I am an aspiring video game journalist and freelance writer. I spend my time playing, reviewing and blogging about games. You can read my blog over at; www.joystickculture.com
Published June 17th 2012
The original Alan Wake was released in 2010 and introduced the concept of the Dark Presence, a monstrous supernatural force which has the ability to turn fiction into reality. It drew in writer Alan Wake and separated him from his wife, Alice. The Presence manipulated the writer into penning a story which sees it break free into the real world. During this, the titular character manages to write himself in as the hero, breaking the Dark Presence's hold over his wife. Though in the end, Wake becomes consumed, pulled under by this black presence.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare places you in an episode of Night Springs, the in-game TV show designed as a parody of 'The Twilight Zone'. Before the events of the original game Wake was a writer for the show. While trapped within The Dark Presence Wake finds himself reliving an episode he had wrote years earlier. An ominous and foreboding voice will narrate events as he finds a way to escape, and hopefully return to the real world. Though not a direct sequel, American Nightmare does expand on the original while serving as a stand-alone product it of itself.
While the original Alan Wake was very much a survival horror game, American Nightmare focuses instead on delivering a heavy action-orientated experience, with a very pulp sensibility. This certainly shouldn't be considered a draw back by any means, especially by fans of the original. If anything, this highlights how unique the torch/gun gameplay is, which emphasises light vs. dark in the most literal way. To combat enemies (or Taken as Alan came to call them) you first need to whittle down a dark cloud that surrounds them. To do this, hold down the left trigger and you will focus your flashlight. Once the cloud dissipates you pull the right trigger to shoot with your firearm. This is the tried and true formula used in the original, and while some panned it out for being too clunky and somewhat repetitive, I feel it's refreshing and adds an extra challenge to gameplay. Too often you're placed in front of an enemy and expected to shoot. Alan Wake presents an extra spice to the shooting style of gameplay, requiring you to make the enemy vulnerable before firing.
While there is plenty of action in the Story Mode, it's the new Arcade Mode where gameplay stands out most. Unique to American Nightmare, Arcade Mode puts players in a closed off arena like map and gives you 10 minutes to stack up the highest score you can. To earn points you'll need to shoot through waves of Taken. Points are granted for each one you kill. Kill enough and you increase your score multiplier. Get hit and your multiplier is taken back down to x1. Simple enough really but an insane amount of fun and you'll certainly find yourself attempting the maps over and over in order to earn 3 stars. The stars do more than just represent your gunslinging, flashlight wielding skills, they allow you to unlock new maps. Despite how fantastic the Arcade Modem fits into the Alan Wake series, it's a little disappointing to see no local or online multiplayer being supported here.
As for the Story Mode, it will take you roughly the same amount of time to finish as the original Alan Wake. So you're looking at about five to six hours. Not bad considering this is a downloadable game. However, whereas Alan Wake's campaign contained ever changing locales, American Nightmare sees you visit the same three areas numerous times as part of the narratives 'time loop'. The change in scenery from the American Northwest to Southwest is welcome and adds a fresh feeling to the series. But having the player revisit the same areas over and over makes the story feel almost a touch repetitive, like it's being dragged on.
Framing the narrative like an episode of the TV show 'Night Springs', which in nature plays with time and the nature of reality, it falls a little flat. Thankfully though, it doesn't fall apart entirely. The characters you meet, not to mention Alan himself, are aware of what is happening to them and events change accordingly each time you revisit an area. For example, having to go through the loop a third, and final, time I was surprised to see that the characters I'd met had streamlined events so I didn't have to repeat every task I'd been forced to do earlier, allowing me to make it to the final cut-scene quicker.
One of the great aspects of Alan Wake was its visual presentation. While American Nightmare looks a little dated, the lighting effects of the graphics engine still holds up brilliantly. Having its primary gameplay focused around a flashlight would seem silly if the light didn't react with the environments in a realistic way. Wherever you shine the light you'll see realistic shadows being cast. This makes up for the somewhat dated graphics and stiff, jarring animations you'll see here. Though it still is a shame to see the same sweeping cinematic feel absent in American Nightmare.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a great addition to this new franchise. While not as strong as it's predecessor, the game attempts to find its own footing. The Arcade Mode is the standout moment here, mixing up the more cerebral nature of the series with more pulp action. The story may fall a little flat but gives fans of the original an idea of what happened to Wake after the events of the original game, even if it raises more questions than it answers. The heavy emphasis on the series' flashlight/gun mechanics in Arcade Mode is a nice introduction for new comers, allowing them to slip into the gameplay comfortably. There are some interesting new concepts at play here, especially in terms of narrative and location. As a fan of the Alan Wake series I'm excited to see where developers Remedy Entertainment will go next.