When I first got to review Alan Wake just a few months ago for PC, it was around the time Xbox 360 players were going to be getting Alan Wake’s American Nightmare on Live. I didn’t think anything of it. It’d been years since Wake had been released on 360, and because of that, I wasn’t expecting American Nightmare any time soon. After getting to play through this, I’m very happy to say that Remedy wasted no time getting this over onto PC, and that not only is everything tighter, control and gameplay-wise, but they managed to offer up an interesting story involving the ill-fated writer and his evil double, a man he calls Mr. Scratch.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare feels more like an action game with horror elements than a horror game with action elements like the first one, but that’s okay. It’s a different kind of story altogether with different payoffs for the player. There are two different play modes here, Story and Arcade. Arcade mode puts you in as Alan in different maps infested by the darkness, which keeps sending The Taken after you in waves to try and kill you before the sun comes up. There are different weapons scattered around the map as well as chests that are locked until you’ve uncovered the number of manuscript pages needed to unlock them in Story mode. Usually these are better than what you have, or at least different, but once you get the nail gun, the other weapons are just gravy for the mashed potatoes or stuffing, at least for me. You can unlock different levels as you go, earning points the longer you stay alive until daylight and beat back the darkness. There are also leaderboards to basically give you bragging rights over how well you did against the growing horde across the different levels as well.
Story Mode is something of a continuation from Alan Wake, but could be a stand-alone as well. It’s being billed as stand-alone, and no, you don’t have to have played the first game to understand what’s going on, but I think you appreciate what is happening and the manuscript pages you find a helluva lot more if you have played the first one. Alan finds himself in a bit of a predicament, meaning that he’s trapped inside an episode of Night Springs, a Twilight Zone-esque show he used to write for before he made it big, and to top it off, it’s an episode he himself wrote. The kicker for all this is that in the first game, you’d find TV sets with little mini-episodes of Night Springs that you could watch, and now you’re basically stuck in one with Alan, while he tries to figure out how to get out of it. In the original episode, there was a “ËœHerald of Light’ that was sent to fight off the “ËœHerald of Darkness’ and beat it all back. In this case, Alan has become the Herald of Light, but the darkness has created a doppelganger of Alan that goes by his name, and does things that are vile and cruel and, ultimately, murderous. Alan calls him Mr. Scratch.
It seems the only way out is to set things right based off what is on the pages Alan finds, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. Alan’s ability to alter reality this way is key to solving the problems in the game, but you may not always get the answers you’re looking for. The story itself plays out like I’d expect an episode of Night Springs to play out, with a twist at the end, only after the twist, instead of dissolving to the credits, things keep carrying on. It almost feels like it carries on too long after the twist, but you can tell even Alan is frustrated by our inability to escape this little trap Mr. Scratch has set for us, though the people we’ve been helping also remember what’s happened and help us out, making going through certain events bearable. I’m trying not to ruin the twist, and it’s a little hard. Let’s just say you’ll be revisiting areas and scenarios, but things have changed each time. While I might have handled it a little differently, I’m glad Remedy worked it out the way they did. My ending would have sucked. At least this way there’s a bit of closure, and at the same time you know it’s not over for poor Alan.
The sound packs quite a punch this go round. Lots of creepy effects are all around you, although I did notice there’s not nearly as much music this time around, from the radio or otherwise. It’s a bit disappointing after it was such a big thing in the first game to have it missing here, but what is here packs a nice punch and accents the scenes well. The characters that do have voices do a great job of getting things across, especially when Alan’s voice actor switches over to Mr. Scratch. You can just tell it’s a different person, even though the voice is identical. He has a certain mocking elegance and arrogance that just fits how Mr. Scratch comes across.
Visually the engine seems a bit better than it was in the first game, although this world seems to be a bit brighter than the one from the first game, and it feels a little less lived in. The shift in location to Arizona from the densely forested area from the first game might have something to do with it. The animations for moving around and combat look fantastic, but the cut-scenes where you’re interacting with people seem very, well, stiff and awkward. The scientist we talk with at the Observatory literally holds the same arm and hand position for almost five minutes while you talk to her, barely moving her body except to occasionally blink and talk. It’s a little jarring, and a lot of the conversations carry on that way. They are pretty short, and when you’re actually moving in the conversations it looks pretty natural and fluid, it’s just those standing around segments that fall flat. The weird slack-jawed default facial expression from the first game is gone, and is replaced with a more natural default expression. They’ve gone a step further and included real footage in the game, both of Alan and his evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch. Most of the Mr. Scratch time is taken up by showing Alan the disturbing things he’s done on TV or talking about the disturbing things he’s done, or showing us the tools he likes to use when doing these disturbing things. You get the idea. The other ones serve as the intro and outro to different sections of the game. I’m not sure why they opted to do it this way, as I’m pretty sure they could have accomplished the same effects with the in-game engine, but it is a neat treat seeing how close Alan’s in game model looks to the actor he’s patterned after.
You have two options for controls on the PC, the keyboard and mouse and a 360 controller. I actually opted for the 360 controller after trying out the keyboard and mouse, not because it was a little awkward with the base controls this time around, but because I’ve gotten used to it after playing the prior game and while playing TERA so much right now. The controls are actually pretty tight and have been refined nicely for this release. Everything responds quickly and like it should, and I can actually get the dodging mechanic to not only work this time, but it worked damned well. You only get to carry one big weapon and one hand weapon, like before, along with your flashlight. There’s the flare gun, your flares, and flash bang grenades you can toss like the flares. The unlockable cases from Arcade mode are also in the Story mode as well, and rely on the same mechanic of having found manuscript pages to be able to get into them. After you’ve gotten the page with items you need from the mechanic in the garage, you’ll actually be able to see pages on your map if you’re close enough. That doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to get to them right away, but you can see them.
Flares and flash grenades don’t respawn, ammo does infrequently, as do the Lights from the first game that act as save points as well as health recharging areas. They do short out though, and sometimes come back a bit later to be re-used, but don’t always count on that, especially later in the game. One thing that respawns fairly quickly, though, are the ammunition and battery storage lockers. Loot them, walk away for some combat or a cutscene, and then walk back and they’re full up for you to pillage again. This makes them very handy for those of us with no real aiming ability. Aiming isn’t too bad with this, and while there is the expected drift with some weapons over others when you’re full out on the trigger, it’s easy enough to bring back in. It might have been easier with my mouse, but I was enjoying the controller too much to switch back over.
If this game just had the story mode, I’d give it two playthroughs, once on normal, once on Nightmare difficulty, and then it’d probably not get played again for awhile. The story was good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the type that requires a good long while to savor it before you play it again. The Arcade mode changes that quite a bit. It’s challenging, and it gives you a chance to compare your ability, or in my case, inability, to play the game and waste the Taken and other minions with others. It’s a neat concept and gives you a variety of levels to play through. There’s the obvious need to collect manuscript pages, although I was able to get enough on my first playthrough to unlock all the chests I was interested in, but I’m still missing about 7 pages or so, which is really bothering me far more than it should. The game also has Steam achievements and doesn’t give them out like candy. You have to play through Story mode to earn a third of them. The rest are all in the Arcade Mode, which really ends up being a huge chunk of time spent playing this game.
I can’t get over the price for this. It’s only $15 without any discounts. Steam was offering a pre-order discount, and an even bigger one if you owned the first game, which drops this down to like $10. This is less than half of what they want for the first game, and you’ve got about just as much play time you can sink into it? Sure, the Story Mode isn’t as developed, but the Arcade Mode makes up for that. Like I said earlier, this is more an action game with horror elements, and it plays that way. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different type of experience. The game does get more difficult as it goes along. In fact, by the end of the Story mode, I was beginning to feel like I was wading though the tail end of an Arcade match. The respawning ammo supplies can help quite a bit, but running around to get to them isn’t always an option. Arcade mode definitely gets harder as more waves come at you. Weapons are pretty balanced, some have great damage and very limited ammo. I’m partial to the nail gun, mainly because it has so much ammo to it, but it’s also rapid fire, so while I’m wasting ammo and missing a bit, I’m also firing very quickly, which makes me feel better.
While not entirely original, Remedy did what they did with the first Alan Wake, and put a new spin on an old idea. While the first Alan Wake had us trapped in what appeared to be one of his novels, this time it’s one of his television shows, and really, the stakes and what’s going on are different too. This feels like a novella or half-hour television episode rather than an ongoing series or mini-series like the first game. Sure, it plays a bit longer, and the addition of the Arcade mode doesn’t hurt, but it’s things we’ve seen before. The tightening up of the controls really helps with things all around though, and it is a different pace from the first game, giving you something a bit quicker to play through while you wait for more. Oh, and boy did I get sucked in. While it was easy to put away the Arcade mode as needed, the Story mode sucked me into a nice four hour cram session to try and blow through it in one sitting. My wife kept asking if I was done yet and I had to wave her off. Had to get Alan out of this mess!
It’s a game at a good price good price, has some great qualities to it, some great refinements visually and through the controls, and even my wife has picked up an interest after watching and listening to me play while I had my headphones off for a bit. It’s a good entry point for those unfamiliar with the series, even though I’ve been recommending the first game along with it. You do get hints of what happened through found manuscript pages, but it’s not the same as playing through it. I did have a few issues, one on Steam’s end, but rebooting my PC fixed that, and another later in the game. There’s a brief cutscene later in the game, and by brief I mean 5 seconds long, where you’re near the Observatory and some crows fly by, scaring the crap out of you and Alan both, and then the game resumes, kind of. When I came at the entrance from the one side right after the game resumed it would crash. Every. Time. I eventually took the hint and tried it from a different direction and right after the cutscene it went right in and no crashes. That was really my only issue. I had the same issue I always have with Steam games when I first load them, in that they default to medium or low settings when I can run almost everything on full settings, and I didn’t have any slowdown issues except for the obvious ones, where time is supposed to slow down. All in all, very few issues and I love this title.
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare delivers a compelling stand alone experience, set as a follow-up to the first Alan Wake, though things are a bit more amped up in this reality between realities. Something of a sequel, but more of a side story for what I think we might see from a true sequel to Alan Wake, the combat and game mechanics have been tightened up considerably on the PC, and the story-line, while familiar to anyone who’s seen some of the better Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes based on a similar premise, takes the same idea and not only applies it to Alan Wake beautifully, but gives us a very compelling villain in the twisted double, Mr. Scratch. The Arcade mode is pretty well implemented, and while I would have loved to have seen a multiplayer section to it, realistically that wouldn’t fit the theme or story, but it works fantastically on its own. You get about as much content and play time with this game between the Arcade Mode and the Story Mode as you would for the first game and for half the price. Even if you only play this for the Story mode, it took me about 5 hours to go through that, which is still about half the time of the original game.