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Alan Wake American Nightmare Review (XBLA)

Game Review: Alan Wake American Nightmare
Release: February 22, 2012
Genre: Action, Horror
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Available Platforms: XBLA
Players: 1
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Website: http://www.alanwake.com/american-nightmare/

The forces of darkness haven’t stopped trying to kill Alan Wake after his first adventure at Bright Falls. Now the fight takes place in Night Springs. Night Springs is a nice place. The only problems are it’s a fictional town which was the setting of a Twilight Zone type show Alan used to write for and it’s currently being terrorized by a dark clone of Alan named Mr. Scratch who is a magical serial killer. Other than that it’s great. As bad as that sounds Alan isn’t powerless. Wake can shape reality with his writing to try to break out of the darkness. In American Nightmare, Alan will fight the darkness with just his writing, a flashlight and his handgun. Or maybe a combat shotgun. Or an automatic rifle. Or a magnum!

Like the original, American Nightmare is very story driven. How could it not be when the main character is a writer whose words shape the very world he lives in. After the first game Alan was stranded in the world of the darkness. He’s been trapped for two years. During those years his evil double, Mr. Scratch has been in the real world doing horrible things. In order to escape, Alan writes a story based on an episode of the television show he used to write for, Night Springs. This story is Alan’s greatest weapon against the darkness. Using it he can shape reality.

Unfortunately, traveling from the darkness to the real world is a bumpy ride. Alan wakes up remembering nearly nothing about the story and with the manuscript pages strewn throughout Night Springs. In the game, you will be playing through this episode trying to piece the story together through the pages. Mr. Scratch wants to stop you though. His weapon of choice? The Taken. These used to be people, but now they are just monsters trying you kill you at every turn. Luckily, Alan has more than just some manuscript pages to fight back with.

Alan Wake American Nightmare is a third person shooter. The twist is you can’t simply fire at enemies as they pop on-screen. Enemies are protected by darkness. In order to actually hurt enemies you have to strip them of that darkness using your flashlight. Only after the darkness is gone can you kill them. And kill them you will. Remedy wanted to go with a more action feel than the original game and they succeeded with the weaponry. Crossbows, combat shotguns, flare guns (much more deadly than you’d think considering you’re fighting darkness) and more make you feel a little less scared in Night Springs. Just don’t ask why an author can suddenly dispatch five maniacs with a shotgun in as many seconds.

You’ll need those weapons for the survival mode in American Nightmare. In the new mode titled ‘Fight Till Dawn’ you’ll need to survive progressively more powerful enemies until dawn breaks. Killing Taken and dodging their attacks raises your multiplier while getting hit resets it back to 1. The Fight Till Dawn mode is well thought out and fun but I don’t see many players putting much time into it. Alan Wake’s core is it’s story. While Fight Till Dawn isn’t bad, I don’t think it’s very necessary.

Playing though an episode of Night Springs is brilliant. It let Remedy go to a completely new setting with brand new characters. This lets the game be accessible to new players. Knowing the original Alan Wake’s story enhances the sequel, but it’s not necessary. The Night Springs setting also lets the enemies and characters be a little more extraordinary. Remedy wanted to make American Nightmare more pulp fiction than the original and they succeeded.

The collectible manuscript pages are great. I love collectibles that actually fill out the story rather than collectibles that are there just to be collected (I’m looking at you thermoses). It makes me want to go explore the game world. Along with different radios and videos you can watch during the game, American Nightmare is saturated with story.

The controls are tight and the flashlight mechanic is still great. You have to aim in order to burn away an enemy’s darkness. Aiming reduces your field of vision which makes fighting tense. As you burn away the darkness on one enemy you’ll always be worried about another just outside your view. The only problem with the action is that most of the time I easily handled the Taken. I would have liked a bit more of a challenge during the story. I was only in trouble a few times throughout the whole game. The Taken are challenge enough to keep you on edge but not enough to really make you sweat.

The other problem I had with American Nightmare is Mr. Scratch. I like the concept of the character but I wanted more interaction with him during the game. You see him mostly through videos he has left you throughout Night Springs. The videos are great and let you get to know the character but it’s not enough. He is ruining your life, trying to stop you and constantly taunting you but he felt very much in the background for the whole game.

While the bad guys in Alan Wake American Nightmare could have been better, the game is still a lot of fun. If you enjoyed the first Alan Wake this one should satisfy you. Remedy did a great job of distilling all the great things about the original Alan Wake into a smaller XBLA game. The collectibles are actually worth getting. I like a game that gives me questions to think about when it’s over. Did Alan write this? Are these characters real people? Have I won or does the darkness still have me? The only question I had a definitive answer to was if this game is fun. Yes.

– enemies not enough of a challenge
+ worthwhile collectibles
+ good story
+ tense combat mechanic

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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