Review: Alan Wake American Nightmare

February 27, 2012, By Christian Davis

When it comes to fear, one that terrifies anyone at any given age is the darkness. The fear of not knowing what lies within, being completely deficient of light and surrounded by nothing but loneliness is uncomfortable to even think about. When Remedy games first introduced us to Alan Wake in 2010, we were engulfed in a world that had us feeling like that all of the time. It was an eerie experience that had us all infatuated with the atmosphere and creepy town of Bright Falls. Now that unsettling feeling is spewing back out of our Xbox 360’s and terrorizing our dreams once again with the Xbox LIVE Arcade title, Alan Wake: American Nightmare.

Alan Wake—our champion of light—is stuck in the world of the darkness controlled by his evil, psychotic, doppelganger Mr. Scratch –our herald of darkness. Mr. Scratch is a supernatural serial killer that has set his eyes on Alan’s wife and you’re trying to stop him by altering reality through the words that he has written.

In the first game, our troubled writer was confused, scared, and perplexed when encountering the darkness and fighting “The Taken”—civilians possessed by the darkness. Except this time around, it’s prevalent that he’s ready for them which, makes a lot of sense but somewhat hinders the experience a bit. The novelty of the unknown is now gone and that’s partially due to the game leaning towards a more action filled shooter as opposed to it’s almost survival horror style of play. The games tone and atmosphere still stays mostly intact despite the gameplay change though which is a huge factor to what really made Alan Wake stand out.

When you initially take your first steps with Alan Wake you can’t help but feel that cringing creepiness all over your body. You may not be in Bright Falls anymore, but the chilling feeling of always being watched tagged is just as powerful. There’s a fair amount of places to explore in the several levels that you’ll play but because of the Taken always being a threat, you’re apprehensive the entire time to go out and search for these items that Alan needs to collect in order to defeat Mr. Scratch. For me personally, I rarely stray too far from the light to search for the missing manuscript pages. If they’re not someplace that I can see immediately, then I will wimp out and just pretend it’s not around. So imagine how I felt when one of your safe havens get’s taken over and you’re surrounded by nothing but the darkness. It’s spine chilling and makes me extremely paranoid and tense. It’s a horrifically fun experience.

American Nightmare has you visiting several locations like an observation tower or a drive through. They levels you play on are pretty unique from one another but they feel very confined. The scope just isn’t as vast as the previous title and rather than feel like you’re exploring this evil world, you’re just going from point to point. The strange thing about progressing through the story is that you play the first few levels twice. Without spoiling too much, you end up re-doing the first couple of levels including some of their objectives over again. It was an interesting idea but it felt like a giant batch of backtracking, though the game mixes that up a bit by having some of the objectives already completed.

Of course, when marking off objectives on your checklist you’re always being hassled by the Taken. These shadowy figures are even more formidable this time around and are twice as deadly than before. There was this instance where I was attacking three Taken head on. I had my trusty pump shotgun and at that rare moment in time, I was feeling like a bad ass. That feeling faded instantaneously when the shadowy figures armed with knives spread out in a triangle formation and attempted to surround me. That threw my game plan off completely and I panicked. That was nothing compared to the feeling I got when I encountered this gigantic creature with a buzzsaw or the guys who manifested from a murder of crows. Alan Wake and I simultaneously let out “What the Hell?” when that occurred.

The main story is not the only thing you can do in American Nightmare though. The downloadable game includes a new Fight Till Dawn game mode. This is similar to the plethora of other horde mode game types that every game seems to be incorporating now. It’s not quite the same as the other iterations though. You’re obviously going up against the taken so all of these stages take place during the night. The goal is just to survive until the day while racking up as many points as possible. The intensity of this game type is that there’s no real resting period between rounds. Other games give you a break to gather ammo and supplies to prepare for the next onslaught. Not here. A round will finish and then it will tell you to be ready for the next round which comes almost quicker than you can reload your guns.

There’s no real safe place to be either since the Taken essentially can spawn anywhere. You’re always on your toes and trying to look in all directions at the same time while keeping your multiplier up. There are areas that allow for your health to be regenerated but once you step into the light, it vanishes for a period of time. So you’re left trying to stay mobile with enemies attacking you from all angles and rapidly pressing the dodge button to avoid getting hit.

You do start off with some base weapons and can pick up some of the basic ones such as the pistol or nail gun right off the back, however the more advanced weapons are only unlocked if you’ve retrieved the listed amount of missing manuscripts. As I mentioned earlier, I’m too much of a wuss to completely explore the levels so I won’t have many advanced weapons available to me. It’s a fun mode to have and is really fast paced. It ends quickly which leaves a short period of time for you to rack up the points. It’s not overbearing like some of the other games which can go upwards of 50 waves.

Alan Wake: American Nightmare is part of the Xbox LIVE House Party series and it’s a welcomed title. Though the story provides an altered experience from the original game, it’s still a game you need to check out. The gameplay makes any Alan Wake fan feel right at home and it’s like you never forgot how to play even after a two year break. The world of Alan Wake is one of the most unique and you never realize how much you missed it until it was gone. If you liked the first Alan Wake, you’ll like this downloadable spin-off. You’ll still get a satisfying single player experience and the new mode is a welcomed addition that will provide for a lot of friendly competition among you and your friends. Alan Wake American Nightmare easily writes itself as one of the most enjoyable downloadable games that you can play on the Xbox 360 and fans should definitely pick it up.

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