Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Alan Wake is back. You’ve probably heard this, considering the frequency with which we’ve covered the related news on the site. As we’ve said before, American Nightmare is not a sequel: it’s not Alan Wake 2, and it’s also not as long a game. Think of it as a really long DLC.
If you remember, I sat down back in December to talk with two guys from Remedy, Matias Myllyrinne and Oskari Häkkinen, and get my hands on some of the preview copy. If you read said preview, you’ll remember that I was really looking forward to the full thing. The day I got the code in my e-mail inbox, I immediately went racing up and down five flights of stairs in my college dorm, in order to find an empty lounge that would let me remain interrupted. No one was going to disrupt my game time. All my excitement naturally begs the question: did it live up to the anticipation?
In my opinion, it did. As promised, American Nightmare was a whole new story only barely tied to the main game. You can fill in tiny bits and pieces between the two by continuing to talk to people, but American Nightmare essentially stands alone, and pulls the same frustrating style of ending as the last one, giving you a hope only to dash it in your face ten seconds later. It very much leaves plenty of room for new games in the series, and overall feels like an interlude, rather than a direct sequential link.
This is partly because the story is a very small percentage of the game, both in terms of play time and importance for overall understanding. Every interaction gives you the option to keep talking to the person in question, or you can blaze on ahead and shoot or collect things to advance the story. As in the first game, there are also TVs and radios which hold extra tidbits, including Old Gods of Asgard songs and live-action videos of Mr. Scratch being a sociopath.
The actual environment in the game is fairly small, but you return to the same area multiple times, though they’re different. I, like most sane people probably would, assumed this meant you return at a later time period. Imagine my surprise when I found myself with an acute case of déjà vu roughly an hour and a half after first picking up the controller. Alan has found himself stuck in a time loop.
The basic plot revolves around fixing the situation to match the manuscript pages you find as you play, in order to hopefully take yourself out of the time loop at some point. It took me a little under four hours to play through the entire story mode, including the extra time spent talking to people. These manuscript pages are no longer just useless bragging rights, as in Alan Wake, but they now unlock special, upgraded weapons when you gather enough of them. This lead to me chasing shiny things in the distance with more frequency than a five-year-old with ADD.
One of the new features in American Nightmare, which makes it much easier to find these pages as well as ammunition, is the addition of item locators to the radar-style map in the top left corner. Pages show up as blinking question mark icons, with things such as ammunition and the next checkpoint turning into colored dots. New to American Nightmare is the weapons cabinet that fills up all available batteries and ammunition slots. Because of this, I never found myself running out of batteries once and being stuck waiting for my flashlight to recharge, which had been a major annoyance in Alan Wake.
The fighting style is the same, disregarding the addition of new weapons and enemies. Alan holds a flashlight in one hand, and his gun of choice in the other. Most enemies are killed by burning off the light with the flashlight, then shooting it dead. The new crossbow can kill Taken still shrouded in darkness. The new addition is the crows, which now turn into an enemy that can only be injured while the light is still shining directly on them. I wasted a lot of ammo figuring that one out.
Once I finished the story mode, I moved onto Fight ‘Til Dawn, the single-player arcade-style option for the game, which sets you down in an area and challenges you to survive 10 minutes. At this point I actually somewhat knew what I was doing and made it through until dawn on my first try. Barely, but I made it. Then I moved to the next map which had less ammunition that was farther apart, where I died spectacularly in the last five seconds.
The third map was just embarrassing. Sadly, at this point in time, the peace and quiet in floor lounge I found had been shattered by a bunch of upperclassmen throwing an (early) Mardi Gras party, so I was distracted anyway. Add to that the fact that the new map was also more difficult and had much less in the terms of armament, and I was doomed to fail. I didn’t even last two minutes. This was on the third map out of five, not even including the five challenge maps after that. It appears I need a lot more practice.
Fight ‘Til Dawn mode has active leader boards for you to compare your score and compete with your friends, so even though it’s not officially a multiplayer mode, you can still have something of a competiton with your friends.
Also of note are the graphics and soundtrack. Both are phenomenal: the graphics are a step up from Alan Wake, and the soundtrack, while shorter, was just as good. Kasabian’s “Club Foot” plays in each loop as an integral part of the story, and it got my adrenaline going every time. My personal favorites Poets of the Fall (known in-game as Old Gods of Asgard) are also back with two new songs, one of which (the hilariously named “The Happy Song”) is perfect for playing at loud volumes in order to get your roommates to leave you alone.
The one major complaint I had with the game was that at a certain point (time #2 in the mountains surrounding the observatory, to be specific) where I was fighting a large number of enemies, I did experience a frame rate drop. Otherwise, I wish the main story mode was a bit longer and more varied, but for an XBLA title, it still blows everything else out of the water.
Whether you’re a fan of the series, or just someone looking for a new twist on the shooter genre, I highly recommended Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. It’s got a lot of great things going for it, and was a very enjoyable way to spend a couple hours in between essays.