Alan Wake’s: American Nightmare Review

The original Alan Wake was a highlight for me personally in the world of video games. It had everything I look for in a game. A great story, chilling horror, fast action, goosebump suspense and characters you connect with. You cared about Alan Wake, you cared about what happened to his wife and in some strange way you cared about Barry. You don’t know why you cared about Barry, annoying as he was, but you did. All of it was presented in a style unlike anything I had seen before. It was like playing a mini series television show and in the end, when asked what my game of the year was for 2010, I can say without hesitation it was Alan Wake. So it goes without saying I was excited as anyone for something new from the franchise. It also goes without saying the people at Remedy had a lot to live up too. Did they succeed? In some ways yes, in others, no.

For those expecting American Nightmare to pick up where the original left off, sorry, your out of luck. For that find your way to the Xbox Marketplace and download the two DLC chapters available (The Signal and The Writer). They are well worth the cost and keep the story of the original Alan Wake going if only for a couple more hours. Is there going to be more beyond what we know happened at the end of “The Writer” DLC? Remedy says yes, but for now they have given us this $15 downloadable stand alone title that has moments that remind us of why we loved Alan Wake, but there are also moments that make you wonder what Remedy could have done if they treated this game like a $60 release.

You have to give Remedy credit for sticking with the television mini series thing. What do a lot of TV shows like to do? Make spin offs. As stated before Alan Wake is presented like a television show, so why not make Alan Wake a spin off? Those who had a keen ear in the original will remember a time when Alan and Barry entered a barn and if you felt the need to turn the television on in the barn, you were presented with an episode of “Night Springs” (Alan Wake’s version of The Twilight Zone). Barry makes a comment about how the episode on the TV wasn’t the one that Alan had wrote for the series years ago. I remember taking note of that at the time and found it interesting they would mention that little piece of info. It was a short moment, and if you were the type who didn’t turn on the radio’s or televisions you would have missed it (see, doing the little things can be important!). So with that little background information, I’ll give you one guess where American Nightmare takes place? Bingo, your playing that episode of “Night Springs”

Remedy also does a great job of creating a setting that feels real. Bright Falls from the original felt like a real town ripped out of Twin Peaks. It felt like a town where a mystery could and would happen. They do it again with American Nightmare. While we are never told the name of the town American Nightmare takes place in, we get the feeling again this is not a good place to be, especially in the dark. We do know it takes place in Arizona (at least that’s what Remedy says, Arizona is never actually mentioned. I live in New York and have never been to Arizona, but this is like what I imagine it to be). Having a new setting can be a good thing, and Remedy puts their new environment to good use. However, what made Bright Falls such a great location was the that it took place mostly in the woods. Being in the woods added such a degree of fear which American Nightmare just can’t match. You never knew which direction the Taken were coming from in the woods, and even when you did it, it was tough to see them through thick trees and bushes. The fact that American Nightmare takes place in more wide open spaces, enemies can’t sneak around or flank you unnoticed. It takes away a lot of the suspense of being attack from the back side unknowingly. Still, the Taken are well done and Remedy has added fresh faces and even more difficult Taken to bring down. Yes the birds are back, but you no longer have to shoot them out of the sky. Instead they circle around you before finding a landing spot and transforming into the body of a Taken. It’s pretty cool to see.

So the Taken are easier to spot. Okay, I can live with that, but what has Remedy added that makes American Nightmare a step forward for the franchise? Well how about a well designed map that resembles the original but also lets u know where manuscript pages and weapon crates can be found. The flashlight itself is an improvement. While it may not look like it when looking around, try going up to a sign and flashing your light on it. You can actually read them! It would drive me crazy trying to read the cryptic messages painted in yellow on rock walls from the original. Shining your light directly on it would leave a glare and would make rendering the message almost impossible. Problem solved in American Nightmare.

One thing that made the original so suspenseful was the limited ability to run. While you could run, Alan would tire out rather quickly, and seeing a lamp post in the distance as Taken were hot on your heels made for control gripping suspense. In American Nightmare, Alan seems to have more stamina when it comes to running. He eventually will run out of steam, but with the maps being so much more smaller than Bright Falls, running to the rescue of light is rather easy. Nonetheless, the Taken still attack, and they attack in more numbers that you might be used to. So to make the playing field level, you have access to much more ammo (something that was in short supply from the original) and you have access to more weapons.

Lets be honest, what you were killing the Taken with in the original didn’t seem to matter. You had limited ammo, and as long as you had one bullet left for a gun you would use it. This time around you have ammo pretty much everywhere you look, and more guns to equip that ammo with. On top of the standard weapons we are all used to from the original, we are treated with some new toys. How about a sawed off shotgun, or a revolver. Maybe the new nail gun is your flavor? No matter what you choose the game tracks if you have found every weapon in the game or not. Something that was of no importance from the original. Blasting away Taken with a semi automatic is rather entertaining! You will also come across some weapons crates that can only be opened if you have enough manuscripts collected. Example: in order to open the shotgun weapon crate you will need a minimum of 30 pages. You don’t lose those pages when opened, but its a good way to force people to get involved in the meaning of the story and not just run through the game as quickly as possible. Not having to repeatedly tap the reload button per bullet is an added bonus. Hit the reload button once and your gun is reloaded. Big thumbs up there.

One thing I wish Remedy would remedy (sorry, had to do it) is why whenever I pick up a new weapon I am instantly equipped with it. I can’t stand toting a shotgun around then go pick up a Flare Gun only to have it equipped without my knowledge then fire my one and only flare! Those things are precious and I’m gonna need it for a boss or one of the new ugly looking dudes they throw at you! Not your basic Taken that take 3 shots to kill. That needs to be changed.

So whats the main story line here? This is the moment where I started to understand why this is a $15 downloadable and not a full on $60 title. The story, while entertaining, is nowhere near what the original had to offer. Your basically trying to figure out why your alter ego, Mr. Scratch (his name is never uttered. Think Uma Thurmon’s character in the first ¾ of the Kill Bill movies) is trying to take your life and make it his own. What your trying to do is go around collecting missing manuscript pages, then alter the story on those pages to change the outcome. That’s pretty much it. Weak I know, but what makes this game scream downloadable title is that there is only three levels, and you play them over and over again. I didn’t like that idea in the beginning. Maybe because it was unexpected, but once you are thrown into the world and see how Remedy pulled it off, it fits the game perfectly and to be honest I could have gone through the world one last time before the game ended.

If American Nightmare ended here and you asked me was it worth $15 I could say with relative ease that it is, but Remedy went and added an Arcade Mode that make this game a must-buy. I will go out on a limb and say that Remedy’s email inbox is flooded with emails begging them to take this idea and make it into a multiplayer mode for the next Alan Wake title. This mode begs (let me put that in caps and add exclamation points) BEGS!! to be a mode to be shared with friends. Alas we must go it alone for now, but it’s still incredibly entertaining.

Arcade Mode is basically a timed horde mode. At level 1 you must survive the horde for 5 minutes (till the sun rises essentially). Complete that then move to the next level where you must survive for 10 minutes. Weapons and ammo are found throughout the map as well as lamp posts for health. Getting through the first five levels proves challenging, but what I would put up against any horde mode out there is the final five levels on Nightmare Mode. Good luck with that folks! There is a total of 10 levels spread across five maps. So you’re playing each map twice which is nice. Your not doing the same map over and over like the campaign. It proves very challenging to use your ammo only when you need it, and restore your health only when you need it since ammo and restore health locations regenerate sparingly.

Rest assured Remedy hasn’t completely forgot about your friends. Bragging right are up for grabs as they have offered us leaderboards that put your numbers up against your friends. Each successfully completed level will offer a summary of how you did, including things like total number of kills and longest amount of time without taking damage. Top that off with an overall star rating of 1-3 and you can see how you stacked up against your friends. So while we don’t get a full on multiplayer mode, we can enjoy it somewhat with our friends.

I couldn’t help but think of a co-op mode here where one player (Barry) has all the “light” weapons (flashlights, flash bangs, etc) and the other (Allan) would have all the guns. Work together to take out the Taken. Get on it Remedy.

American Nightmare is a perfect holdover for fans of the franchise. While it doesn’t have the story and dialogue of the original (the voice work is pretty comical) it does keep you interested enough to keep pushing forward and eliminating Mr. Scratch. Taking only 3-5 hours to finish, American Nightmare holds your attention long enough before offering you an Arcade Mode that would hopefully  be upgraded to a full multiplayer experience whenever the next Alan Wake title is released. Don’t expect any miracles with this one, but while playing try not to ignore that voice in your head that keeps saying repeatedly “$15….$15”

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