Alan Wake's American Nightmare

Review

posted 3/23/2012 by Travis Huinker
other articles by Travis Huinker
Platforms: 360
The release of Alan Wake in 2010 offered gamers a unique experience that fused thrilling gameplay with a deep and mysterious narrative that incorporated various paranormal elements. Following the game's release, The Signal and The Writer add-on episodes were released that expanded the mysteries behind the town of Bright Falls. With the announcement of Alan Wake's American Nightmare, many questions arose to whether it was a sequel or continuation of the story after the last add-on releases. Remedy Entertainment has assured fans that American Nightmare is simply an expansion of the game's world and doesn't constitute a direct sequel to the original. Thus, the game doesn't require owning the original Alan Wake.

American Nightmare forgoes heavy emphasis on an extensive narrative and semi-open world in favor of arming Alan Wake with an assortment of weapons and equipment for destroying the Taken. Gamers will still find an interesting story to play through; however, it's far less complex than the original game. From the beginning of American Nightmare, it is revealed that gamers are inside the television show "Night Springs," that is similar to The Twilight Zone. The overall goal in American Nightmare is to end the reign of terror by Alan Wake's evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch. The "Night Springs" narrator, video clips from Mr. Scratch, radio broadcasts, and a few NPCs help in piecing together the mysterious fragments of the narrative. The only major downside is how the structure of the game's narrative artificially inflates the gameplay length.

 

In comparison with the original Alan Wake, American Nightmare should hardly be considered a horror game. There are a few instances that do produce some frights, but not any that will result in a jump off the couch. The battery level of Wake's flashlight will cause far more suspense that any enemy encounters in the game. It is understandable that American Nightmare opted for gameplay that involved more gunfire than narrative for its standalone nature. However, the universe of Alan Wake could have been expanded even further than it was in the duration of gameplay.

Fortunately, any of the downsides with the game's narrative can easily be ignored in favor of the thrilling gameplay experience. Alan Wake veterans will instantly recognize the combat system that requires the use of a flashlight or other source of light to shed an enemy's darkness. Once an enemy loses their shield of darkness, a normal weapon can be used to finish them off. Gamers must constantly pay attention to the power level of their flashlights and number of spare batteries, while also managing multiple enemies that rush closer for brutal melee attacks. Fortunately, ammo and batteries can usually be found in numerous locations. The variety of guns has increased from the original Alan Wake ranging from an Uzi to a powerful crossbow. The increased firepower is required in certain areas that overwhelm Wake with an assortment of Taken enemy types from ones that wield chainsaws to shape-shifters.


In addition to the game's story mode, Remedy has created an arcade mode titled From Dusk Till Dawn. In this mode, Wake is tasked with surviving multiple waves of Taken with scarce ammo and batteries. Gamers will find manuscript pages in the narrative that can be used to unlock new weapons in both modes. Once the narrative's credits roll, gamers will want to visit the arcade mode multiple times to unlock further levels and beat previous leaderboard scores. The relatively easy difficulty of the narrative is greatly increased for the arcade mode in part to the relentless enemy waves and panic caused by depleting batteries. Fans of the original Alan Wake and newcomers will find a wealth of replay value with the arcade mode. With low ammo and increasing number of enemies, every decision in the arcade mode is crucial for surviving till dusk.

Those that have played the original Alan Wake will not find any surprising change in the visuals or sound of American Nightmare. The visuals still hold up quite well against other newer titles on the market. For a standalone Xbox Live Arcade game, American Nightmare is easily the highest quality title available. The most impressive aspect of the game's visuals is the use of lighting effects, from the explosion of a flare to the shining of Wake's flashlight against the environment. The sound effects and music selection are also high points in the game's presentation. Every sound in the environment will be a cause of concern for gamers worrying that it might be another Taken closing in for the kill. In addition to the mood-setting sound effects, Remedy has selected a highly-entertaining group of licensed songs that perfectly set each scene. The graphics could use an improvement and the voice acting can sound odd at times, but the overall presentation earns high marks for being a standalone title on Xbox Live.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points.


* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

B+
Both veterans and newcomers to Alan Wake will discover a wealth of entertaining and thrilling content in American Nightmare. With an engrossing narrative and hair-raising arcade mode, there is a great deal of content for the game's low asking price and standalone nature. Fans of Alan Wake and the paranormal should immediately add American Nightmare to their download queue.


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