, with the real focus being on the combat, which they mentioned in the dev diaries too. As well as that, I have to strongly disagree with the idea that we could have gotten the full Alan Wake experience from this. If you went in with the mindset that it was going to be anything more than an XBLA game with a storyline tacked on, then, and I'm sorry for this, you deserve to be disappointed. I can understand not liking it, I can understand if some elements grinded on your tolerance, but holding every arcade game to the standards of Bastion or SMB is setting anything up for sheer, nut-busting disappointment, worse if you wanted Alan Wake elements from the DLC of the last game. Yes, I would have loved the light words to make shit appear element back, or the tension, or any of some of the more interesting elements that Alan Wake had, but this was never going to be like that game. You obviously have a lot more faith in arcade titles than I do, because three-quarters of the games that come out on XBLA are shit, or older games that are given a new lick of paint and sold for insane prices. Maybe it's to the game's detriment, all the reasons I'm listing, but honestly, I'll play the sequel if I want Alan Wake 2, I knew this wasn't going to be like the previous game, and I'm aware that I'm always arguing for better, but I don't believe we can piss on arcade titles because they haven't the same time/budget/manpower put into them as full-retail games. We can hold them to a standard, and I'd say this was above average for an arcade title, but this isn't something you paid 50+ >insert currency here< for. It had a whole different reason for existing. Though since we're trying to hold it up against the original, I'm going to have to try to refer to some other full-price games to make my points.

Now, I enjoyed the extra checkpoints, the enemies were better varied than the previous game, and the guns actually made sense when you consider that the more powerful weapons were there to be unlocked via manuscript pages. The storyline was solid, and time-loop mechanic and the Twlight Zone feel were interesting, and I can name a handful of big-budget titles that were worse offenders for backtracking and recycled elements, to name just a few: The Force Unleashed 1+2, DA2, FFXIII, all of which were triple A titles. Yes, American Nightmare had some different elements in it, and yes, you could argue that they're hand holding...you could say the same for FFXIII's 20 hour long tutorial, or any other number of other big-budget games. I'm not trying to piss all over your opinion; I'm just saying...a little perspective would be nice.

The time-loop idea is something I'm a fan of, I enjoyed the game, and I was happy that they didn't cop out and make us do all the same crap all over again, instead letting us explore a little more, and know our way around. I mean, at least there was a goddamn reason for it, and it wasn't a cheap 'do everything again' cop out, and it didn't overstay its welcome, ending at the right point instead of dragging on like it could have had. The arcade mode is fun, and that was really the focus of the game anyway.

I will admit it wasn't the game I wanted, I want a proper sequel to the game I loved, and that made me love games when I felt that a narrative-driven storyline was all but a thing of the past in videogames, but it wasn't as terrible or as utterly average as people are making it out to be. It is 'watered down’; if only for the fact that it is, at the end of the day, an arcade title. To say we've doomed Alan Wake is...well I'm going to say it, though I dislike it, a bit of an overreach. Maybe it'll make the next game suck. Maybe it won't. I wasn't expecting a sequel anyway, so there you go. This isn't an obvious fall in quality that people are apologising for, like the shameful cover up on The Witcher on PC, a great game marred by its own repetitious storyline, and remember, that was a full retail game, or DA2, or FFXIII, where there were people fawning over them, only to turn against them a few months later when they realised that they weren't all that great. In the case of Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, we're dealing with a game that had the benefit of a previous game to learn from, one that was pretty well known, that had the time to fix all of the bugs and deliver what was basically a zombie massacre with lots of weird shit to do it with, that isn't exactly complex and hard to translate across certain retail/arcade mediums. Alan Wake is a narrative-based, story driven game in the form of a TV show, with characters and an atmosphere that was a huge, integral part of the storyline, which was never going to transfer to an arcade title without some serious cutbacks in aspects of it. To compare the two, even genre wise isn't the same thing at all. You're well entitled to your opinion, I just think that there are some presumptions that need to be put into perspective, I may not have made a good case, and I'm anything but an apologist, I really enjoyed the game, but to expect Alan Wake in its full glory in 1.17 Gigs...especially with how the game was being marketed, that was setting this game up for an unrealistic perch for which it wasn't created. That's just what I think, I will always ask for better, but for an arcade title dealing with as complex a game as Alan Wake? It did what it did, and I can only be as negative as I can before I realise that maybe I ask too much of it. I don't know, I just have that mindset at the moment.

Posted by DJJoeJoe

I just finished and really enjoyed American Nightmare, I think if you're going into it thinking it's something it's clearly not than it serves as a lesson to pay more attention to how games come together. Remedy started this for reasons they outline a few times in trailers and videos and the fact that it has ANY story to it at all is just a result of how Remedy enjoys making games, I really dug the atmosphere and writing of this and those are the exact same reasons I liked the first game. It's not very long but it's also not very pricey either and I didn't feel like I got some sort of less-than experience compared to the original. In fact I wasn't thinking of the original at all when playing this, though maybe that's because I used to try very hard to NOT bring my personal experience down in games because of things I've seen or read online or what companies are or aren't doing with regards to marketing or any other bullshit thing that has nothing to do with my own experience with a game, today it comes as second nature to go into games with what turns out to be the best possible attitude for my own enjoyment of them.

My only gripe with American nightmare is it wasn't released on the PC, hopefully it will eventually come because the PC version of the base game is beautiful.

Posted by jakob187

I didn't feel like there was ANY atmosphere to this game. There was never a point where I sat there wondering "man, is something about to come after me from the darkness" because there was barely any darkness. I never had the sense of outstanding dread that I felt in the first game. Instead, I felt like I was just being given arbitrary missions in arbitrary places. I could see the game mechanics working, which is something that I completely forgot about while playing Alan Wake.

I knew that they weren't focusing on story. I actually commended the combat of the original game, everything from the way they handled the crosshair (using a flashlight as a natural crosshair) to switching your camera from one side to the other...all the way down to your dodge move and having to tap that reload button in order to reload faster. The difference is that little things like that "tap to reload faster" mechanic added an extra layer of tension to the combat. Only having single shot weapons available to you with limited clips offered tension. Getting a fucking SMG and just spraying someone down isn't fun in Alan Wake - it's beyond easy and almost pointless, especially when you'll always be topped off on ammo.

So you guys are right: American Nightmare takes Alan Wake into a different direction, and it's the wrong one. It's the one where it makes it less of what makes Alan Wake as a franchise fantastic and more the same mediocre shit that comes out everywhere else.