Written by Colby Tuesday, 28 February 2012 11:10
If Alan Wake, Remedy's 2010 story driven horror game for the Xbox 360, is a blockbuster movie then Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a spinoff TV series based in the same universe. In fact, that's a pretty good analogy because American Nightmare is actually based in a fictional location that Alan Wake created while writing for the TV series Night Springs. While the game is the same in most aspects -- changes have been made -- some for the better and some for the worst.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is an XBLA release that contains two modes: a campaign and an action arcade mode. The campaign is much different than the original game as it has you playing through the same events three times over, going through the same locations, speaking to the same people, and even completing the same objectives. I really enjoyed the 1 - 2 hour episode format of Alan Wake, but American Nightmare is probably only comparable to one of those episodes. The story is straight forward -- use Alan Wake's abilities as a writer to defeat Mr. Scratch, Wake's evil doppleganger. Each of the locations are located in Arizona, or somewhere that looks a lot like Arizona. Getting out of the forests of the Pacific Northwest is definitely a welcome change, but I never felt like I was constantly being stalked by Taken hiding in the trees. For some reason those forests just gave a more tangible atmosphere to Alan Wake, which is absent in American Nightmare.
The three locations are a motel, an observatory, and a drive-in theater. While playing through the same areas did make it feel like a cheap experience, it was actually well done. The story device informs you about this time loop and each time through the dialogue with other characters gets shorter, a fetch objective is removed and thus the focus is pushed more on the combat. I actually enjoy playing games through a second time because I find the experience more enjoyable once I know where to go and what to do, and this is how I felt in the later stages of the campaign.
The story beats are much more defined and clearer in American Nightmare. Although it builds off of the completely dissonant story of Alan Wake it is much easier to follow and in all reality it probably isn't necessary to have played the original in order to understand the story beats. Mr. Scratch is a great antagonist. He's the asshole version of Alan Wake. He provides a good foil for the "champion of light," but the one problem I had was that you never actually have a combat encounter with him. Dead Space 2 did an excellent job of taking what was an internal conflict for Isaac and interpreting it into an on screen battle against the enemy. In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the whole plot is to defeat Mr. Scratch, but I found the lack of a final face-to-face showdown a little anti-climactic.
If you are going to play through Alan Wake's American Nightmare, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you make it a point to collect the manuscript pages. They are lit up extremely bright and a giant question mark appears on your radar when they are near. Each page tells more and more about the backstory as well as giving more insight into how the universe of Alan Wake operates. It's also some easy achievement points, if you're into that sort of thing. Along with the manuscript pages are radio and TV shows that explain more about the characters, but they take longer to sit and listen to. I grew bored of them very quickly.
American Nightmare's Action Arcade Mode
The biggest addition is the action arcade mode. There are around 10 maps, which is probably more digital real estate than you'll cover through the entire campaign, and on each you have ten minutes to kill off as many waves of Taken as possible before dawn. Each map has various weapons, those of illumination and some good ole' guns, as well as a replenishing ammo box in the center. This mode is definitely entertaining especially because the combat has been improved so much. Wake moves faster, weapons are more varied, and ammo is apparently much more readily available in Night Springs than in the Northwest. There is a section for DLC on the main menu, but it's not apparent whether there will be more arcade maps, or whether they're really just trying to push avatar items heavily. My two major complaints have to do mostly with these combat arenas. First of all, a map that showed where the weapons are located, ala Gears of War 3, would be much appreciated. Spending a whole round just on getting a feel for the lay of the land and gun locations was a pain. Second, the dodge mechanic feels completely broken. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea when or how to dodge and the game never actually breaks down how it works. There needs to be some sort of prompt, like the counter-attack prompt in Arkham City to show me at what point during the enemy animations do I need to hit the button in order for it to work. Without the dodge move, I was never able to master the arcade mode.
All-in-all Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a great downloadable title. It could easily be beaten in a day, and yet provides more content if you really do like the combat. The story is a good offshoot, and could easily be a bridge between Alan Wake and a full fledged sequel, which is honestly what I hope. Alan Wake is currently available through goozex.com and amazon.com.