Alan Wake’s American Nightmare delivers two different things for two different kinds of people. If you like the idea of sitting down with a fun, somewhat unique third-person action/shooter, you’ll have that. If you’re also invested in the story of Alan Wake following the events of the 2010 disc release, you’ll be serviced on that level as well. You don’t need to have a Wake story fixation to appreciate American Nightmare, but it definitely helps.
This latest adventure finds our titular hero seemingly transported into an episode of Night Springs, the Wake universe equivalent of Twilight Zone, that he wrote much earlier in his career. As Alan, you’ll explore three different open-world hub locations in Arizona as you piece together the time-twisting scenario. These aren’t huge environments, but there’s definitely a lot of ground to cover for completists to sink their hours into.
The story very clearly reveals itself to be a spin-off, but that doesn’t mean you’re not getting a sense of the larger Wakeverse as you play. Radios can be activated to hear more of an unfolding interview with the band Old Gods of Asgard and their manager Barry, also Alan’s own friend and agent. You’ll also find TVs that can be switched on for brief live-action messages from Mr. Scratch, Alan’s evil other half and American Nightmare‘s primary antagonist.
The previous game’s flashlight-focused combat mechanic returns here. You’ll point your torch at the various enemies to dispel the darkness that’s enveloped them and, in doing so, make them vulnerable to your bullets. The big difference in American Nightmare is that the survival/resource management aspect of the game is minimized. You’ll still need to worry about carrying ammo, but there are now respawning ammo pick-ups and supply cabinets.
This is fortunate, as Alan is dealing with a much more varied set of enemies this time around. Basic grunts and thugs are what you’ll see the most in the early going, but eventually you’ll be facing colossal, cement saw-wielding behemoths, agile, long-clawed runners that can transform into flocks of birds and hulking brutes that actually split in two when you shine a light on them.
The story takes a good four or five hours to complete even just running through it, a surprisingly lengthy offering for a download-only game that also offers a separate mode all together. Remedy takes a risk though, for the sake of the narrative: the time-jumping story forces players to run through the same three environments three times apiece. Each visit brings a more streamlined set of objectives and new, more challenging enemies to fight, but you’re essentially playing out the same set of events three times.
For someone not invested in the Wake story already, this might seem like a grind. It’s simply less exciting to explore a location you’ve already spent plenty of time tromping around in, especially if you’re not interested in the extra stuff to be found. Radios and TVs offer little more than further story development, though there’s at least a hook for tracking down the 53 manuscript pages.
As you collect more pages — which also paint a more complete picture of the story — you also get to unlock a wider range of weapon chests. Basic firearms like pistols, carbine rifles and pump-action shotguns are scattered about and easy to find. More powerful weapons — sawed-off shotguns, assault rifles, etc. — are locked inside of weapon crates, and you’ll need a certain number of pages to unlock each crate.
This is true for both the story and for “Fight Till Dawn.” Weapon crates are found on each of the survival mode’s maps as well, and they can only be opened if you’ve located the correct number of pages in story mode. These weapons, in turn, make it easier to build up combos — for performing successful dodges and enemy takedowns — in Fight Till Dawn, which of course results in a better three-star rating and a higher leaderboard ranking.
Fight Till Dawn is a good time if you like how the series does combat. You’ve got 10 minutes to survive for as many waves of increasingly difficult enemies as you can handle. There are five maps in all for this mode, though you’ll need to earn stars in the first ones to unlock the rest. There are also Nightmare versions of each map that offer a greater challenge; they start unlocking with earned stars once you’ve opened up the base five maps.
The tone in this game definitely has more of an action bent than fans of the 2010 release might remember, but the changed focus only serves to highlight just how solid a game Alan Wake was even without its head-scratching story. It’s totally fun to play as long as you don’t let the repeating environments bother you. All in, American Nightmare is an excellent slice of Wake to have from Remedy in the absence of a true sequel.
Score: 8 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Microsoft Studios)