Hands-on Preview: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Last Wednesday I went downtown to meet up with Matias Myllyrinne and Oskari Häkkinen from Remedy Entertainment to get some time with their new game, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, which is currently set for a Q1 2012 release date exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade.
Ever since Alan Wake came out last year, fans have been begging for a sequel to the game. While Remedy assures fans that a sequel is not out of the question, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is not that sequel. This is not to say it’s not going to be a good game; fans of the series should not skip it over.
American Nightmare is something of an interlude to the original Alan Wake. While certain elements of the main game are present, I was assured that it was not necessary to play Alan Wake in order to be able to understand American Nightmare. The good news is that for those players out there like me who may not have played the first game but want to anyway, not only is it out on the 360, but Alan Wake is coming out on Steam for the PC around the same time (Q1 2012).
Part of the reason why it is possible to pick up American Nightmare while somewhat in the dark about most of the plot is because of the way the game is set up. According to Oskari and Matias, while Alan Wake was roughly 2/3 story-based and 1/3 action, American Nightmare has flipped that formula around, focusing much more on killing monsters than following a storyline.
Again, this is not to say there is no story element at all. The basic plot is this: the player, as Wake himself, has been thrown into an episode of Night Springs, the TV show written by Wake. Wake must stop his darkness-based doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, before he can carry out his evil plans. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare draws a lot on pop culture, especially science fiction and supernatural themes. Night Springs, for example, is reminiscent of a modernized Twilight Zone. Mr. Scratch draws upon most every terrifying serial killer archetype known to man. American Nightmare itself has been compared by the developers to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
In terms of gameplay, the main storyline is fairly linear. There is a fair amount of optional storyline which will help to tie things back to the first game, so players who enjoyed the first may choose to pursue them. Levels are generally designed as a hub: you re-visit locations several times, though often to find things have changed drastically in the last ten or fifteen minutes.
General gameplay is the same: light is your friend. Standing under street lamps will keep the monsters away, as well as heal you. Most enemies must have the darkness that surrounds them cleansed with a flashlight before you can do damage. Unless you have the crossbow; that can do damage immediately, but you don’t get it until late in the game, and it takes quite awhile to reload.
One new change is the focus on some more unique weapons. For example, I played a fair amount with a nail gun as my primary weapon. It was effective, but you have to account for the arcing motion of the nails once you fire them.
Even more weapons and enemies are encountered in the arcade mode, entitled “Fight to Dawn”. In the scenario I was playing, I was plopped down into the middle of a graveyard with a ten-minute timer and told to do whatever I could to survive. Weapons and ammunition were scattered around the graveyard, so I ran frantically around picking up whatever I could to arm myself before the waves started coming.
After 30 seconds or so, I started fighting for my life. The first run, I failed spectacularly 2 minutes in (even with help from the guys. In my defense, I’ve only started playing shooters recently, thanks to a college friend with an Xbox). My second attempt fared somewhat better, as this time I lasted a good six minutes before I took one too many pickaxes to the head and succumbed to the darkness.
The arcade mode has five maps, and an extra five that are playable on “nightmare” difficulty (which I don’t even want to think about). It also comes with new weapons and enemies not seen in the main story mode of the game.
What I was happiest to hear about though is the soundtrack for the game. Poets of the Fall, one of my favorite bands ever, who have a history of working with Remedy Entertainment, worked on Alan Wake’s American Nightmare as well. Alan Wake had used their song “War” in episode 5, as well as having the band’s in-game alter-ego Old Gods of Asgard write two original songs for them: “Children of the Elder God”, as well as my personal favorite “The Poet and the Muse”, which basically reads as an introduction to the plot of the game.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that when I heard that they worked on the game (and then later when I actually heard part of a song during the demo) I let out a little shriek and started bouncing up and down on the couch. All in all, not one of my most professional moments, I’d say.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare looks to be one of the games you do not want to miss. To show you just how excited I am about it, despite not owning an Xbox 360 myself, over my Winter Break I plan on picking up a copy of Alan Wake, and bringing it back to school with me, where I will be commandeering my friend’s Xbox when she’s not using it so I can hopefully play through the main game in time to play Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.