STAFF REVIEW of Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Thursday, February 23, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Box art I still remember the long wait for the original Alan Wake to release. It?s only been about two years since I?ve finished my time with Alan, but even after all that time, I still have questions about what really happens to Alan and everything else in Bright Falls. Alan Wake never broke any massive sales records, but it did secure itself a devout fan following, myself being one of them, and once word came out that Alan was once again going to be in the spotlight with a new game, I was anxiously waiting until I got to spend more time with one of the better protagonists that I can remember.

It?s been two years, but Alan does return finally, but in a very different way. Not only is American Nightmare an XBLA game, but it?s gotten a distinct change in scenery and overall feel. To set the record straight though, know that American Nightmare is not a true sequel to the original Alan Wake. This of this outing more like a one-off, though not really a spin-off, as it does relate to Alan?s narrative from the first game. You don?t need the original game, as this isn?t DLC for the game, but be warned if you?ve not played the original, you?ll be massively confused as to what?s going on and why, not that it wouldn?t be enjoyable as a game though.

This self-contained story is a standalone chapter in Alan?s events, though it?s also somewhat of a sequel to the DLC episodes that we played through for Alan Wake as well. Fans will graps what?s going on and why quite easily, whereas novices will struggle trying to piece together who Alan is, Mr. Scratch, and why it seems like he?s in a TV episode. This is because for some reason, Remedy has left out the ?previously on? from the original game that recapped everything that?s happened to that point. Confused yet? It?s just getting started.

American Nightmare has a very different structure to it when compared to the original game. This time the setting is as if Alan is trapped inside an episode of the TV show he helped create, Night Springs, which is heavily influenced by The Twilight Zone. Turning on any TV?s you find will show you footage of a character named Mr. Scratch, whom happens to look exactly like Alan, but that?s but he is, and isn?t at the same time.

Mr. Scratch is Alan?s polar opposite of himself, being a completely psychopathic alter ego who?s now in the ?real? world controlling what?s left of Alan?s life there. As you try to piece together what?s happening and why, Mr. Scratch will constantly be taunting you as you defeat his horde of Taken (the shadow covered enemies) as Alan tries to wake up from this nightmare. Having Mr. Scratch appear in this manner works for many reasons, the foremost being that it seems Alan has a true evil enemy to fight against this time, other than some dark presence.

Set two years after the conclusion of the first game (and subsequent DLC), Alan is once against trapped in a nightmare of his own creation. Also known as the Champion of Light, Alan must find pieces of his manuscript once again so that he can rewrite and recreate events to save himself and escape. Once again, he?ll have his dependable flashlight to help him defeat the Taken and hopefully find some answers to defeat his alter self, Mr. Scratch.

Controls and mechanics will feel ultimately familiar if you?ve played the first game. While Alan only has a standard flashlight this time, there will be no searching for heavy duty ones, and it will once again be his most essential weapon against the Taken. Alan once again has access to a handful of pistols, nail guns, and shotguns, but as this is a new setting, he?ll also be toting SMG sand an array of rifles as well. While this may not suit the original Alan we know, since Alan is seemingly trapped in an episode of Night Springs, it suits the setting to go along with his new attire as well.

Combat this time around is substantially quicker, most likely due to the new assortments of weapons and the fact that your flashlight regenerates its batteries so quickly that you?ll rarely have to use any of the backups. Dodging enemies is done just as easily, and you?ll still need to burn all the darkness off a Taken before you can shoot it with your weaponry.

Being that this title is an XBLA game, I was unsure what to expect, not only for length, but settings as well. Essentially there are three large areas (each its own chapter) that you?ll be exploring for narrative and to find hidden manuscripts (though they aren?t too hidden, as you can see them on your map when nearby and from a mile away as it shines like a homing beacon). You?ll find some of these important papers behind locked doors and other areas you can?t seem to find yet, but that?s because you?ll be coming back through these three chapters, multiple times. While there is a good narrative reason you?ll be replaying levels that I don?t want to spoil, it becomes tiring the third time you?ve been through the same area. Granted, new enemies and events will keep things fresh, but with only three areas to go through multiple times, some aren?t going to enjoy having to ?replay? sections.

The more manuscripts you find, the bigger and more lethal weapons you gain access to (usable in arcade mode as well). Keep in mind though, that for the most part, you?ll run to the star on the mini map, collector or interact with the object, fight a handful of Taken, and then move onto the next objective to repeat the process over again. To keep the player tense, there are new types of enemies introduced that become more powerful and frequent as he gets closer to Mr. Scratch. There are spiders the size of your leg, a Taken that throws grenades filled with darkness at you, a splitter who duplicates if you shine your light at him, and even a giant hulk that wields a buzz saw that will swipe at you and take a substantial amount of ammunition to take down. Again, because this is an ?episode? of Night Springs, it fits as anything can happen on TV, right?

New though is the Fight Till Dawn arcade mode, which will have you trying to survive until dawn (luckily that?s only ten minutes away once you start) against waves of Taken trying to kill Alan. You?re aiming not only to survive, but to attain a high score for the leaderboards. Whenever you kill or dodge an enemy, your multiplier increases, and if you get hit, it resets back to one. You?ll need to become very familiar with how to properly dodge enemy attacks, as later waves will have numerous Taken after Alan at the same time. Most of the time I had no issue, but there seems to be the odd occurrence when it doesn?t dodge properly or when I want it to. Playing arcade mode will quickly make you a master at dodging, shining, then shooting Taken in rapid succession, which will carry over into the story mode as well.

There are five separate maps to play Fight Till Dawn mode on, and once you complete them, you unlock the Nightmare difficulty for each one which will throw you in for a loop if you?ve become accustomed to the regular variants of each map. Weapon and ammo locations are swapped, you start in a different spot, there are barely any lights to regenerate your health, and Taken will constantly be spawning rather than completing waves. It makes for an incredibly tense gaming session and you?re truly just trying to survive the ten minute timer. I do really believe that arcade mode would be a blast with a friend at the same time, though I understand being alone is what makes for much of the fear and tenseness, since you never know what direction Taken are coming from almost until it?s too late.

I?m a huge Alan Wake fan, and even I was disappointed in the fact that you?re essentially replaying the same areas three times, even with the narrative reasoning and slight changes, it didn?t resonate with me the way the original did. It could be the fact that there was also nowhere near the same around of over the top sequences the original game had, but the soundtrack and gameplay carry over into an XBLA experience that can hold its own. You?ll feel as if you have deja-vu going through the four to five hour campaign, but the presentation value is top notch, which is to be expected.

Oddly, Alan?s voice work is done great, but the supporting minor characters really seemed awful at times and really stood out. I don?t know if this is somewhat intentional since it could be perceived as a bad ?episode? of Night Springs, or if it wasn?t and was simply poor voice work. The set pieces (especially in Act 3?for the third time) have an amazing soundtrack of licensed music, which brought back that original mood Alan Wake had. Sadly, for us fan of Barry Wheeler, there?s very little of him included in American Nightmare, but I?ll still hold my breath for a spin-off story of his own.

For an XBLA sub-story version of Alan Wake, I wasn?t sure what to expect, and while I was disappointed with the same three areas having to be recompleted, the story tugged me along just enough, making me turn the next ?page? to find out what happens to Alan. Don?t come looking for ?answers? from the first game, or everything to be wrapped up in a nice present either. Come for what Alan Wake does best; entrap you into a world of fear and unknowing with brilliant writing and narrative.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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