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access_time March 10, 2012 at 10:35 AM in Reviews by Sean Garmer

Alan Wake: American Nightmare Review

Alan Wake was one of the most original games released in a long time. Sure, it used a lot of survival horror mixed in with psychological aspects. However, it didn’t attempt to be the next Resident Evil or Silent Hill. The development team at Remedy followed the same pattern they had with Max Payne and created a story they could continue to enhance. Stephen King is my favorite author and Alan Wake made me feel like I was in a living horror novel. It took Remedy so long to bring fans the original Wake adventure, many wondered if we would have to wait just as long for a sequel.

Alan Wake: American Nightmare is not a direct sequel, but this spinoff story is still worth telling. Nightmare puts players in the Arizona desert and follows Alan as he treads through three locales. Alan finds himself in familiar territory because he is inside one of his own creations “Night Springs.” The story is told through Alan’s own narration or some beautifully done live action type sequences. There are a decent number of these scenes in the entire adventure and it is quite surprising, considering this is a downloadable game.

Alan wants to end the torment of his evil doppelganger “Mr. Scratch” and stop him from running rampant through the real world. Wake must go through a Motel/Diner, an Observatory building, and a Drive-In Movie Theater, and find the objects he needs to “rewrite the story.”

Inside each one of these locations will be a female NPC, who helps give Alan direction on what he must do. American Nightmares’ locations are more open than its predecessor and encourage exploration on a wider scale. So, while searching for those important items, players may want to search for manuscripts, which detail aspects of the previous game’s story and expand upon some of the things players will discover in this adventure as well. As an incentive for collecting the manuscripts, players can unlock different weapons for Mr. Wake to use. Maybe the Carbine Rifle is your gun of choice? Or perhaps something smaller fits you better, try the Magnum. There is also the Crossbow for anyone that doesn’t want to use bullets. In a nice touch, the developers also added a manuscript indicator on the map overlay, which shows when the player is close to a hidden manuscript.

Players may also find old television sets and old radios that detail more parts of the story for those interested. The television live action scenes with “Mr. Scratch” are a great extra, which really show how maniacal and evil Mr. Scratch truly is. There is one scene where he describes his arsenal of weapons individually that just puts him over-the-top, as one of the best villains in all of gaming.

The push for the more action orientation in this game is a good decision in my view. It may take away some of the scary atmosphere from the first game but it helps bring in new players. The combat is essentially the same flashlight and gun gameplay from the first game, but it is focused more on allowing players to keep blasting away, instead of being careful with their ammo. There are at least two first aid kits per location so players will probably never run out of batteries or ammo anyway. Players still need to be careful not to get ganged up on by “Taken” that will still come out of nowhere. Even though the Taken seem to announce their presence more this time around, there are still a few that just show up right in Alan’s face to cut him up. They also need to be especially careful because the dodge button is only helpful if you are able to tell a “Taken” is swiping at you.

There are also a few new “Taken” in this game. The developers added splicers who split into two every time players shine the flashlight on them. The birds make a return as well, but this time they are able to show their human forms. In the final go around in the three locations, a huge chainsaw wielding “Taken” will appear to scare the crap out of you. These additions to the “Taken” are made with the switch to action in mind, as players may waste plenty of batteries and bullets trying to take these guys down.

Even though the locations are repeated three times, and the ending sequences are repeated each time, the developers still find a way to make each return trip seem fresh. There are always new manuscript pages to find and more weapons to unlock. However, Remedy knows they had to find a way to make each trip meaningful to the story as well. So, on one trip you may only have to find one or two items instead of three. Also, something different may happen to the NPC character once Alan reaches her vicinity in each trip to the location. The NPC’s seem to grow in intelligence with each go around and the Taken grow in number as well. The Observatory and Drive-In locations on the third time of asking, have a hoard of Taken approach you at once. I think this is the only time where the limitations of the downloadable arena reared their ugly head.

The voice acting of the NPC’s is passable at best. Their stories may be interesting but they are delivered in such a bad way if it wasn’t because I really like Alan Wake, I would have skipped any unnecessary talking. Alan Wake and Mr. Scratch are done extremely well however and are a testament to how much Remedy puts into their games. The repeating of the same locations also seems to be a limitation of the downloadable arena. The repeating locations have their purpose in the story because Mr. Scratch keeps sending Alan back into this cycle. So, it is Wake’s duty to find a way to break the cycle by rewriting the story until he can find the loophole. Even though the game does try to find ways to make each trip have a purpose, it doesn’t mean that it won’t feel like you are treading water by the end. The inclusion of more enemies and more story, instead of exploration and finding items is nice, but the repetition can bring players close to the breaking point between boring and awesome, especially if they are not fans of the first game.

The graphics in this game are superb and if I didn’t physically download the game from the XBLA platform, I would have never known this was a downloadable title. Each location comes to life and has its own hidden areas, manuscripts, and weapons to find. Alan Wake and Mr. Scratch are wonderfully rendered and I have to give Remedy props for the beautifully done cutscenes once again. The graphics are truly a showcase for what a downloadable game can be.

Remedy also added a wonderful extra, which really brings back the survival horror and eerie atmosphere into Alan Wake. The survival arcade mode provides ten levels (five regular difficulty and five nightmare difficulty.) The weapons in each area are available according to how many manuscripts the player found in the single-player adventure. There is only one first aid kit for the whole huge level and only one lighted area to refill your health too. Players must help Alan survive the night in various locations, while an increasing number of “Taken” continue to populate the area. This mode is great and truly makes you be aware of everything going on around you because “Taken” will literally come from behind, front, and the side of you. There are leaderboards to compete against friends and achievements are given to those who can last the longest without suffering damage. Anyone complaining the single-player doesn’t offer enough of a challenge should play this mode on nightmare difficulty.

Alan Wake: American Nightmare is what every downloadable game should aspire to be. This spinoff of the first game takes the downloadable platform to its limits and then some. Nightmare proves to be a great extra adventure in the ever growing Alan Wake universe. Remedy pushes the game towards more action and less horror, and it works very well. The story itself still leaves plenty fans of the first game asking questions and perhaps wishing it didn’t take so much repetition to get to the end of the story. Regardless, the developers do a terrific job in delivering a very nice stopgap for a true Alan Wake sequel. Nightmare’s lasting quality is that it provides a few more concepts to explore in this ever expanding ode to creative writing. Considering that creativity is the main theme of Alan Wake having another game to play through in the Alan Wake story is never a bad thing.


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