The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
In the first installment of the Alan Wake series, developer Remedy
Entertainment invited gamers to experience a mystery with no end. After
leaving Alan in a precarious position at Cauldron Lake, gamers flocked
to message boards to provide clarity to this game’s story. Was Alan an
asylum escapee conjuring demons in his mind? Was he a writer whose typed
words magically altered the world? Or was he fast asleep and trapped in
a nightmare? Any one of these theories – not to mention a handful of
others I’ve discussed with fellow Alan Wake fans – could be the answer
guiding this tormented protagonist into the heart of hell.
completed American Nightmare, the first sequel in this series, my coworker
Joe Juba didn’t ask me the usual, “How was it?” He instead led with,
“Does it explain anything?” Not since the TV show Lost have I seen people more concerned about plot revelations than the quality of the product.
Nightmare expands upon the mystery and fuels the fire behind almost
every theory out there, but ends up coming across as the second chapter
of a lengthy book. If the first game in the series can be viewed as the
introduction to the mystery, this sequel shows us just how crazy, deep,
and confusing it can be. Story content surrounding the mysteries is deep
and layered, allowing new theories to be generated and old ones to
still exist, but don’t expect to walk away from this game with any sort
of understanding as to what is happening to Alan.
Remedy is taking
us deeper into the rabbit hole, with Alan trapped in a time loop and
forced to relive the same moments of his life over and over again. In an
interesting twist, Alan isn’t the only one person experiencing déjà vu.
All of the inhabitants of small Arizona town Night Springs are
cognizant of the time paradox and most are willing to lend a hand to
Alan to figure out how to stop it. At the heart of the problem is Alan’s
evil doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, a villain who mostly appears on screen
as a real human being played by Finnish actor Iikka Villi. He delivers a
strong performance and makes for a great antagonist.
that Remedy spins is both engaging and exciting, but is too quickly
paced and doesn’t take the time to flesh out the secondary characters or
establish Night Springs as an attention-grabbing location. Those great
slow moments in the first game (Alan first arriving in Bright Falls, the
cabin, the asylum) are nowhere to be found in this sequel, though
cutting the long, eventless stretches of highway driving is welcome.
Conversations with Night Springs residents are mostly focused on the
events at hand, and there isn’t much in terms of exploration or
wandering. The most memorable story moments came from hidden documents
that Alan had written (which are much easier to find this time thanks to
them being highlighted on the mini-map).
The speed with which
Alan can move from one story sequence to the next also has a negative
effect on Remedy’s decision to repeat entire gameplay sequences. I know
that the feeling of repetition is intentional, but when the environments
and people I interacted with along the way were uninteresting the first
time, my disenchantment with them only grew on the second and third
visits. Remedy does a great job of conveying Alan’s growing knowledge of
the events at hand for each subsequent visit, but the moments were
pedestrian to begin with and the variations made to them are minor.
exploration of his surroundings is a more concentrated experience,
which works in favor of the gameplay but against getting immersed into
the world. The three areas he visits (and visits again and again) are
smaller in size, more guided in the direction he must go, and loaded
with excellently crafted combat encounters.
Alan’s most powerful
weapon is still his flashlight, the only tool in the world that can burn
away the evil presence affecting Night Springs’ townsfolk, but he also
wields a more robust selection of firearms. Chewing up adversaries with a
machine gun or carbine rifle feels fantastic and is a testament to
Remedy’s excellent gunplay design.
The selection of enemies is
much better this time around as well. Yes, enemies are repeated often
and I ended up killing more firefighters than New York City probably
employs, but Remedy does a nice job of changing up the adversary
formations and scaling the difficulty tied to each. The combat system
shines the most in the game’s new Arcade Action mode, which pits Alan
against increasingly difficult waves of enemies over a set amount of
time. The player’s goal in this mode is to chain together kills to raise
a scoring multiplier. Arcade Action is surprisingly deep, consisting of 10 nicely designed maps.
I didn’t feel as connected to Alan’s
world or story, which were the main draws for me in
the first game, but the gameplay is streamlined and improved in this sequel. American
Nightmare is not quite as gripping of an experience, but I certainly got
my mystery-laden, flashlight-burning fun out of it.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.