Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 magnum opus Alan Wake was an avalanche of weighty psychological thriller elements blended perfectly with crushing atmospheric tension, the sum of which resulted in one of the most ambitious and narrative-driven titles in recent memory. It wasn’t exactly coincidental that Alan Wake’s story had players on the edge of their seats; a lot of the game was spent developing characters, settings, and situations. It was this attention to detail that made players feel an investment in Mr. Wake’s affairs and his ensuing bout with the darkness surrounding Bright Falls.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a bite-sized downloadable follow-up, pursues a decidedly opposite path. In lieu of character and plot development, American Nightmare opts to drop the player into the chaos and let them figure out their surroundings. While it’s certainly a departure from its predecessor’s formula, it still works thanks to the easily digestible 4-5 hour campaign.
American Nightmare places Alan Wake inside a script that he wrote for “Night Springs” - Remedy’s take on “The Twilight Zone”. Alan, still plagued by the Dark Presence, finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a tiny Arizona town where his evil doppleganger, Mr. Scratch, has been running amok. Alan takes it upon himself to rewrite reality in order to right the wrongs of Mr. Scratch and to (hopefully) finally escape the Dark Place.
On the surface, all of the things that made Alan Wake the game it was are still in play. The main motif still revolves around light defeating darkness. There are still manuscript pages scattered about to help Alan piece together his own story. The Taken still play a pivotal role as the primary enemies. However, American Nightmare features some shifts in gameplay to make it a bit more Xbox Live Arcade friendly.
The most immediate difference is the increased emphasis on combat. Encounters with The Taken are much more thinly spread apart, and it seems as if the next clash is always just a bit ahead of the last one. But, to compensate for the sheer increase in enemies, American Nightmare features a much more varied and impressive arsenal at Alan’s disposal. Made available by collecting manuscript pages, Alan has the likes of combat shotguns, SMGs, and nail guns to assist in pressing forward against the antagonists.
Another departure comes at the expense of large, sprawling environments. For American Nightmare, Remedy has created three locales that feel deceivingly open. However, these spots are home to some fantastic set pieces that one can’t help but marvel at. The game’s narrative works in a way that finds Alan revisiting each location several times, so while these areas are intriguing the first time around, the sheen quickly wears off. While the atmosphere can be genuinely chill-inducing at times, the familiarity with the surroundings at hand can detract from that sense a bit.
American Nightmare is a two-headed beast, as a new arcade mode shares some of the spotlight with the story. Fight Till Dawn is a ten minute survival mode where Alan must battle waves of the Taken until the sun eventually rises and vanquishes them. While it may be easily dismissed as a mindlessly tacked-on mode, it actually makes for a surprisingly captivating time. Fight Till Dawn awards points for successful dodges and kills, which also raises a multiplier. However, any damage taken immediately drops the multiplier back down to 1x. The first few waves are deceptively easy, but it isn’t long before a fearsome culmination of Taken will have even the most seasoned player on the ropes.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare manages to be a well-crafted and impressive endeavor for Remedy Entertainment, despite the Alan Wake franchise not necessarily lending itself well to brevity. American Nightmare may suffer from a somewhat nebulous and under-developed plot, but it comes around in the end as an enjoyable experience. The whole venture can actually be likened to watching an episode of “The Twilight Zone” . A cloud of confusion may cover most of the game, but by the end credits, everything’s clear and you’re hit by a strange sense of mystical satisfaction.