Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review

This return to Alan Wake’s madness is a writer’s worst nightmare.

The first game brought episodic television and its devious cliffhangers to gaming, even calling itself “Season One” of Alan Wake’s story. The narrative flowed masterfully, creating a “just one more area” or “I never want to put this down” experience. When I wasn’t scared out of my wits, I was emotionally invested in this man and his fight to save his wife.

Here in American Nightmare, I know that Alan is in Night Springs, Arizona, a world he created himself. I know that he is hunted by Mr. Scratch, essentially Alan’s dark side. I know that the narrative takes a Groundhog Day approach, walking me through the same environments three different times with different actions each time. Aside from that, I don’t know a single thing about this story. How did Alan get to Night Springs? What is he looking for? What is driving him to get there? The same goes for Mr. Scratch: other than wanting to kill Alan, what more does he want? What’s his impetus for being the malevolent force that he is? The excellent FMV scenes I would stumble upon show Scratch’s penchant for murder and other evils, but it does nothing for his overall goal.

Now, that’s not to say the story isn’t enjoyable. I do like the repeated-scene approach; it fits the paranormal essence of Alan Wake well. Also, Alan’s travels have helped him evolve from the brooding, introverted Alan we met in Bright Falls to a compassionate, driven man ready to take on his nefarious doppelganger. The game would be a perfect offering, especially as a downloadable game, if not for the foundation built by the previous experience. Because of its console counterpart, American Nightmare has a lot to live up to, and from a narrative standpoint it doesn’t quite get there.

Story is not the only thing that makes a game, however, and everything else American Nightmare offers is spot-on. The game takes a more action-oriented approached to its gameplay while retaining the core elements of Alan Wake. He’s still armed with a flashlight and a gun, still uses the light to repel the darkness before shooting, and still has flash bangs and flares at his disposal. The change is in the frequency of combat and the number of enemies Alan will be charged with destroying. There were times I found myself smothered with enemies, leaving retreat as the only survival option.

Despite the heavy action focus, this is still a horror game and American Nightmare will scare you. It depends on tension and suspense to form that pit in your stomach. You know the Taken are coming, you know that you’re in for a battle, you just don’t know when, where, what kind, or how many. That uncertainty made me far more nervous than when the enemies were in my face. I wasn’t afraid of the Taken when they were coming after me, I knew how to get rid of them. When I was alone with my thoughts, however, the uneasiness started to take over. Will they come when I reach the door, or will they attack me beforehand? Will those bird guys be here, or that one guy who charges me after getting too close? Those questions are where American Nightmare’s horror elements kick into high gear, and it’s exhilarating.

As a standalone game, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare¬†revolutionizes the downloadable game medium. This is a fifteen-dollar Xbox LIVE Arcade release, not a full retail game, but there were times where I legitimately forgot all about it. The graphical prowess of this game nearly matches its retail predecessor and the amount of content is immense, showcasing the power of digital distribution.¬†Should the digital distribution movement continue to gain steam, future gamers may look to Alan Wake’s American Nightmare as the catalyst for original and successful digital gaming.

However, I get the inclination that fans of the original game may be left scratching their heads at the end of American Nightmare. There are a lot of unanswered questions, fitting for the episodic television format the series follows, but frustrating for those following the saga. Despite the narrative issues, the tense action scenes and excellent arcade mode make Alan Wake’s American Nightmare well worth the fifteen dollar price of admission.

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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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