Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is Remedy Entertainment’s follow up to 2010’s Alan Wake. However, rather than making a sequel to the original, American Nightmare is actually more of a spin off. Although events from the first game are referenced in this all new story, American Nightmare takes place in a space outside of time and therefore only ties itself loosely to the core Alan Wake story. The game was originally only to feature an arcade-action mode, which is now known as “Fight Till Dawn” but Remedy being Remedy they just couldn’t let this game out of the bag without some semblance of a story. So what we get is the best of both worlds. A fun action driven arcade mode and a full yet slightly shorter story involving everyone’s favorite writer Alan Wake.
Alan Wake is lost outside of time and somehow finds himself in an episode of “Night Springs” a TV show he wrote for early on in his career. “Night Springs” is obviously inspired by classic TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” complete with its own disembodied, melodramatic narrator. Described as the “Champion of Light” Wake must track down and defeat the “Herald of Darkness” personified by Wake’s charming, suave, yet wholly evil alter-ego Mr. Scratch. Wake must work his way through a specific sequence of events in the tiny Arizona town of “Night Springs” in hopes that he can alter the fabric of time and space, defeat Mr. Scratch, and return to his own reality. With that basic set up what ensues is a great, yet short piece of sci-fi that will have you fighting new versions of the Taken, running through a time loop, and collecting page after page of a manuscript that in addition to giving you more insight into the story, will actually help you by granting access to more powerful weapons.
I was glad to see that these manuscript pages weren’t nearly as spoiler-filled as they were in the first game, now they give you more back story rather than foreshadowing future events. I was also concerned that dealing with a time loop might result in pacing issues, a player will have to perform the same events a few times but Remedy has handled this exceptionally well. Each time through the loop events will change slightly and the NPCs will become more aware that they have done this before. A particularly helpful NPC named Emma will actually take the initiative and complete some tasks for you each time through the loop. This prevents the gameplay from getting monotonous even though you’re playing though the same sequence of events. Despite her helpful attitude I found Emma and the other NPCs to be far less compelling than the characters in the first game, they’re not terrible and they do fill their roles well but I didn’t care much to press them for more information since they already seemed pretty one dimensional.
When I started playing American Nightmare I was concerned that some of my gripes with the first game wouldn’t be addressed. Now, having played through the entire story mode, as well as a bunch of “Fight Till Dawn” matches I can say with confidence that my issues have been addressed with this sequel. The enemies are much more varied this time around. The Taken now come in all shapes and sizes, from regular joes to full size behemoths wielding giant circular saws. There’s also some new enemy types like the “Splitter” a Taken who has such a strong aversion to light that he will actually split in two to avoid the beam of your flashlight. Kill them quick or you will find yourself completely surrounded. I also thought that American Nightmare’s version of the murder of crows was a lot better.
These enemies will fly around as a murder of crows only until they get close, then they’ll materialized into a vicious Taken and try and rip your face off. It was a surprising twist on an old enemy that I quite enjoyed fighting. As a whole the game feels a lot more open than it’s predecessor. I found the environments in Alan Wake to be quite linear, a problem I did not have with American Nightmare. You are given lots of opportunity to explore the game’s main areas, find those elusive manuscript pages and fight the Taken on your own terms. This let me feel like I was more in control of the action as the story unfolded around me rather than just being funneled down the path the developers wanted me to take. I also found the weapons to be satisfying to use and feature a lot more variety than they did in Alan Wake. In short the game plays a lot better while still retaining the feel of the previous game. Additionally, as one would expect from Remedy Entertainment the atmosphere is top notch, despite American Nightmare’s vastly different setting.
One thing I didn’t get from American Nightmare was a grind-house feel. I was expecting something a lot more Tarantino-esque from the way the developers were speaking prior to release. I did however really enjoy the game’s “Twilight Zone” pulp fiction feel. I’m referring to the type of literature, not the Tarantino film of the same name. It fit really well into the Alan Wake universe and I hope it’s something we see more of as the series progresses. A few of the goals that the developers at Remedy Entertainment did succeed at were expanding the Alan Wake universe and story, raising the bar of quality for an Xbox Live Arcade title, and creating a short but compelling story to compliment the solid gameplay found in the arcade mode. The story is decent and well put together, the gameplay is fun and can be extremely challenging as you unlock more maps for the “Fight Till Dawn” mode. As I mentioned earlier, the atmosphere is creepy and well executed. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare won’t keep you busy for weeks on end but there’s enough here to justify the price and to get you salivating for more. As for when we will see a proper sequel to Alan Wake, only the game-smiths at Remedy know that.