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Alan Wake's American Nightmare Review


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On 03/14/2012 at 11:59 PM by Julian Titus

Submitted for your approval: the story of a man fighting against the darkness.
RECOMMENDATION:

For fans of the original Alan Wake only.

American Nightmare is a smaller, more action focused entry in the series. The backdrop for Wake’s new tale is far removed from Cauldron Lake in the first game, and instead moves into the desert of Arizona. Wake is on the trail of Mr. Scratch, the darkness-created doppleganger featured in the two DLC episodes for Alan Wake: The Signal and The Writer.

While the scenery is all new, the core mechanics of Alan Wake haven’t changed much, for better or worse. The focus of the combat still involves burning away the shadowy protection of Wake’s enemies, making them susceptible to gunfire. The combat remains simple and satisfying, and I was happy to see a better pacing for each level. Alan Wake was a game that would have been better with less combat, and while there’s probably more combat overall during the 4-5 hour experience, it seems to strike a better balance between gunplay and exploration.

When you do run into a pack of enemies, Alan has a whole new slate of weapons at his disposal. Beyond the return of mainstays like the pistol and shotgun, Wake can get his hands on new toys like the nailgun, crossbow, and my personal favorite, the sawed-off shotgun. There are now enough weapons that players can choose a loadout that works with their play style. For example, the crossbow reloads very slowly, but can damage enemies still shrouded in darkness. If making every shot count isn’t for you, perhaps you’ll want to pick up the automatic rifle for that weapon slot, perfect for the player that likes to spray and pray. The choice is yours, and it’s clear that the team and Remedy had a lot of fun throwing in some crazy weapons with the new Arcade Mode in mind.

Even though Alan Wake’s American Nightmare has a story, the genesis for this XBLA game is the Arcade Mode. This mode is one of survival, where Alan Wake needs to slay wave after wave of increasingly more difficult enemies until dawn. The combat of the Alan Wake series isn’t the selling point for me, and it’s not a mode that I would probably spend a lot of time in, but for what it is, it works well enough. Wake seems to take less damage in this game than the 2010 release, and the enemy A.I. is structured in such a way that it’s all too easy to get backstabbed to death in a flash. For players that can reach a zen-like state, building multipliers while avoiding damage, it can be a fun and addicting side mode.

Set up like an episode of the Twilight Zone-inspired TV show Night Springs, Wake is tasked with a variety of what boils down to fetch quests. The first Alan Wake title wasn’t known for inventive quest design, but I feel like more care could have gone into the tasks put in front of the player.  The game is split into three levels, and though it’s true that these environments are on the small side, they are full of detail. These areas feel like they could actually exist, and it gives a sense of place to the game. Unfortunately, these three levels are recycled a lot during the course of the story, and even with the clever reason given for revisiting areas, I found myself wishing that there was more here. As with the first game, I got caught up in the storytelling and presentation, but something about this game lacks the thoughtful episodic format of the main game.

Instead of being a great jumping-on point for curious new players, this is a tale that can be confusing even to series veterans. The writing is improved over the first game, and it’s worth mentioning that Alan Wake is a much more defined character this time around. Wake has more opportunities to interact with people, and it humanizes him, building on his arc from the first game. Whether it’s the voice acting by Matthew Porretta, or the manic live action of Ilkka Villi, it’s clear that a lot of fun was had putting the narrative of this game together. It’s a decent package for fans eager to see a new chapter in the life of Alan Wake, but it may leave players with more questions than answers.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

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