[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”” developers=”Remedy Entertainment” publishers=”Microsoft Game Studios ” platforms=”” genres=”” release_date=”February 22, 2012″]
Alan Wake is back in an XBLA release called Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. Developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Games Studio, American Nightmare takes place after the first Alan Wake game but is not a direct sequel. American Nightmare is more like a spin-off of the original Alan Wake that incorporates the concept of Groundhog’s Day and removes the survival horror. Meant to expand and broaden the universe of Alan Wake, has Remedy given Alan Wake fans a bite-sized Wake experience worthy of the original or have we been stuck with a sub par game that leaves more questions than answers?
American Nightmare is set in the world of Alan Wake two years later but the story isn’t a continuation. The scene has moved from the American northwest to the southwest in Arizona. Wake is in an episode of “Night Springs”, the television show that he used to write for, still trapped in the dark place and tracking down his evil doppelgänger from the first game, named Mr. Scratch. Some questions are answered from Alan Wake through manuscript pages, television scenes, and radio shows in the world but many aren’t including much of the two-year gap. That leaves much of American Nightmare with the premise that Alan Wake is working to rewrite the reality he is experiencing and stop Mr. Scratch.
The world in American Nightmare is quite small, only holding three areas with one friendly NPC in each. Despite only having three areas, it is still bigger than some of the other retail gone downloadable games like Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. Unfortunately while bigger, there seems to be much less to do. The game follows a model of fighting darkness influenced bad guys named The Taken on the way to talk to a friendly NPC, go back out and collect or do something, fight some more Taken, return to friendly NPC, do something else while fighting Taken, and finally move on to next area. Wake is then sent back to the beginning after completing the third area and he must do everything he did before but rewrite it better to get a better result. This makes American Nightmare feel really repetitive since you are essentially doing the same three areas three different times (Wake is actually sent back twice before he gets it right).
Scattered through the three areas are manuscript pages that fill in the story and lead Alan Wake on what he must do to rewrite the story. The pages are also used as a currency and Wake can open weapon cases with new weapons depending on the amount of pages collected. American Nightmare improves upon the selection of weapons from Alan Wake with more variety like nail guns, crossbows, various shotguns, and others. Not only is there more variety in weapons but also enemy types with the new big inclusion being The Splitter. When light is shined upon the Splitter he splits into two weaker Splitters. There are also Birdmen (who turn into a flock of darkness birds) and spiders.
The gameplay hasn’t changed from the original Alan Wake. Light plays a huge role and Wake is armed with a flashlight and various kinds of ranged weapons. He uses the flashlight as a reticule and must maintain batteries in it like ammo in a gun. This is because not only is the light his reticule but he must use it to remove the darkness shrouding the Taken before he can shoot them with whatever gun he is using with the light. While the mechanics are the same, combat feels smoother and more crisp than the original Alan Wake lending itself to the more action driven approach American Nightmare takes. A better way to put it is that they removed some of the “I move like a tank, it makes the game more tense” polish from Alan Wake.
Besides the single player story mode, there is a single player survival mode called “Fight ‘Til Dawn”. This mode pits Alan Wake in one of the three areas with no rules except survive 10 minutes against waves of The Taken. The manuscripts you collected in story mode also affect weapon cases in “Fight ‘Til Dawn” mode. The more manuscripts collected the better choice of firepower you will have. Most of the achievements in the game are from this mode with a small handful covering story progression. The single player story takes about 5-6 hours while Fight TIl Dawn is dependant upon skill.
Graphically the game is on par and maybe even somewhat improved from the original Alan Wake. Nothing appears lost from the transition of retail game series to downloadable title. Between the narrator for “Night Springs”, the voice acting, licensed music, and two new songs from fake rock band Old Gods of Asgard, American Nightmare showcases high production value in the audio department. American Nightmare feels, looks, and sounds like a big budget retail game which is something that we don’t experience often on the Xbox LIVE Arcade.
Remedy Entertainment did a fine job refining the original Alan Wake and squeezing it down into a XBLA title. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the story impact that the original had and tends to be too repetitive. American Nightmare is a step in the right direction on showing other developers how to release bite sized games to quell the hunger of the fans as they work on the retail sequels.