Published on March 4th, 2012 | by Bags Hooper1
Xbox 360 Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (XBLA)
Wake Becomes Bill Murray in this Groundhog Day adventure set in The Twilight Zone.
In some ways the first Alan Wake was a revolutionary title in the shooter genre. It focused on creating a compelling story, rich in mystery and suspense. The designers at Remedy had decided that narrative was equally important to gameplay. Scattered manuscript pages weren’t just a needless add on, but rather something that truly enriched the story. How many times in gaming do we collect lengthy archive documents and decide that they’re throwaways, not worth reading? As for gameplay, the unique dual-wielding system of flashlight and gun made for some awesome horror thrills.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare serves as a standalone chapter in Wake’s life. The gameplay is still there, but the story lacks the intrigue and dynamic personality of the original title. The dialogue continues to be well written and even American Nightmare’s repetitive use of only three compact locations doesn’t feel overly redundant thanks to the storytelling. This Groundhog Day adventure will keep you entertained for a few hours and then some with its new survival mode. However, if you’re hoping for a title as memorable as the original, you’ll have to keep waiting.
This downloadable game doesn’t continue the adventure of the previous Wake title nor does it build on the world. Rather, it serves as a brief intermission before something new can hopefully come along. In the original game there was a Night Springs TV show, something of a Fright Night mixed with The Twilight Zone (complete with Rod Sterling-esque narration). American Nightmare starts off with Wake inside the TV show. If you’re not familiar with Alan Wake, you won’t be at a loss. Through smart, quip-filled dialogue you quickly learn that Wake is no stranger to the abnormal. He’s used to supernatural humans that get burned when they step into the light, or more importantly his flashlight’s light. If you’re a fan of the original game, there’s no real explanation as to why Wake is in the TV show. However, you will get minor callbacks to the original title like the Old Gods of Asgard band playing on the radio. Also, Wake’s agent Barry Wheeler comes on the radio if you hang around long enough to listen to the entire program.
The story pits Wake, who finds himself in Arizona, against his evil – and cooler – doppelganger, Mr. Scratch. The doppelganger appears on TV screens and monitors throughout the game before making his presence known. Unlike the original game, ammo is in abundance in this game, probably as a result of the new survival mode. You can always run away to an ammo stash and come back guns blazing. You also don’t have to worry about picking up batteries for your flashlight because it recharges relatively quickly. The original game felt more like Resident Evil, you were always afraid to use up your ammo. This is fine for newcomers who just want to experience the story, but a little bit of a disappointment for returning fans. Having said that, it would have been nice to see a primer on The Taken. You can figure it out, but it will be a little confusing for gamers who have not played the original game.
Whereas the initial game focused mostly on the narrative, this game focuses heavily on waves of enemies. There are also two new enemies: a splitter, that splits into two people when attacked, and a monster that dodges attacks by transforming into a flock of crows. Collecting manuscript pages unlocks more powerful weapons and lends itself to the survival mode.
American Nightmare only uses three locations, which you play through three times. It’s a lazy adventure, where you repeat events like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Each time, you do something different until you eventually get it right. Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel too redundant. However, depending on your patience, you may get a little bored of the incessant fetch quests. They change slightly with each play through, but the monotony can’t be avoided. Also, the three NPC women in the game tend to lose their flavor the second and third time you meet them. They robotically respond to Wake’s statements and the horrific events going on about them. Wake is still well acted, but the three women sap the life from the adventure.
The survival mode allows gamers to fight off waves of opponents before dawn. This mode is about racking up multipliers for bragging rights, while savoring Wake’s great combat system. Dodging attacks give additional bonuses so you can eventually unlock achievements on XBLA.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a fun interlude in the Wake mythos. It doesn’t live up the intensity of the original game, but the survival mode is a nice touch. Perhaps if this game does well, fans will get the full sequel they deserve.