Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is generating some considerable buzz for a XBLA game – and with good reason. Serving as a stand-alone spinoff from the original Alan Wake, American Nightmare throws the player into the role of the title character on a brand new adventure. So, is this game worth 1200 hard-earned Microsoft points? Read on the find out!
First, some rundown of the story for those of you who are unfamiliar with the main characters in the Alan Wake series. Alan Wake is a fiction writer who finds himself in a world where his stories have started turned into reality – and unfortunately, Alan’s fiction mostly dealt with horror. American Nightmare places Alan in the “Night Springs” TV series he wrote for, where he’s trying to face off against his evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch, who hopes to replace Alan and destroy everything he holds dear. On Mr. Scratch’s side is the environment itself, as well as The Taken – a kind of cursed darkness that pervades American Nightmare, bringing deranged weapon-wielding humans after Alan to attack him. On Alan’s side is an assortment of weapons, his knowledge of his own writing, and a flashlight.
Oh, and a little bit of time travel.
Graphically, the game is top-notch – and the sheer detail of the enemies and environment almost justifies the 1200 Microsoft Points in and of itself. The whole light versus darkness contrast is done to excellent effect here, and the dusky setting just makes the fire and effects ‘pop’ all that more to the eye. The model detail is excellent as well, and animation is nice and smooth all around. For an XBLA title, this game has some considerable eye candy – and that’s a surprise, since frankly I expected this to be the one area where corners would be cut in a direct download 360 title. I’m happy to say I was mistaken.
The gameplay is also a whole lot of fun, but here’s where a caveat comes. American Nightmare has a decidedly different feel to it than the original Alan Wake, one that emphasizes action and explosions over story. Subtlety is one thing a player shouldn’t expect from this title, at least not in the way it showed up in the original Alan Wake title. That said, running around and pumping bullet after bullet into The Taken felt immensely satisfying – it may be a switch in Alan Wake’s tone, but for me it was a welcome one. Naturally you don’t really need to have played the original game to enjoy this game, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some people ended up trying to hunt down the original due to their experiences with American Nightmare. Those who do so should keep in mind that they’ll be getting a richer story experience at the cost of, in my view, less enjoyable gameplay.
There’s a collection focus in American Nightmare, coming in the form of hunting for manuscript pages. Not only do these pages clue you in on more of the story, but they also serve as an unlock mechanism – you can ‘spend’ these pages to acquire more weapons for Alan, making the task of putting The Taken down that much easier (and more enjoyable too.) For someone like me who just loves to pick up each and every weapon to use at least once, this made the entire page collection aspect of the game a lot more enjoyable. As much as I enjoy filling out the story details and (of course) advancing the plot, I prefer my in-game rewards to come in the form of additional toys to play with. American Nightmare does a decent job of scratching that itch.
One aspect of the game that should be mentioned is the time travel. While I won’t spoil too much, I will say this mechanism involves recovering the same ground more than once – and I can see this leading to some rumbling among players who don’t appreciate having to replay the same level again. Personally, this didn’t bother me too much – I’m actually used to this kind of backtracking thanks to games like Dead Rising and even (to a degree) Resident Evil, and I think it’s an acceptable way to squeeze a little more time into some of these well-crafted areas. For those of you who prefer your games to provide you with a fresh, brand new area with each advance, this will be a downside of the game.
I’d say another downside would be American Nightmare’s reduced emphasis on story, but that wouldn’t be completely fair. While some of the supporting character dialogue can be a little awkward, the primary villain himself – in a way, the real star of the game – comes across beautifully. If you like your villains sinister and cackling, if only because it makes wrecking their plans that much more satisfying, then you’re going to love Mr. Scratch. Not only does he perform a splendid job as the primary antagonist, but since the game’s campaign clocks in at 10-12 hours, chances are you won’t get too sick of him by the game’s end – overexposure being one of the main problems with a character this vicious.
Speaking of game length, American Nightmare also features an additional game mode: Fight Till Dawn. Here, your job is to help Alan survive increasingly nasty waves of enemies until sunrise. The mode takes ten minutes, and while there’s no co-op to speak of, it still leads to a nice rush of excitement as you try to rack up a higher and higher score. While that aforementioned lack of co-op is unfortunate (this would be a blast to play alongside someone) I still got a kick out of this mode in particular. After all, since the combat is what American Nightmare does best, it makes sense to emphasize it as much as possible with a feature like this.
All in all, I’d say Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an easy pick for anyone looking for an action-heavy title with a horror twist. It’s got the graphics, it’s got the gameplay, it’s got the diversity of weapons… all this plus a nice, dark story, for a very reasonable price. If pumping bullets into deadly, frenzied humans hasn’t gotten old for you yet, be sure to check this one out.