I readily admit it: I loved Alan Wake. And for a guy who writes, it was easy to fall for the game: the strong narrative, the dark and unnerving atmosphere and the incredible pacing. I played the game to death, searching for all 1500 points (something I rarely do). It’s one of those rare games that makes me proud to own an Xbox 360. So imagine my surprise when I opened my email account one morning and learned that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was up on Xbox Live Arcade. I could barely control myself with giddiness.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare follows the titular hero as he is now “stuck” in a story of his own machinations. His doppelganger, Mr. Scratch (insert scratching sound here), is intent on becoming a permanent resident of the “real” world and murdering everyone he meets — especially his wife. So where can Alan go to stop Scratch? The only place where the lines of reality and fantasy are blurred in the town of ... Night Springs.
It’s amazing that the game has as strong presentation as the original game. There are full motion scenes, along with the incredible voice acting and, most intriguingly, television sets with the antagonist murdering people in front of your very eyes. Of course, the game’s file size is almost 2 GB so there’s plenty of space to “show off” the narrative. You don’t need to have played the original game (and its DLC) to enjoy it, though it helps.
Gameplay is very much like the original game: You follow the plot, shoot taken, find manuscripts and rewrite reality (something that’s rarely done). Oh, you haven’t heard of “the taken?” The taken are dead bodies filled with darkness and cannot be destroyed until they have been exposed to light. As such, your “best friend” is the flashlight as it is the only thing that will destroy their shadowy aura and create opportunities to destroy them. In other words, if you’re familiar with the original game, then you’ll probably feel right at home.
There are a few new aspects to the game. First of all, different weapons (found in chests) are unlocked as you find more manuscript pages. Uzis, rifles, automatic shotguns, sawed off shotguns and revolvers slowly become available, allowing for a more diverse approach to combat. Second, you’ll have the opportunity to “rewrite” reality a few times. By creating the proper environment, Wake can influence the world for the better. This can put a hamper in Mr. Scatch’s (insert scratching noise here) plans. However, this mechanic isn’t used as much as it could have been, so it feels a little forced. Ultimately, the game brings a more action oriented approach to its gameplay as taken will come after Wake in larger numbers and all can be destroyed with little problems.
The newest aspect in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is the arcade mode. Taking a nod from one of the more popular horror games available, arcade mode places Wake in a 10 minute free-for-all in which the taken will continuously chase after him until the sun comes up. The entire point is to rack up as many points as possible and includes two difficulty levels. The catch is simple: If you thought “nightmare” difficulty in the original game was tough, then prepare for a major butt whipping as the “nightmare” levels mix things up a bit. First of all, Wake starts in a different position. Second, weapon chests are found in different places as well. Finally, and most importantly, the taken don’t stop coming. As soon as one taken dissolves into light, another one appears to take its place, creating a very tense gameplay session.
Graphically, American Nightmare runs on a modified engine of the original game. Light still plays an important role as Wake wanders around a desert. There’s an observatory, a motel and a drive-in theater. Although the atmosphere is not spooky, it is suspense filled. Some of the enemies are familiar while some are new, such as spiders, taken that split into two when a flashlight beam hits them (or any bright light) and, of course, the horrors of hulks wielding chainsaws. Although it isn’t the most advanced game engine, it astounds me that the presentation is so strong for a XBLA download: There are full motion videos. And they are, despite popular belief, well done.
Audio wise, everything is solid. It isn’t very memorable, yet it doesn’t inhibit the game. It’s mood music. Look out Enya! The composer for the game is slowly catching up to you in the mood department. A major plus is the voice acting. The voice actors from the original game — along with some new ones — help bring the story to life. It is their awesome acting that helps draw the player deeper into the game’s mythos.
So is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare worth your hard-earned points? It depends on your views of the original game as this installment is clearly aimed at its fans. The narrative returns back to its addictive roots and destroying taken never gets old. Furthermore, there are tons of little nods to us from the electric fence area, to the television providing insight and the subtle reference to the giant boat that rolled down the hill. Obviously, I enjoyed this game immensely, and I quickly spent the 1200 points ($15). The game is not a nightmare. It’s a dream to play. However, this game will not completely sate the hunger for a new Alan Wake game. Now how about the sequel? I’m dreaming up a horrendous nightmare for Wake and his wife to explore.