Alan Wake’s American Nightmare might not be the full fledged sequel that gamers are looking for, but it is does manage to scratch that Alan Wake itch and continue the story of the writer, Alan Wake, in an interesting way. American Nightmare is an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title and doesn’t require the original game to play. But with Alan Wake as cheap as it is, you really should start there instead of jumping right into American Nightmare.
The basic gameplay mechanics are almost identical to the original game. You still face off against the Taken, who are humanoids shrouded in a field of darkness. You are armed with a flashlight and an array of weapons. You must first flood your enemies with light to remove the darkness, and then they will be vulnerable to good old firepower. There are a decent number of new Taken to, um, take on. One variation splits into small and less powerful versions of itself when hit with light. Another can transmogrify into a flock of ravens when it’s in trouble. There is also a somewhat generic big, giant guy with a chainsaw and a taken that shoots darkness grenades. Finally, the first non-humanoid enemies in the Alan Wake universe are cat-sized darkness spiders that tend to come in herds, but can be defeated with either your gun or a good dose of light from your flashlight.
To combat all of these new enemies, Alan has a much larger array of weapons, including a combat shotgun and even a nail gun. The more powerful weapons have to be unlocked, and to do so you need to collect missing manuscript pages that are scattered throughout the levels. The collectables are limited to these manuscript pages, which is a great choice. The coffee thermoses in the original game were random and pretty pointless. The manuscript pages each have a bit of interesting info, or insights into Alan’s psyche. They are also reasonably easy to find, since they sparkle in the dark, and will even show up on your mini map if you are close enough to them. The end result is an excuse to wander off the beaten path and do a little exploring.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place in a small town in Arizona that seems to exist partially in the real world, but also in the world of darkness which Alan has been trying to escape since the end of the original game. This town also seems to exist in Night Springs, which is this world’s version of the Twilight Zone, and also happens to be a show that Alan used to write for. Alan is trapped in Night Springs by his evil doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, who has apparently found his way into the real world.
The interactions with Mr. Scratch alone make this game worth the price of admission. Throughout the small town, you will find televisions that you can turn on. Each time you do, you will get an FMV (full motion video) message from Mr. Scratch. This works remarkably well, as you are watching the real life actor that Alan Wake is based on. Being addressed by an actual person that is the spitting image of the character that you are used to seeing digitally adds a level of surrealism that is pitch perfect for Night Springs. On top of that, Mr. Scratch is wonderfully creepy and sadistic as he threatens to do awful things to your friends and loved ones.
American Nightmare is contained within three locations. There is a motel, an observatory and a drive-in movie theater. The areas are open, and make for less linear gameplay than the original game, but I would much rather have seen more. Traveling between the three areas takes place during loading screens, and you will end up going through each area multiple times in what ends up feeling like padding the game for length despite the clever narrative reason for going through the areas again.
The new characters introduced are similarly disappointing. Each area has a single attractive female that Alan Wake must interact with. The characters are paper thin, and come nowhere near the brilliance of past characters like Alan’s manager Barry Wheeler or Alan’s nemesis Mr. Scratch.
American Nightmare introduces a new mode called “Fight ‘Till Dawn”. It’s basically a single player Horde mode where you play as Alan as he fights through increasingly difficult waves of enemies over a ten minute period. The lack of multiplayer is really disappointing, but you can at least try to beat your friends’ scores on each level. All of the new weapons in American Nightmare come in handy in this mode, and you will want to unlock as many as you can before spending any real time here. Fight ‘Till Dawn is a fun little diversion, but ends up not being nearly as interesting as the continuation of Alan Wake’s story.
American Nightmare doesn’t reinvent Alan Wake, and it has about the amount of content that you would expect from a downloadable title. What it does is give us a little more Alan Wake, which is a welcome thing. On top of that it’s expertly paced despite retreading the same areas, and fleshes out the character of Mr. Scratch who is a wonderful and inventive villain. American Nightmare isn’t the full blown Alan Wake sequel that we want, but it’s hopefully enough to get us through until that that sequel emerges from the dark.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Alan Wake’s American Nightmare provided by Remedy. It is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive.