Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (XBLA)
‘As he sat down at his computer, thoughts of the game ran through his mind. He began typing his review on this atmospheric title from Remedy, slowly and carefully, as if he was being observed from afar. Pausing for a moment, he soon realised that his writing had seemingly been affected by the game! He reached for the light switch…’
When the original Alan Wake released in 2010, the atmosphere that it created blew me away, and while Remedy had been off the map for quite some time, their new title put them back at the top. With PC gamers just recently getting their fill of the Champion Of The Light, it seems like the perfect time for new gamers to get familiar with the writer himself. While Remedy are working on their next big project, they have delivered us some more Alan Wake in downloadable form via the Xbox Live Arcade. Is Alan Wake’s: American Nightmare just the end of the second chapter, or should this book be closed for good?
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a side adventure that doesn’t necessarily rely on gamers having played the original, though it does add enough to the overall story and universe to keep fans eager. Gone are the heavenly vistas of the Pacific North West and the deep waters of the Cauldron lake…and a missing wife. Instead, we are placed into the barren lands of Arizona on a hunt for Mr. Scratch and a way out of this episode of Night Springs, all in hope of holding back the darkness.
If you’re unfamiliar, Night Springs is a fictional TV show; similar in tone to The Twilight Zone, which featured in the original title, and of which Alan Wake was a writer for some time. The story revolves around Mr. Scratch, a manifestation of the aforementioned darkness, a doppelgänger of Alan Wake, a twisted version of the main character epitomising all the negative aspects and the public perception of his darker side.
Fans of the original will find that the gameplay mostly remains the same. Playing from a third person perspective, Alan is armed with a torch and a weapon. The enemies are shrouded in darkness, requiring you to shine your torch on them to burn it away (hold Left trigger), before they can be destroyed using conventional weapons. Combat is much more fluid than before, both with the wider variety of weapons, and the more plentiful ammunition, weapons and other supplies.
Enemies; known as ‘The Taken’ attack in groups, so both effective crowd management and environmental awareness are key. This is where the flashbangs and flares come into use, as they allow you to create a light shield, giving you that extra time to reload, take out the big enemies from a safe distance, or giving you a chance to lead a charge by holding the flare up in the air as you push forward through the night. The game lets you know when you’ve killed the last one, in a similar fashion to Remedy’s other series Max Payne. Checkpoints are frequent, as are health pickups, established early on as areas of light. You’ll want to get the hang of the dodge mechanic quickly, as it allows you to avoid damage while looking pretty cool as slow motion kicks in. The fact that there isn’t a crosshair may seem a little odd to new players, but it’s tied directly to the flashlight, leading to a more immersive experience. Since enemies are made of ‘darkness’, they can pop up anywhere, so it’s key that you are always aware of your surroundings, or else you’ll get a club to the back of the head.
American Nightmare is host to a collection of new characters who you’ll meet a number of times as you adventure through a truck stop, drive in cinema and an observatory. I initially found the characters to not be very interesting, with dialogue sequences dragging on, however as the story developers and the characters themselves realise what is happening, you’ll be much more intrigued by them…even if is the third time you’ve run by them.
Visually, not much has changed, but it’s hardly an issue considering the change to a downloadable format. The environments are unique and Remedy has nailed it again when it comes to the atmosphere. The beautiful lighting effects, and subtle colour grading really add to this game, making it one of the most impressive downloadable titles yet. It’s likely that you’ll forget that all it cost was 1200 MSP. The HUD has seen a change, though this doesn’t directly affect the core gameplay, even if the stamina meter is missing in action. While the environments aren’t quite as well detailed as the original, they still evoke the same feeling that made Alan Wake’s first outing so memorable. The set pieces are nice, though not as overt as seen previously. The environments are quite a bit wider than before, offering a little more choice in terms of objectives as you’re often given a choice of where to head. If you do head a little off track, the wind and dust will kick up, prompting your return to the main area.
The weird sounds of Alan Wake return, and are as successful as before in terms of establishing the mood. Each weapon sounds punchy, and the wind is used to great effect. The soundtrack is a little different in style in some parts, providing a more electronic sounding texture, plus the Poets Of The Fall return as the Old Gods Of Asgard to provide some pretty awesome musical cues. On a side note, I did find it odd that the chain link fence gates made the same noise as a room door when opened.
As before, the primary collectable in Alan Wake are the manuscript pages. These mislaid sheets offer both hints and clues, as well as back-story and detail that you might not initially have noticed, providing foresight into battles ahead and past. The pages themselves aren’t the hardest item to find, considering they let off a very bright light.
You’ll once again see real actors in a number of FMV sequences, and surprisingly they’re used to great effect, both on the TV screens around the environment, as well as the opening and closing of the game.
Even once you’ve seen the credits roll, there’s still a lot more to this title. Sure, you can always return to the levels to collect all the manuscript pages, TV and radio broadcasts, though the real replay value comes from the Arcade mode in which you’ll ‘Fight Till Dawn’ through gameplay similar to the horde mode made popular by Gears Of War. The combat here is much faster, and effective dodging will be required as it builds up your combo meter, giving you that extra edge as you aim for the top spot of the leaderboards. This mode may seem a little out of character from the main draw of the game, though it’s by no means a bad addition, and throwing a flashbang into a group of blinded enemies and seeing them fly is as fun as ever.
Overall it’s great to see the Champion Of Light return in this smaller adventure. While it clearly lacks the grandeur and production values of the original, its solid -though slightly repetitive- campaign will last you a good few hours, followed by many more in the score driven Arcade mode. The core gameplay is even more refined and offers some good changes to the formula, even if the overall package isn’t quite as meaty.