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Published on February 24th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade)
Release Date: Feb. 22, 2012
Price: $15 (1200 MSP)
Warning: Contains mild spoilers.
It has been two years since Alan Wake was swallowed up by the darkness surrounding Cauldron Lake. He had succeeded in saving his wife from eternal torment, but now finds himself in her place, relentlessly fighting against the shadows.
In Alan Wake’s American Nightmare he finds himself trapped in a time loop in the desert of Arizona.
The game is set up with the same style as something you would see in “The Twilight Zone,” where a gravel-voiced narrator tells Alan’s story as he solves puzzles and fights creatures of the darkness. Stuck in a loop in the town of Night Springs, he must repeatedly complete the same events over and over again. Each time he returns, he gets closer to solving the mystery surrounding the town. The time loop mechanic is interesting to say the least. Not only is Alan aware of the loop, but so are the few characters he runs into.
After the first loop, each character tells Alan that they feel that they have experienced these moments before, and eventually start to perform the needed tasks before Alan’s arrival, shortening his time there. Sometimes, though, the character’s prior knowledge comes with unintentionally funny consequences. One of the women Alan meets tells him by the second loop that she is getting tired of being murdered. At least she’s taken it well.
I felt, however, that the story pushed Alan into the next loop far too quickly. There was hardly enough time for each of the three areas to be established before Alan is whisked away to the next one. The same can be said for the supporting characters, who are never fleshed out, even though I personally did not care for that.
Both the women are pretty uninteresting, and the voice-acting behind the characters is also bad. Thankfully the same can’t be said for Alan’s arch nemesis and doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, who, though his psycho ramblings can get on the corny side, nevertheless exudes a dark menace that compliments the macabre theme.
Though the game’s setting is locked in perpetual night, the darkness doesn’t have the same creepy vibe as before. A gray haze floats listlessly over the Arizona desert, but it doesn’t create the same level of tension as the dancing shadows did in prior games. The darkness itself rarely makes appearances, mostly as a shroud over the Taken–humans who have been turned toward the dark. It sometimes manifests itself as a black wave, tossing objects and cars in Alan’s direction. It also appears as objects jutting from the ground which need to be destroyed, such as spiders that pop from the ground, which made me squeal with terror far more than the giant hillbillies with buzz saws ever did.
Manuscript pages make a return and this time there is more than one reason to collect them. The scattered pages give a detailed backstory to Alan’s life before his adventure at Cauldron Lake. They also fill gaps in the story for those who may not have played the games up until American Nightmare. Collecting a certain amount of pages will unlock weapon crates scattered throughout the game. More pages are required to unlock the crates, which contain weapons that increase greatly in power over time. There is a big difference between the pump-action shotgun you get early on and the fully automatic rifle that shreds enemies like wet paper.
The gameplay remains similar to that in the earlier titles. Enemies are cloaked in shadow and Alan must focus the beam of his trusty flashlight to make them vulnerable to gunfire. Back when I played Alan Wake, I enjoyed the gameplay at first. The light versus dark combat was unique and watching as shadowy figures emerge from the oily darkness was a thrill. However, it was clear that this was all the game really had. After about six hours it ultimately became too repetitive, and American Nightmare suffers from the same fate. Secondary items such as flares, flash bang grenades, and the flare gun spice up the combat, but though they may keep a player entertained initially, they don’t stave off the boredom for too long.
Since the game moves at a faster pace than previous Wake titles, enemies come at you with more frequency. The game is not very difficult, the speed and ease at which the darkness-infused Taken fell turned each battle into a chore, a small delay between Alan and his current goal. It doesn’t help that throughout most of the game Alan is drowning in ammo. Boxes litter the ground and ammo lockers constantly dole out bullets and fresh batteries every minute on the dot. I counted. Seriously, this game gives out ammo like overgenerous childless couples give out candy on Halloween. At one point I had 10 flare gun rounds in my arsenal. Ten. I can hardly recall having more than two at a time when I played the first game.
The final stretch of game is one long shoot-a-thon featuring Alan and waves of Taken. The action again becomes monotonous which only increased the desire to get to the end more quickly.
Of course the primary draw of American Nightmare isn’t in the gameplay. If there is anything that stuck with most folks not long after finishing the original Wake outing, it was the questions. “What happened to Alan Wake?” fans asked. But more importantly, “what’s next?”
The game’s story isn’t riveting, but it strings players along with enough mystery to keep interest. Though the story follows the “Twilight Zone” formula, it doesn’t end with an unexpected twist. This is the standard good guy versus bad guy plot–and, yes, the hero gets the girl. It won’t be enough to really satisfy long-time fans of the franchise, and it also isn’t enough to hook new players either. It felt that there was still more to the story of Alan Wake. American Nightmare ends with just enough hints of intrigue to suggest that Alan’s fight against the dark still isn’t over, and that our Champion of Light’s story may only be a transition to something else.
Beyond the campaign players can jump into Arcade mode, which pits Alan against waves of the Taken. A timer ticks away minutes to an inevitable sunrise. Players must use every bit of their battle prowess as they wait for the sun to obliterate the shadowy figures that hunt Alan in the night. Weapons and ammo are scattered about, making it impartial to keep moving. Weapon containers are also thrown into the mix and manuscript pages found in the single-player story are used to unlock them.
The Arcade mode is pretty fun and will draw fans of heavy action gameplay. Each episode starts off slowly, allowing the player to gather weapons and ammo, before unleashing the crazy. There were times when I had a group of a dozen Taken encircling me while a giant in coveralls revved up a buzz saw behind them. Good strategy often goes out the window against those odds. Best bet is to light up a flare (hopefully you made good use of that preparation time) and run like hell, while mentally willing that clock to tick faster.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare feels like a solid retail release despite its short length coming in at around four hours. The story embodies the spirit of Alan Wake and its two semi-sequels, The Signal and The Writer, but doesn’t match the engaging drama and mystery.
However this doesn’t mark the end for Alan Wake. Remedy has mentioned that the company still wants to continue his adventure. American Nightmare may be the next chapter in a long mystery novel. With that in mind, hopefully we will see an evolution for future titles, or Remedy’s gripping page-turner franchise may end up putting us to sleep.
[xrr label=”Rating: 7.5/10″ rating=7.5/10]
+ Gameplay is fun…for a little while
+ Good presentation
+ Arcade mode is good times with sledgehammers
– Weak story
– On the easy side
– Leaves us wanting