Thursday 18th September 2014,
Darkstation

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Jon March 12, 2012 Reviews, Xbox 360 7 Comments

Overview

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.

Gameplay

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.

Alan Wake XBLA Screenshot
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.

Alan Wake XBLA Screenshot
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.

Graphics

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.

Alan Wake XBLA Screenshot

Fun Factor

 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.

Alan Wake XBLA Screenshot
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.

Overall

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.

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About The Author

Hey there, I'm Jon and I like playing and writing about video games. Ever since I read my first issue of Gamepro I've been hooked on reading the latest news and reviews and keeping up with anything and everything that the gaming world has to offer. If it's popular, interesting, different, strange, absolute rubbish, or recommended by someone at random I'll most likely play it. For me it's about appreciating what the developers have created and enjoying video games for the awesome experiences that they offer.

  • Jon

    Hey there, I’m all for criticism but just be more constructive and I’d be happy to work improving.

    • Bob

      First off, I’d recommend actually beating the game before writing the review.

    • Bob

      Secondly, the publisher is Microsoft, not Micorosoft. Thirdly, you downed the graphics for one of the best looking $15 XBLA titles available. Sure, some close of animations and what not are stiff but it’s 15 bucks. The atmosphere and shooting is beautiful. In your conclusion you state how “Those moments when you know you have little ammo but can strategically..” completely overstates your previous statements which are true about the abundance of ammo in the game… I could rip this thing apart pretty bad, but just reread it for yourself…. mainly because you gave it a 5 and it deserves at least a 7 IMO.

      • http://twitter.com/Fisco Jon Fisco

        Alright, I see where you’re coming from. Obviously you liked the game a lot more than I did and that’s totally fine. I get that it’s $15 but I’m more of a fan of creative graphics rather than something that feels like a re-skin of an old game. I agree that the atmosphere is cool as is the shooting but it’s the same thing that was done in Alan Wake, which was my point. I was saying they were bad looking just that nothing has changed since Alan Wake. As for my conclusion statement you misread it because I said those moments don’t happen in American Nightmare due to the ammo situations. When I said they do happen I was referring to Alan Wake, the original game, which was far more tense in my opinion. Thanks for the feed back, hope I cleared stuff up for you.

  • HyperSCSI

    Another great review, Jon!

  • Paul

    The writer of this review is obviously a moron! Found this through metacritic and came to see it because I couldn’t believe he gave is a 50. All the decent sites that write and know about games passionately give it a 80-90.

    Really, Jon! will officially make a complaint as to why this person is part of metacritic- obviously putting bad reviews of some top games just to try drive traffic to his site- how sad!

    • Paul

      Oh and Jon, Alan Wake came out May 2010.. Not 3 years ago but it doesn’t surprise me as you clearly like to avoid being very factual about anything. This game was worth my 15 bucks any day and it just annoys the hell out of me to think you’d discourage the makers o this game by being so absurd…feel like calling you a loser but will save my breath

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