Alan Wake was a game that, before its release in 2010, I figured I would never play. It’s not because I wasn’t very interested in the premise, but because I figured it would go the way of Duke Nukem Forever (yes, I am aware that it finally came out, but it hadn’t in 2010). When I first saw the trailer prior to the Xbox 360 launch, I was instantly excited by its promise of being a psychological thriller. When I finally got to play it, I loved every minute of it. The story was excellent and the graphics were top notch, but I did miss the open world that was promised. Despite that minor disappointment, Alan Wake made me a believer. Fast forward to 2012, and with hopes of playing a sequel and finally getting the answer to all those questions that the first game left us with, I picked up Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
If you haven’t heard anything about Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, you should know that it is not a direct sequel to Alan Wake. It is more like a side story. While it does give insight into what Mr. Wake and friends have been up to since the end of the first game, it doesn’t finish the story that it started. I am going to try not to spoil too much in this review. The first thing you need to know if you are new to the franchise is that Alan Wake is a writer. He gained fame for writing a series of crime fiction novels about a New York City detective named Alex Casey. Over the course of the first game, Mr. Wake finds that the pen truly is mightier than the sword and he uses his words to stop an ancient evil from fighting its way into our world- of course he did have the help of some guns and a flashlight (more on that later, though). American Nightmare picks up two years after the events of the original game. It sees Alan dumped into an episode of the fictional TV show “Night Springs.” What makes this episode so special is that it is one that Wake himself wrote early in his writing career.
Wake, “the champion of light,” is chasing his evil doppelganger known as Mr. Scratch. Interestingly, his name is not actually Scratch, but when his name is said, all you hear is a scratching sound to hide is the truth- but after a while you can figure out what his true name is. Mr. Scratch, for reasons that are not explained, wants to take over Wake’s life. He brags to Wake how he can travel between this dark realm and the real world, causing chaos anytime he chooses.
In this game, he has brought his darkness to the town of Night Springs in search of a mysterious signal. Along the way, he possesses townsfolk and leaves a trail of bodies for Alan to answer for. Over the course of the 4 to 5 hour campaign, you will travel to three locations in Night Springs. Unlike the first game there is not much exploring or things to see on the maps. Each area is littered with TVs that play a video recorded message from Mr. Scratch, most of which are kinda funny, and radios that play interviews conducted by Wake’s best friend and former agent, Barry Wheeler, who is now working as a manager for a band. Outside of that, the only thing to collect in this game are manuscript pages. They are very easy to find, as they glow with a bright light and show up on your minimap as a question mark. These manuscripts explain in more detail what has happened to Wake in the past two years and why he finds himself in this situation. If you played the first game, you would do yourself a favor to find them all, as I believe there are hints as to where the story is going to be going in the inevitable Alan Wake 2.
Those who played through the first game will feel right at home with American Nightmare. As a third person shooter with psychological elements, American Nightmare does a good job of keeping the suspense high, just as it was in the original. Control and gunplay remain the same as in the first game. As enemies appear covered in darkness, you will need to use your flashlight to burn away the evil to make them vulnerable, at which point you can pump them full of lead. The biggest change in American Nightmare is the focus on action. While the first Alan Wake had its share of action; its focus was more on storytelling and less on shooting. In this game, you will find ammo plentiful, and guns scattered everywhere. You can even us a nail gun as your destroyer of evil, if you so choose. The enemies in the game are nothing special.
There is one who will split into two if you burn them with light, there is another who Wake refers to as the “King of the Hillbillies,” and another who tosses grenades of pure darkness. For the most part, though, they are nothing to write home about. Towards the end of the game, Mr. Scratch makes himself visible by teleporting in and taunting you before sending his dark minions to attack. As the game rushes towards an inevitable battle between Light and Darkness, I was prepared for an epic boss fight with Mr. Scratch. Sadly, my friends, I must say that you don’t get to go toe to toe with the evil one. I hope this is something that they address in the sequel, as boss fights were something that the original game was also lacking.
The biggest addition to this game is the overly popular “Horde Mode.” In American Nightmare, it’s known as “Fight till Dawn.” In this mode, players will fight against increasing numbers of ’Taken’ while trying to survive 10 minutes of darkness, at which point the sun will finally rise. In true survival mode fashion, you will find ammo scarce and guns limited to certain maps. You will need to make every shot count and not be afraid to run. Maps in this mode are limited to 5 choices, but once you master them, you can play the same 5 maps on Nightmare difficulty. Even though this is single-player survival, I think it will keep people coming back, as it is a lot of fun trying to outscore your friends on the leaderboards.
Presentation for Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is top notch for a downloadable game. The graphics are not as polished as the first, but that is not to say its ugly. Character models are good, and environments are varied, but it’s the voice over work and the live action sequences that are top notch. The other area in which the original shined was the soundtrack, it was eerie and fit the game like a glove. Sadly this game is devoid of much music, but the few pieces that are played are perfect, especially the “I’m a Psycho” song that is played a few times when Mr. Scratch is on screen.
As you might have guessed, I don’t have many negatives to say about this game. If I had to nitpick, one disappointment is the lack of maps and how the game reuses them. Later in the game you learn that you have to play out a “Groundhog Day” scenario, revisiting levels and doing the same things over in order to get it just right to stop your evil doppelgÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¤nger. It can get repetitive, and you will likely get to the point where you know what you need to do, rush through and not even bother to look for the manuscript pages. Another drawback is the lack of a proper boss fight. After witnessing the things that Mr. Scratch has done, you will really want to get your hands on him. Neither of these things are gamebreakers, just minor irritants.
This is what I hope the future of downloadable games will be; top notch AAA production values in the form of small $12-$15 packages. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an excellent game, which will surely whet the appetite of fans of the original for the sequel. Not only that, but the franchise will garner new fans with this title, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.