Posted: May 18, 2014
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a spin-off/sequel to Alan Wake. A heads-up about the game and this review, Alan Wake's American Nightmare takes place after Alan Wake, and has spoilers for the first game. It really shouldn't be played until after the first game, and as such with this review I am going to be comparing it a lot to the first game, and will drop a few spoilers.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare takes place in Arizona, in a fictional town known as Night Springs. However, as we find out early on, Night Springs is not actually a solid place, but rather rather more like an illusion brought to life by the Darkness, and a town that can appear anywhere, just tonight it happens to be in Arizona. When we last saw Alan Wake, he was trapped in the Dark Place, and in American Nightmare he still hasn't quite escaped. Instead, he appears where the darkness goes, and in this case he has written himself into reality as a the hero to an episode of the TV series from the first game, Night Springs. He's done so to combat Mr. Scratch, who's called as such as trying to say his real name comes out like scratching noises. Mr. Scratch is Alan's doppelganger, who was seen briefly towards the end of Alan Wake. He's come into reality since, after Alan's disappearance, rumors of the author who went missing into the night has spread, and these rumors have taken on the form of Mr. Scratch, a psychopathic killer who wears Alan's face.
American Nightmare is even more focused on combat than the original game was, but the combat has seen a lot of improvements. It feels much more solid and fast-paced, on-top of the fact the enemy variety this time is much larger and weirder. There are even more guns, and they manage to feel more varied than the original game as well. This is all backed with still impressive lighting effects, and an overall sleeker look to keep up with the more sci-fi tones this game has.
However, with the improved combat comes a step-down of a lot of the charm the original game had. There's no full-on exploration sequences this time around, and the atmosphere is not nearly as immersive this time either.
Basically, there's a throw-up between improvements and downgrades. For one, the levels are now no longer linear, instead being more hub-like small open-worlds that you can explore, and generally are fun to as well. There are find-able manuscript pages, televisions, and radios like the first game, but they're more spread-out. There are also guns to unlock, and side-areas to explore just to really explore them. This is a welcome change of pace, especially for a much more combat-composed game.
On the other hand, the story is not nearly as interesting. Alan Wake spends most of the narrative chasing down Mr. Scratch, and interacting with a few different chicks that Mr. Scratch has managed to swoon. However, the story in AWAN really doesn't go much further than where Alan Wake ended off, and more elaborates on the ending of the first game rather than move past it, and as such really feels more like filler and sort of lacks climax, conclusion, or really any huge developments.
However, Mr. Scratch is a very enjoyable villain. He makes more of an impact than the antagonists of the first game, being deliciously psychopathic and charismatic, and dealing in twisted acts with a child-like glee. The televisions you can find with him are definitely one of the highlights of the game.
But then, in probably the biggest flaw for the game, and something really stupid, is that in the game's story you go through its three 'hub' stages three times each. The excuse is that Alan Wake is stuck in a time-loop, and time keeps on resetting itself so he has to start from the beginning again until he can break the cycle. What this means for gameplay is that there really are only three levels in the game, and each one is repeated three times. They do change things up, areas not previously available open up and different events happen each visit, but it still is a bizarre design decision.
Made even more bizarre by the game's wave-based horde-like mode. This mode is actually a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be, and honestly may be more fun than the game's actual campaign. It's very frantic, tense, with an addicting risk-and-reward system to try and get high-scores in the mode's five different stages. And this is where it gets bizarre, as the 5 stages in this mode are completely different than the stages in the main game, hell some of the stages are actually larger than the main game's stages. On-top of this, you can actually see the Horde-mode stages in the background of the main story, and see the main story's stages in the background of the Horde Mode stages. Why these five other locations weren't added to the game's story to help keep things more varied is completely lost on me.
But the game's Horde Mode, known as Arcade Mode, is completely worth taking part in. It's inclusion is surprising, but not nearly as surprising as how well-executed it actually is.
For an arcade-like shooter, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is not bad at all for a spin-off. It's fun, fairly tightly made, and has some fun content to delve in. However, it also as a spin-off feels it misses the mark of what people loved about Alan Wake in several ways, and focuses on the elements that were less enjoyable. Given here, they definitely have been improved, but it strikes as an odd decision.
If you liked Alan Wake and want more of it, this is and isn't it. In some ways it retains the charms of the original game, but also doesn't quite have everything that made the original game charming. It is more fun strictly gameplay-wise than Alan Wake, but then it is arguable if that actually makes it more enjoyable overall as it misses what made the first game really enjoyable in many ways.
Basically, I cut it like this; The new stuff they introduce is well-done and appreciated, such as the open-world levels, Mr. Scratch as an antagonist, and the surprisingly fun Arcade Mode. The game focuses on combat, which was not the first game's strong point, but it pulls it off much better here, with better mechanics and a larger enemy selection. However, elements like down-time exploration moments, much of the atmosphere, and the narrative are mostly missing or much more limited. And the game is plagued by one big problem, repeating levels, which is made bizarre as the Arcade Mode has completely different levels the devs could of used that are even tied-in with the stories' locations.
But it's an enjoyable little romp, and an interesting spin-off that does expand more on the world of Alan Wake, while also improving over it in some ways. It isn't quite as good, but is enjoyable in its own way. If you like exploration, the locations are fun with multiple landmarks and sections. The music is still appropriate and moody, with a few-stand-out tracks. The voicing gets hammier, but it works with the sort of hammier tone of the game (being modeled after a parody of Twilight Zone and all).
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is not the sequel fans may clamor for, but is an enjoyable arcade spin-off.