The lights are on
Alan Wake was a divisive new IP by Remedy, creators of
the highly acclaimed Max Payne series. It had its detractors
who argued it was less of a game and more of an interactive TV show
on rails, while others (myself included) found it a compelling little
experiment. Until Remedy makes enough money though, this is the
closest we get to a sequel. Is it worth the fifteen dollar asking
This review is for the PC version of the game.
Hi kids, discount Rod Sterling here to narrate because everyone was tired of Alan self-narrating!
For those who don't know the story of Alan Wake, the best
limited-spoiler (and it will be spoiled if you play through this game as Alan
loves to explain it to every person he meets) is that Alan Wake, a writer, has been drawn into a
battle with dark forces of some sort. His wife was taken from him and
while he defeated the evil force, he was pulled away with it in order
to free his wife, at the cost of trapping himself potentially forever. The
advantage is that his profession enables him to have some control
over his situation .Before he ever "lands" in an area to
battle the darkness, he can already have a scenario planned out,
although he forgets what it is beyond vague points and has to
recollect his manuscript pages each time in order to know what's
coming. This particular spin-off though is done in the style of the
TV show where Alan got his first gig, a Twilight Zone-ish show
known as Night Springs.
If this all sounds really cool, then you may be a bit disappointed
with what the main story of American Nightmare. Alan has
improved as a character (i.e. you don't want to see him jump off a
cliff now), and his opponent, a devilish twin known as Mr. Scratch,
who enters the real world and the dark world Alan is trapped in at
will, is a surprisingly interesting villain despite barely being
present outside of pre-recorded messages on abandoned TV sets.
However the remaining cast are bland, boring, and feel like cardboard
cutouts in contrast to the original game's cast of characters.
They are all women in need of "brave Alan" to save
and/or help them, and you get this weird feeling like you're a horror
movie protagonist accidentally walking onto the set of an adult film.
Let's see, we've got a skimpily dressed, fake accent carrying
“scientist” who never really contributes beyond sending you on
fetch quests. Then there's girl who gets flirtatious and sounds more
drunk and slightly pervy than "crazy" as Alan describes
her. Let's not forget drunk girl looks maybe eighteen years old at
best. The mechanic however takes the cake as our "damsel in
distress!" as that's all you do. There's a threat, you try to
save her. You do fail to save her TWO times while running back to try
and save her, but this only serves to make her slightly more
self-aware as things press on, unlike the other two characters.
"How is this possible? How can she die twice and still be
alive?" you ask. Well, due to limited budget, time, and assets,
American Nightmare uses the TV-worn trope of "you're
stuck in a time loop!" What this means is you go through the
same three sandbox areas over the course of a single playthrough.
There are hints that originally it might have been an open world
title (the control descriptions for driving a car like in the
original Alan Wake are still there but you never drive a vehicle),
which would have made a lot more sense, and would have spared us
having to do the same objectives, slightly changed, several times
over in the same areas.
This woman... she's surrounded by cliffs outside, yet never happens to slip off one. Why? WHY?
They'll sometimes change what weapons and order you need to do
things in, but the annoying thing is that different manuscript pages
are only there for certain times through the loop. Each time through
gets you closer to the end, and it's not like Remedy doesn't play
with the idea somewhat, but it drains the budget title of any replay
value. Some new enemy types are present to try to freshen things up,
but the only really significant one is presented late in the game and
is an obvious remodel of the Chainsaw Guy from Resident Evil 4,
right down to carrying a huge blade and being weakest to shotguns.
Side note: Speaking of shotguns, why are so many of the unlockable
weapons military grade? Why can't we have Alan be more creative with
The spider enemies aren't even worth noting (they don't even
appear in the secondary challenge mode), and the new physical form
for the birds just means the flare gun is purely crowd control now.
The duplicating enemies who double and shrink in size/power as you
put your flashlight on them are an interesting concept... but that's
about all they are, an interesting concept, not a compelling new
enemy. They really just serve as a second bullet sponge, like the
chainsaw guy but more passive aggressive about killing you.
In spite of the lacking new enemies, the combat does feel more
fluid, although far less survival horror-y. Gone are moments like in
the first game with the kidnapper making you desperately use torches
as a means of defense while he pops shots. No longer do you have to
hunt for ammo -- there are full refill stations in every level that
are brightly lit. Despite that shift, the combat and style of play
still works surprisingly well. Alan's been fighting for what
apparently may even be years now in the dark void he's trapped in so
he aught to have picked up a thing or two. When he unlocks his first
new weapon he even comments "yeah, it's about time I went
full-auto." The combat actually wins out as the best feature in
this game, which for Wake fans may be a disconcerting note.
The game lets you keep weapons consistently, unlike the original,
which is a nice feature if you've got a thing for a particular
weapon, but this only is in effect if you haven't just started a
chapter spontaneously. Start off an Act 3 chapter and you'll spawn
with nothing but your pistol and 40 rounds. The least Remedy could do
would be allow you to pick what weapons you start out with using some
sort of loadout selection. This would give me a lot more incentive to
try another playthrough on Nightmare difficulty.
To be clear, American
Nightmare is not the worst spin-off we could have gotten. This is
still a better follow-up than the awful The Signal DLC
expansion for the original game that we got, which The Writer
DLC seemed to merely attempt to make seem worth suffering through.
Outside of a few nods and references (Tom the Diver makes an
interesting and telling cameo), the most compelling moment for
hardcore fans will be the post-finale scene involving Barry.
There's a great framework set up for a sandbox game, but its clear
Remedy had neither the time nor the money to make it a reality.
Unlockable weapons if you find enough manuscript pages, diverse
locations that stand out but still manage to all fit the same area,
enough variety in enemies to allow for distinct encounters, the
already finished driving controls, and Mr. Scratch as an in your face
antagonist all would work great in that sort of setting. As they are,
it feels more like a really well done Alan Wake fan mod, not a real
sequel. Maybe it's best that Remedy has said this episode in Alan
Wake's trials may not even be canon, similar to inFamous: Festival
of the Blood.
I'd be amiss to ignore the game's Until Dawn challenge mode.
Across six maps, both in normal and nightmare variants, you are
presented with the test of surviving in constant darkness for ten
minutes until dawn arrives. These maps are interesting, but weapons
are oddly limited and some items are so hard to find that they're
barely worth searching for. There's a scoring system so if you enjoy
beating your own high scores you'll have fun, but most people will be
done after beating each level once, if not after just giving it a
As a sequel to Alan Wake, American Nightmare isn't
much to speak of. It gives a few nods and winks to fans, and explores
a few neat ideas, but barely spends enough time to really examine
them while also reusing the same three environments so much that you
get tired of going through the motions. Hardcore fans of Alan Wake
may not care, and have probably already bought the game, but as an
introduction to the series, you'd be better off getting a copy of the
original, preferably on PC with all its downloadable content included
free of charge. This is however a great little game if you want
something to play offline during a long airplane flight. It's all
about knowing what you want, because while it's not a bad game, this
one really isn't a must buy for everyone.
Almost as flawed as its precursor, but in different ways,
American Nightmare struggles to find a focus
beyond combat and half-baked ideas about dimension shifting and time
loops. While it is clear Remedy wants to address all the problems it
had before while flexing the series' strengths, they might be wise to
keep their safeties on before trying another round at giving us a
follow up. It's an admirable effort, but its clear the solid
foundation is what keeps this structure standing. American
Nightmare gets a 7.75/10.
Cheers,Paradigm the Fallen
Wake up, Alan. Wake up.
Trivia: Alan Wake is one of the few games that includes live
action cutscenes starring the same actors who voice and did the mocap
for their characters in-game. It's also on record as the first
horror game series to actually get me unsettled and anywhere near
scared. That's something FEAR, Dead Space, and Penumbra
all failed to do.
Alan Wake: American Nightmare is available on Xbox Live
Arcade and Steam for $14.99 dollars.
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