Alan Wake's American Nightmare
American Nightmare bears the Alan Wake title, and it is releasing after the original Alan Wake, but the story and gameplay make the Xbox Live Arcade exclusive more of a side story to Wake’s expanding battle with darkness. “It’s definitely not a sequel to Alan Wake,” says Oskari Häkkinen, head of franchise development for Remedy. “It’s a standalone spinoff experience that anyone can pick up and play.”
My hands-on time begins with Alan’s former manager Barry Wheeler sleeping in a hotel room. Since Alan’s mysterious disappearance, Barry has become the manager of the band The Old Gods of Asgard. The camera pans past Barry and to a television playing an episode of Night Springs, and the show’s credits reveal that the episode was written by Alan Wake.
I see a live-action version of Alan wearing a plaid shirt and jeans standing amidst a dark fog, flashlight and gun in hand as the Night Springs narrator explains that he is a champion of light. The narrator goes on to explain that the darkness has created an evil version of Wake named Mr. Scratch. The real Alan shouts that he will catch Mr. Scratch eventually, but Mr. Scratch responds saying that even if he does, everything he loves will be ruined.
“Story is not the main focus here,” Häkkinen says. “If [the original] was two-thirds story and one-third action, then I guess American Nightmare is two-thirds action and one-third story.” When I pick up a flashlight and a gun to reacquaint myself with the controls, Remedy’s action-focused sentiment quickly becomes apparent. As I make my way past an oil rig, it starts spewing out the Taken, the primary enemies in Alan Wake. After picking off a few, a text prompt reminds me that standing under street lamps restores health and keeps me safe from the darkness. I see more of the Taken emerging from the oil rig, so I take the hint and head toward the nearest lamp.
Once I reach safety, I meet a woman doing some auto-repair work in a garage. She seems sure that she has met Alan before, but after a confusing exchange, I realize that that the man she thought she recognized as Alan is actually Mr. Scratch. We part ways after she offers me an herbal suppository, which I decline.
From that point on, I was let loose into an open, non-linear desert area surrounding the garage. In order to enact the events that Alan had already written about in his manuscript and make fiction become reality, I had to collect specific items and bring them back to the oil rig I passed earlier. While searching, I come across a television playing a live-action short depicting Mr. Scratch threatening Alan. I also stumble upon a radio broadcasting an on-air interview with Barry Wheeler as he talks about managing The Old Gods of Asgard. The host of the show presses Wheeler about what happened to Alan, but Barry angrily avoids the topic by saying that he wants to talk about The Gods of Asgard, not his old job as a literary agent for Alan Wake. Even though Alan exists in a sort of secondary universe where his fiction is reality, it seems that it maintains ties to the real world.
I encounter many enemies and weapons that were not in the original game. One enemy, the splitter, breaks into two smaller enemies when you light him up, and then those two split into two even smaller enemies. What begins as one large enemy turns into many more before I finish the foe. Along with the standard pistol and shotgun, I also come across a nail gun and a sub-machine gun. The nail gun feels like a weakened version of the pistol; it fires faster, and ammo is more plentiful, but it deals less damage. The sub-machine gun feels particularly powerful, since it lets players spray enemies with tons of bullets, something we never got to do in the -first -game.
I found a few extra manuscripts, and the items I needed to act out the events of the manuscript page, and headed toward the oil rig. A cutscene shows a satellite crashing down on the oil rig, apparently as a result of Alan’s actions (though it wasn’t well-explained). It collapses in an impressive display of physics. I then regain control of Alan and begin to outrun flaming debris. The demo comes to a close as a huge group of Taken approach me, one of which looks twice the size of Alan and is carrying a large circular saw.
Depending on how deep you want to dig into the extra content like radio broadcasts, manuscripts, and messages from Mr. Scratch, Häkkinen says the story campaign should clock in around five hours. He also believes the pricing will be comparable to other Xbox Live Arcade games, so $15 is a good estimate.
Along with the story campaign, Remedy is also including a Horde-like mode called Fight Till Dawn, where Alan attempts to survive as long as he can fighting wave after wave of Taken to attain a high score. You receive multipliers for successful dodges and kills, but it will reset as soon as you take damage. The opening level I played was easy, but Remedy assured me that as you get further and unlock new levels, it becomes much more difficult to survive until the end. Discovering manuscripts hidden throughout the single-player game also unlocks extra weapons in this new mode.
Since many expected a full-fledged sequel, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a strange direction for the franchise. Though it’s more focused on action over narrative, it still feels like it’s staying true to the series. Elements from the first game, like excellent licensed music and odd characters, carry over into the XBLA title. It doesn’t look like American Nightmare elaborates or expands much on the narrative of the original, but it does provide a larger dose of Alan Wake’s unique breed of action.