by Keaton Arksey
reviewed on X360
Once more, Mr. Wake, into the night
In May of 2010, the long awaited Alan Wake finally saw release. Max Payne developer Remedy Entertainment’s (then) Xbox exclusive delivered a suspenseful story, solid gameplay and enough scares, earning the game near universal praise. Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption released the same month and Remedy’s work lagged behind in sales. Fans feared no sequel would see the light of day, and the tale of Alan Wake, struggling author thrust into a battle between light and darkness, would end before Remedy could give answers. Thankfully, the gaming gods have seen fit to give Alan Wake a second chance, this time in the form of Xbox Live Arcade game Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
American Nightmare is a sequel to the original Alan Wake, though the story is more than capable of standing on its own. It takes the form of an episode of Night Springs, the Twilight Zone-esque science fiction television series written by Alan Wake (complete with narrator). The main antagonist, Mr. Scratch, is an evil doppelganger of Alan Wake. While he may seem a lacklustre villain, various television messages that Mr. Scratch leaves to Wake do a good job of establishing himself as a psychopathic killer. The thriller/horror style emitted from the first game is still present, but it does venture into pulp fiction as well, which reflects the major difference between the two games. While American Nightmare leaves as many questions as it does answers, it has a self-contained story arc with proper conflict and resolution. The story is still enjoyable without playing the previous game, though some of the meaning is lost.
Stock up on 9mm and…AAA?
Unlike its predecessor, American Nightmare places more emphasis on combat than the story. Gameplay largely remains the same: the “Taken,” normal people corrupted by the darkness, are invincible in the shadows. By using flashlights and other sources of light, Wake can remove their shields, allowing Wake to shoot at and ultimately defeat them. Ammo and batteries for flashlights were sparse in the first game, but with a heavier focus on combat, replenishments are never too far away. This does remove a bit of the tension, since the odds of running out of batteries or ammo in the middle of a battle seems unlikely, given how liberally the game places ammo throughout the land.
While the original featured only a few weapons and the enemies Wake fought at the beginning were the same at the end, American Nightmare expands on both facets, keeping encounters from feeling stagnant. Along with the standard Taken and their slightly larger, more difficult brethren, American Nightmare adds several new enemy types, from Splitters who have no shields but split into two when hit with light to Grenadiers who throw grenades made out of darkness. Most of the new weapons seem ill fitted to Alan Wake given his writer background. It is one thing for Wake to handle shotguns and pistols, but assault rifles and sub-machine guns seem a tad out of character and reflect the shift in focus. The gameplay might not be groundbreaking, but it still works, and even if there is a deluge of batteries and ammo there is still some sense of tension as Alan tries to shine a light on a fast approaching enemy.
Solid story, high production values, and a new 'Fight Till Dawn' mode provides longevity.
Some flat voice acting, backtracking and repeated actions become a bit tiresome by the end.