Alan Wake has had a rough life. First he gets a serious case of writer’s block, then he has to travel to a no name town, then he gets taken over by a dark and ambiguous force that wants to take over his life, and now he’s stuck in a television show reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone”. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a downloadable standalone title that tells the continuing story of heroic writer Alan Wake and his continuing battle against the dark forces. With a focus on combat and a sometimes entertaining story American Nightmare aims to give fans of Alan Wake something new while still hitting the high notes that the series was known for.
For anyone that has played Alan Wake before you know how this game is going to play to the t. Player’s assume control of Wake from the get-go and the game has a very similar tutorial to the first Wake game. Player’s control Wake as he gets his hands on a flashlight and a gun, the two most important weapons in this world. Using the left trigger to aim and the right trigger to shoot has been a staple of shooters for year, but Alan Wake adds a slight twist. Enemies in Alan Wake are covered in “darkness” that imbues the world around Wake and causes people and objects to attack the writer. The left trigger does indeed aim but it also focuses the flashlight Wake carries, which in turn burns off the darkness on his enemies allowing wake to pump them full of bullets. It’s a neat take on the tried and true formula and works well for the most part.
Wake also has his neat and cinematic dodge that he had in Alan Wake which allows him to quickly dodge enemies. Actually, his control scheme and maneuvers haven’t changed much from the fist game at all. What has changed in terms of gameplay are two major things. First, and the less obvious of the two, is the abundance of ammo. With some new guns like a nail-gun and an Uzi Wake is a walking machine of darkness destruction. Typically there is an overabundance of ammunition and flashlight batteries which allows the player to keep running and gunning without a care. This was my first problem with American Nightmare, I loved the tension of Alan Wake. Having no ammo with six enemies on your tail, running to a checkpoint because you can’t take out the horde of incoming enemies, and surviving an encounter only because you used your flash-bang at the right time were all moments I cherished. Sadly those moments rarely occur because the game fills you up with flares, flash-bangs, powerful guns, and ammo. Walking through enemies like it’s no big deal isn’t why Alan Wake was so much fun.
That’s not to say that destroying hordes of enemies isn’t fun in American Nightmare. In fact the second big addition is a new mode called “Fight Til Dawn” which is a wave based survival mode that focuses around the gun-play of Alan Wake. As fun as it is to kill bad guy after bad guy the gun-play was never the draw of Alan Wake, in fact I thought it overstayed its welcome in the original title. While the gameplay is executed well and feels decent enough it’s not the part of Alan Wake I really wanted more of.
I can honestly say that the graphics surprised me in American Nightmare, and that’s mainly because not a whole lot has changed. Things look great while they’re in motion and the light bloom effects and atmosphere are still the best that I’ve seen in the business. However, when people are up close in in-game cut-scenes they look clunky, down ressed, and just plain bad looking. Other than that American Nightmare looks just like Alan Wake, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Alan Wake was a beautiful game but it came out three years ago and while American Nightmare is a downloadable game I feel as thought some updates should’ve been made to keep it looking fresh instead of rehashed.
The fun of American Nightmare came exclusively in the story mode for me. Having Alan Wake play through episodes of “Night Springs”, the TV show Wake wrote for, is a great idea. Alan Wake had “Night Springs” in it as a TV show that players could find on televisions scattered throughout the game world. In this universe you’re in Night Springs itself and it seems like Wake is fully aware of this fact. Actually, Wake is so aware of it that he knows he can change the world around him to defeat his evil twin, Mr. Scratch. Scratch is basically Wake without any restrictions or concerns. He typically appears on televisions, like “Night Springs” used to, and shows Wake why he deserves to live over Wake. It’s a neat idea but Scratch comes off more as a boring doppelganger who isn’t crazy enough to be frightening like some Wake enemies can be.
Having a creepy narrator was a great touch and gives the world a nice feel that makes it all somewhat believable in a weird roundabout way. However, the ending was absolutely inexcusable. I won’t spoil it at all but just know you’ll basically be playing through the game three times to see the proper ending which is just ridiculous. Much like the first game American Nightmare goes on a bit too long for its own good and the shooting outstays its welcome the moment you stop feeling tense.
Alan Wake is at its best when it is tense yet manageable. Those moments when you know you have little ammo but can strategically take out a group of baddies with the right timing are absolutely incredible. Sadly those moments don’t pop up often in American Nightmare and the story dies out pretty quickly which was the original game’s saving grace. I can’t speak for every fan of Alan Wake but it was the story and atmosphere that pulled me in like darkness did to Wake, without those being exciting the gun-play does little to hold my interest.