I have never played the original Alan Wake. I have not tried the demo, I have not rented or borrowed the game, I have not had the game, in any format, within the confines of my home, or even in my hand as a possible purchase at a store. I’m not really a fan of horror or thriller games in general, which is why Alan Wake never really held any interest for me. Now, with Alan Wake’s American Nightmare making its way onto consoles as part of this year’s House Party event for XBLA, I have finally played in the shoes of Alan Wake. I can review this game in one sentence: Playing Alan Wake’s American Nightmare makes me want to buy and play the original Alan Wake.
There. Review done. You may now return to your regularly scheduled Interneting.
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What, you need more than that? FINE. I didn’t want to go to lunch ANYWAY.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare finds Alan Wake in a very small cluster of buildings called a town as he plays out an episode of Night Springs that he wrote. From what I understand of the original Alan Wake, the gameplay and basic mechanics of the first title make a return in this downloadable title. The flashlight is used as a reticle and as a way of burning away the shield of darkness that surrounds the Taken that gambol after you so that you can fire upon them with effect. Flashlight batteries remain as a way of limiting the use of the flashlight, forcing you to employ strategy and caution with your primary mode of offense and defense.
Mr. Scratch, Alan Wake’s evil doppelganger, seems to want Alan’s life. Alan, understandably, wants to stop Mr. Scratch. Therein lies the main conflict that drives American Nightmare’s story. The game contains manuscript pages, another return from the original title, that provide you with future clues and warnings, a more fleshed out backstory, and the ability to unlock bigger and better weapons around the game’s world. In American Nightmare, Alan must use the manuscript pages to adjust the reality of his situation to fit the written scenario, so that all of the elements are in place for the story to proceed, all the while having to deal with Mr. Scratch’s onslaught of Taken.
The game does a lot right visually. The cutscenes are absolutely fantastic, and far from what you would expect in a downloadable title. I think part of this comes from the fact that the developers are working off of a full retail engine, in much the same way Section 8: Prejudice was able to provide a phenomenal shooter experience as a downloadable title because of its full retail engine. Regardless, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare offers very pretty storytelling. Not only are the cutscenes pretty, the actual game’s graphics are very well done, most likely for the same reason as the cutscenes. The graphics are supported by great control mechanics and fluid animations.
The dialogue can be long, and seems to get a bit off point. Eventually you’ll get where you’re going, but there may be a lot of random chatter on the way. American Nightmare’s story is not meant to be a direct sequel to the events of Alan Wake (that’s what Alan Wake 2 will be for, I’m sure), but more of a companion story meant to fill in the Alan Wake universe. It’s not the strongest story, but it fits well enough into the game and into the series (because series it will be) that you can’t really fault it.
At 1200MSP, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is one of the two more expensive titles in this year’s House Party (tied with the upcoming I Am Alive, with Nexuiz and Warp bringing up the rear at 800MSP each). It does seem, however, that it (along with I Am Alive) provides a great deal of value for that $15, and is definitely a great choice for inclusion in the event. I may not have been a fan of Alan Wake before, but now that I’ve had a chance to play it in the form of American Nightmare, I can definitely count myself a fan now.
Story could use more support