brokenbrute's Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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Fight 'Till Dawn, feel the sunlight warm your face.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Review


+ Gripping arcade mode

+ Interesting narrative

+ Impressive mood and tone

+ Amazing use of light


- Story makes little sense without playing Alan Wake

- Questionable voice acting and animation in places

It's been two years since we’ve seen the flashlight wielding author Alan Wake battle the darkness. Remedy and Microsoft Game Studios allow you to return to his world, this time in a smaller downloadable package for Xbox Live Arcade, in Alan Wake's American Nightmare.

At its core American Nightmare isn't that different from its predecessor. You’re is still caught in a battle with the darkness, dialogue is still snappily written, the world still has a remarkable sense of mood, and the presence of light scattered against the blackness is still beautifully presented. There’s been modifications here and there, with new types of Taken (human’s who’ve been possessed by the darkness), a few new weapons a more cinematic feel and interesting new arcade mode.

American Nightmare is a game which operates on dream-logic, with Alan Wake still trapped in the dark place he can only interact with the real world fleetingly, by depositing stories he’s written into reality, which, at least for this visit means that American Nightmare’s story makes very little sense unless you’ve played the original and its DLC.

Just like the original, American Nightmare is full of collectables. You’ll find manuscript pages which foretell the story,creepy and perfectly produced small town radio, and television broadcasts from the charmingly nefarious Mr Scratch, a personification of the darkness who appears visually identical to Alan Wake, and is more than willing to use his fame and infamy for unscrupulous purposes. Mr Scratch, using Alan Wake’s form, is out to capture Alice Wake, the wife of Alan who believes - along with all of his friends - that Alan has been dead for almost two years. With much of Alan Wake's narrative still unexplained, there's a general feeling of confusion throughout the entire game, from the reasoning behind wanting to capture Alice to the narrative’s main driving force.


Remedy has done something very clever, not only to present an interesting twist to the way you interact with the world, but also as a solution to the game’s small budget. American Nightmare’s story only has three levels, or more truthfully three maps - all of decent size - though due to Mr Scratch’s ability to manipulate the world the game travels through each of these levels three times. Instead of spending a large chunk of the game in one place you’re constantly thrown between the three, keeps the game fresh till the story’s conclusion. By the game’s end you’ll feel familiarity with the levels and new characters, yet simultaneouslycomplete alienation and mild confusion, which draws you in through every narrative swing and bullet fired. In that regard American Nightmare is incredibly gripping and immersive, though due to bad voice acting and animation - which presumedly have been sacrificed due to budget constraints - friendly characters are jarring, in a game that otherwise feels so fluid.

The other half of American Nightmare, the arcade mode Fight 'Till Dawn, is completely free of badly voiced, and animated companions; it’s just Alan, a flashlight, a ton of Taken and whole load of lead. At its heart Fight 'Till Dawn pits you against wave after wave of Taken, across five maps, with an increasing multiplier for every Taken killed or attack dodged, until either the sun rises, or you die! In a game with constant sustained darkness, seeing the sun rise is beautiful, and after a barrage of Taken, euphoric and slightly addictive.

In many ways it’s weird to see Alan Wake, a writer at heart and not a trained killer, fighting against so many Taken, that is until you experience the Grenadier, one of the new enemy types. The Grenadier - as the name suggests - has the sole purpose of staying out of combat, and volleying condensed balls of darkness at Alan Wake (disguised as grenades), and although these ‘grenades’ do very little damage, they do abruptly re-set your multiplier if your caught in it’s radius. When grenades come into play you have to run constantly, it’s easy to see the vulnerability of Alan when he’s pitted against dozens of Taken, with grenades flying overhead, further perpetuating the feeling of being alone and scared.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, at heart is still an Alan Wake game; its narrative is still grand and mysterious, and gameplay still balances fear of the dark with salvation by light. Its clear that effort has been made to make the combat more exhilarating and cinematic, though without diluting the intrigue that focuses on Alan’s battle with the Dark Presence. Regardless of issues with animation and voice acting, American Nightmare is still a gripping addition to the series, though the arcade mode, Fight till Dawn ismore than worth the cost of admission on its own, and will keep you coming back time and time again to beat high scores on the leaderboards and unlock all the maps.

The greatest shame, is that Remedy didn’t make more effort to separate American Nightmare’s story from that which came before, in order to understand American Nightmare playing the original is a must. The writers at Remedy have left so much left untold, and provide an ending which uses the oldest (and one of the worst) tricks in the book, meaning you’ll more than likely leave Alan Wake’s projection into the real worldjust as baffled as before, though waiting more excitedly than ever for the announcement of Alan Wake 2.

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