When Alan Wake was released in May of 2010 for the Xbox 360 it was hailed as a ground-breaking, immersive, intelligent, and captivating title from Remedy Entertainment, the creators of the Max Payne franchise. Unfortunately due to timing and perhaps the fact that it was a more methodical game, its sales did not match its critical acclaim. Over the next two years it slowly gained ground in sales and fanbase and eventually found release (and sales success) on the PC as well as with a standalone continuation called Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. This new game in the series tells a smaller more contained tale with a price point to match and is a departure from the original Alan Wake in mostly all the right ways if taken in the context of the game’s setting.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place two years after the events of the original game and is framed in a narrative from the Night Springs TV Show that Alan Wake started his career writing for. Night Springs is very much an homage to The Twilight Zone, complete with ironic voiceovers and campy acting and Wake is essentially travelling through an episode chasing his alter ego Mr. Scratch. Mr. Scratch is Wake’s antithesis, he is all the dark feelings and anger personified and he is wreaking havoc in a community and attempting to take from Wake everything he loves.
The story in American Nightmares is not quite as compelling as the one in the original game, but it is quite engaging and the delivery is more detailed than in the past title. Not only have manuscript pages returned to be collected and read, but you frequently get video messages from Mr. Scratch showcasing his depravity and adding weight to your desire to stop him. As you travel through the game you meet other scattered people and most of them have encountered Mr. Scratch, initially believing you are him which adds a need to mollify their fears before they will help you. The interactions throughout the story are effective, if a little less involved then the original game due to the lack of the personal connections you had with Barry and Alice.
It should be noted that the PC implementation of Alan Wake and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is nothing short of excellent. Whether you have a low-, mid-, or high-end PC, the game looks, sounds, and controls excellently (with full Xbox 360 controller support of course). Textures are amazing and the audio and voice acting is stellar as always. Animation is spot on and the lighting effects at low levels are truly great and breathtaking at higher settings. There seems to have been some tweaks in textures and animation with American Nightmare as I found it just looked and played better in some ways than the original title.
Gameplay in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is based on the original’s framework but there have been some rather significant tweaks to suit the new narrative and more action focused feel. For starters, the flashlight recharges significantly more quickly, making battles against larger groups (which happens often) easier to deal with. There are also far more weapon choices and they are more effective types of weapons, like SMGs and assault rifles. In the original you tended to get weapons you would find in that world, pistols, shotguns, and hunting rifles, here you are in a world influenced by a television show and the rules are far different. There are plenty of default weapon choices, but as you progress and find manuscript pages you can unlock weapon caches and get different weapons to choose from that typically pack a heavier punch. There are also ample ammo caches that refill all of your standard weapons scattered all over. These recharge so when you return to a location you can refill again.
Dialogue is fleshed out quite a bit in this game with additional optional conversations possible after you instigate the story-based dialogue. None of this is essential to progress, but it does flesh out your relationships and adds a depth to a story that is quite enjoyable. Other tweaks such as a radar that tracks nearby manuscript pages, health and ammo caches, as well as a health bar point to the more action based tone of this title.
All of these modifications make Alan Wake’s American Nightmare a significantly different gameplay experience from the first title. In the original, every situation was approached cautiously and with care as you always had limited ammo and set goals you had to accomplish. Here you have stronger guns, your light is more effective, and there are many more enemies. You are often swarmed by a large mix of Taken that, while scary to see running after you, are quite easy to engage with the arms at your disposal. This change in tone is the only complaint I have with the game; it changes the experience from a tense, compelling adventure to a fun and compelling one. While neither is a bad thing, there are plenty of fun and compelling games, but how many tense ones are there?
At the end of the day, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a terrific game that looks and plays great. It still has a great story-based narrative, terrific characters, and continues the tale of one of the most engaging characters I have seen in a long time. The tonal shift to a more action focused game is not a terrible thing, but it ends up delivering a game that does not quite live up to the masterpiece that is Alan Wake. Still, and I can’t stress this enough, if you liked Alan Wake, or heck, if you just like high quality, smart, and engaging games you should immediately pick this up.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Suggestive Themes, Violence, Blood, Language. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.