The lights are on
Alan Wake's American Nightmare was my first foray into the Alan Wake universe. I downloaded the demo and I was immediately entranced by the feel of the universe, the battle mechanics, and the enemies. I was convinced that I absolutely had missed out on the Alan Wake experience. So I spent the 1200 MP and the story went on. And that's when things started to go wrong.
Initially, I was intrigued by the story. The mysterious doppleganger Mr. Scratch, rewriting reality, the inhabitants of Night Springs, and the search for answers, kept me wholly immersed in the experience and the adventure as I moved forward. And then, the projection room starts melting into the Darkness and I wake up in the exact same spot, following the exact same story, in the exact same environments. I enjoy the whole 'time paradox' gimmick as much as the next guy, but in American Nightmare, that's all it feels like. A gimmick. An excuse for the developers to reuse the same small environments over, and over, and yes, over again. Not only do I have to do the same things, with the same people, in the same settings as I did before, I actually have to do them a third time. That's right. Just when you think you've been had and you're playing the same exact game you just played, you have to play it again. Three times in the same universe is absolutely an insult. I understand that the story is moving forward, in a sense, and it's interesting that you're not the only one that realizes that time is replaying itself, but let's be honest. You're completing the same tasks, in the same exact environments, three times. In American Nightmare, that's two times too many.
As I said, this is the first time I played an Alan Wake game. After I finished American Nightmare and spent a few hours playing the incredibly enjoyable Arcade Mode (which I'll get to in a minute) I felt like I owed it to myself to play the first Alan Wake game, so, I downloaded it. Now I won't go into too much detail about Alan Wake, but let's just say that it was probably one of the best games I've ever played. The story, the action, the horror and the dread around every turn, phenomenal. And that's when I started thinking about American Nightmare. There is absolutely no comparison between Alan Wake and American Nightmare. The former is deep, intriguing, enormous, and exciting. The latter? Small, repetitive, and quite simply, not even in the same category as the original. I couldn't help but feel that much more cheated after playing Alan Wake. Granted, American Nightmare is a downloadable title and not a full release, but that really is no excuse for making such a miniscule version of such an exceptional game. American Nightmare feels like nothing more than a side note, an expansion pack, possibly, DLC. I understand that Mr. Scratch is mentioned (briefly and off-handed) in the first Alan Wake, but that's all this route in the story is. A brief, off-handed adventure that adds nothing, answers nothing and leaves you feeling like you could have done without it. If not for the Arcade Mode, I definitely would've felt like my 1200 MPs were completely stolen. Which reminds me.
The best part of American Nightmare is hands down the smooth battle mechanics and the new and differing enemies. While the original Alan Wake had pretty much the same old hillbillies (some bigger, some smaller) over and over, American Nightmare does a great job of giving you a whole new set of enemy types to add to the Taken. I won't go into what these enemy types are (it's one of the best experiences in the game), but I will tell you that they fit wonderfully into the Alan Wake universe. And, they make the Arcade Mode, the premier destination in American Nightmare. What this game is lacking in depth and intrigue in it's story, Arcade Mode more than makes up for with it's action. With multiple locations to fight off ever increasing hordes of Taken, you will spend the majority of your time with American Nightmare counting down every second of the 10 minutes until sunrise in Arcade Mode. The goal is of course high score, and the way to get there is the multiplier you fill up by killing and dodging the Taken, which resets when you get hit. You get stars based on your performance (1-3), along with your score, and these stars unlock the next map. I haven't unlocked all the maps yet (the original Alan Wake is sucking up my time currently), but I can tell you it is well worth the effort. I've spent hours with those 10 minutes til' sunrise, and I will spend many more. Arcade Mode makes the game and it is definitely worth purchasing solely for this reason.
Overall, I can't say I wouldn't recommend American Nightmare. It introduced me to the Alan Wake universe and pointed me in the direction of one of the best games I've ever played. For that, I will always be grateful. But as a game in itself it is quite simply nowhere near the experience that the original was. It's story really has nothing more than a little extra time in the Darkness, to add to the series. And by extra time I mean of course, extra time followed by the same extra time, followed again by the same extra time. That said, the Arcade Mode more than makes up for the lack of excitement that the story offers. I for one will be revisiting the great maps, full of great Taken, over and over, and yes, over again.
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