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Welcome to Alan Wake's American Nightmare

Chatting with Remedy leadership about the decision to go download-only, action-heavy.

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Remedy Entertainment has made it clear to me that its upcoming flirtation with Xbox Live Arcade doesn’t mean the company is suddenly abandoning what it’s become known for.

“We love our big games, that’s what we do,” said Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne in a chilly, barely heated San Francisco office space last week, as part of a year-end press tour. “But it’s nice to be able to do this.”

“This” is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a downloadable, action-focused extension of the Alan Wake story that left on such a mean cliffhanger in last year’s game. The game was announced at this year's Video Game Awards, and is not Alan Wake 2.

American Nightmare came about after Alan Wake wrapped its five-year development cycle, and the team was playing around with combat levels featuring tweaked gameplay, a response to feedback about wanting more things to do in the game. A white board kept track of each developer’s scores, becoming a physical leaderboard altered day-to-day, as competitions heated up.

The team felt it was onto something, but it hadn't forgotten what garnered Alan Wake the most acclaim.

Fight 'Till Dawn is like other survival modes, with growing score multipliers, leaderboards, etc.
Fight 'Till Dawn is like other survival modes, with growing score multipliers, leaderboards, etc.

“Everybody loved the story,” said Myllyrinne, a sentiment quickly echoed by Oskari Häkkinen, head of franchise development at Remedy.

You can count me among the people who enjoyed Alan Wake for the story it was telling far more than its quickly tiresome combat, which became overbearing towards the end. The frustration was driven by a lack of variety, as each combat scenario played out exactly the same way over and over again.

American Nightmare won’t be ditching the action for more plot, however, as Myllryinne described Alan Wake as one-third action, two-thirds story and American Nightmare as the complete opposite.

Before you cross American Nightmare off your list, know that it does take place after the events of Alan Wake, and while the story is not front and center this time, it should provide some clarity.

When Remedy started mulling the idea of a download-only Alan Wake game, Remedy co-founder and lead writer Sam Lake looked for a way to slot American Nightmare into the larger Wake narrative.

American Nightmare finds Wake inside his own stories once again. This time, it's the episodes he penned for in-game Twilight Zone-spoof Night Springs. He’s tracking Mr. Scratch, an evil nemesis introduced in the original game’s second piece of downloadable content, The Writer (which is really worth playing!).

Manuscript pieces narrated by Wake are littered throughout the world again, revealing more about the lingering mysteries we’ve been obsessing over since the credits rolled. The manuscripts tie into the gameplay this time, too, as more manuscripts mean access to more powerful weapons and items. This is especially crucial in the new survival mode Fight 'Till Dawn.

“We’ve got tons of fans out there that loved Alan Wake,” said Häkkinen, “so we wanted to put this optional story content in there that takes the story and the fiction forward for them, as well. Really, essentially, people who have played Wake want to come back and they want to see more of it.”

Remedy is threading a thin needle that has potential to backfire, but as a skeptic of American Nightmare, I’ll admit the added weapon variety--nailgun, SMGs--and new enemy types--one guy multiplies when shot, another sucks up bullets like a shadowy sponge--provide confidence Remedy has made much-needed tweaks to keep combat continually interesting.

Then again, Alan Wake’s combat was terrific for first few hours, too. The combat became boring because it didn’t change enough, and the smaller, more focused format of American Nightmare could mitigate that issue.

Each "episode" takes you to another slice of nostalgic Americana, like an observatory.

“You just need to reflect the medium that you’re out on,” said Häkkinen. “I mean, making it a little bit lighter on the story, but having a cool and intriguing story there--not making it the main focus. For XBLA, we felt like we should go more on the action. That’s what people are going to enjoy when they pull down a digital title. We took that in consideration.”

Giant Bomb fans should be particularly excited about American Nightmare, too, since the game will feature a copious amount of full-screen FMV. Clearly, Remedy is listening to our irrational demands.

We didn’t touch on Alan Wake 2 much, as we got quickly sidetracked by talking about vicious Finnish winters, Dexter, and New York, but Häkkinen and Myllyrinne are acutely aware of what fans are demanding.

“Alan Wake is very close to our hearts,” said Häkkinen. “This is the next step forward in Alan Wake, and we’ll see where we go from there.”

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