Horror Games Week 2012 Day 5: Review of “Alan Wake’s American Nightmare”

Killed or escaped all the zombies in Deadlight? Why not try something more on XBLA, this time an old acquantaince coming back into the light.

Remedy Entertainment offers with Alan Wake’s American Nightmare an independent DLC which doesn’t continue the story of the original psychological horror action-adventure, but gives an interesting look at the writer’s work coming alive again.

Alan Wake: American Nightmare (Xbox 360)
(Finland 2012, developer: Remedy Entertainment, publisher: Mircrosoft Studios, platforms: Xbox 360, PC)

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Alan Wake is trapped inside one of his Night Springs episodes and has to fight or write his way back into reality before his evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch takes his place.

Survival horror action storytelling shooter, sort of
Alan Wake has always been about storytelling. Just like Max Payne, game mechanics were usually quite repetitive with one gimmick used throughout the playtime. American Nightmare is no different, as light is the hero’s best friend as he can use his flashlight to emit a powerful stunning blast to diminish the shadow enemies’ strengths. Then it’s all up to the weapons Alan carries to finish them off.

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This time around weapons have to be unlocked by collecting manuscript pages. The more one picks up the more suitcases can be opened which provide new powerful tools to destroy the darkness. This sounds quite daft, and it actually is. But upgrading to other weapons doesn’t necessarily make the game easier. Some are even more difficult to handle than the one the player starts with.

Finding clues and building storytelling momentum
Still, finding all the manuscript pages offers something more enjoyable, mainly what is written there. Like in the original game, they give more background information about certain characters and Alan’s life as a writer. Most are about the act and art of writing itself, highlighting the metafictional elements which always made Alan Wake so much different than other generic third-person action-adventures. It’s easy to get lost in those pages, fun and scary at the same time as it feels like watching a character speak to the player, as he’s aware of creating, changing a story.

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The plot itself isn’t as engaging as in the original game, which is a shame as there are quite some interesting ideas to be found. Chasing his evil alter ego is not the most original videogame trope, but at least it’s delivered in a different way. By turning on TVs, evil Alan shows what he’s really capable of when he does not only use degrading words and insults against good Alan, but makes his point by killing people. These scenes are quite graphic and brutal, and it’s surprising how the game got a 16+ rating in Germany.

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Other than these scenes, there’s actually very little interaction between the two Alans, which makes the story lose some of its potency. Another thing is how only a small cast of characters is introduced. It sure emphasizes loneliness and despair, but doesn’t distract from the fact that there’s not a lot of interesting people he meets.

In a movie, re-run, again and again and…
The biggest problem the title faces as a game is that it is so repetitive. The same locations, the same people and sometimes even the same actions make for a rather lacklustre gaming experience. This would later become a problem for indie adventure game Reperfection, but in the Xbox case, playtime is really too long and after the third time it loses some of its impact. It doesn’t help that enemy types don’t change a lot (even if there are quite some great ideas, like crows forming an enemy and disappearing again into the air) and shooting them, running away from them gets boring pretty soon.

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One interesting gameplay idea which fits the story perfectly is how the player is tasked to recreate scenes to change events in the future, or rather what he wants to have in his story he is in. These sections are almost like a classic adventure game. By looking at a manuscript, he has to use certain objects or interact with the environment to set up the scene. Too bad this part becomes repetitive again and there aren’t a lot of these brain teasers.

Superb presentation, nuff said
Graphics, soundtrack and effects are just as excellent as the convincing voice acting. High production values offer a movie-like experience, and it’s particularly interesting to have a narrator in the background, giving the game another level of immersion. Still despite some great cutscenes with life-like characters (a strange way of fusing real life actors and computer animations) and the overall atmosphere, it can’t hide the problematic storytelling.

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A short and for the most part satisfying trip to the old writing
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is, like its original, NOT the mindblowing and, what the developer wants it to be, changing the quality of DLC forever. Gameplay and story aren’t the most engaging, recycled locations are the most disappointing things.

But it’s still an entertaining game, ironically because of all the optional manuscript pages, TV appearances of Mr. Scratch and radio stations which make for an immersive gameworld nonetheless. It might not be the sequel with the same quality many expected, but it’s much better than some make it out to be.

Rating: 7/10

Buy the Xbox 360 game on
Xbox Marketplace

Buy the PC game on
GOG
Steam

Official Website
Wikipedia

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG link and buying the product also helps ;).

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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3 Responses to Horror Games Week 2012 Day 5: Review of “Alan Wake’s American Nightmare”

  1. Pingback: “Alan Wake” to be removed from digital platforms | Emotional Multimedia Ride

  2. Pingback: Modern action-adventures: “Alan Wake” (PC) | Emotional Multimedia Ride

  3. Pingback: GOG Adventurous Summer update: free game “Alan Wake’s American Nightmare” | Emotional Multimedia Ride

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