Alan Wake was first released in May 2010 for the Xbox 360 and received some fantastic critical response. Almost two years later, the same Alan Wake that was loved on 360 was brought over to the PC, and the experience was in no way inferior. The developers, Remedy Entertainment, released Alan Wake’s American Nightmare to the world in February 2012, and swiftly followed up with a PC release in May 2012. American Nightmare is a standalone downloadable game which is very confusing to start out with, but in the end it straightens itself out, and leaves the player to decide what the ending means… at least until Alan Wake 2 is release.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare take’s place in a place that Alan Wake players will be familiar with: Night Springs. To quote Alan himself, “Night Springs is Anyplace, USA” meaning it’s a completely fictional place. Alan Wake is an author who was trapped in the Darkness that took his wife when they visited a place called Bright Falls. Monsters known as the Taken would try to kill Wake at any possibly moment. The Darkness (no, not the band) has taken the form of humans and it protects them against anything harmful. However a big dose of light from anything like a torch or lamp will either weaken them enough to get a good clean shot in, or just kill them outright. In American Nightmare, the story takes lots of twists and turns and keeps you guessing all of the time right up until the end. The ending is open to the audience’s imagination. As the game starts out with Wake’s friend from the first game, Barry Wheeler asleep on the bed, we are zoomed into the TV where an episode of Night Springs comes onto the TV. Night Springs was on collectable TV’s throughout the episodes of the first Alan Wake. As we get to know Wake a bit more, we learn that he wrote some episodes of Night Springs. This game is about Wake, inside Night Springs, playing himself, written by himself, facing the Darkness yet again, but this time, the Darkness is being controlled by Mr Scratch (who’s name is record-scratched out whenever someone says it). Mr Scratch is a copy of Wake, however he is either a darkness version or the dark side of Wake. Mr Scratch provides a good part, however it just adds to the confusion that the game already creates. There are two things I don’t particularly like about the story. One is that fact that this game does nothing to the actual story progression of Alan Wake, and the second is that the game is nowhere near as jumpy or slightly scary as the first game. I was always on the edge of my seat playing the first instalment, but in this version, I found myself just going along and not even jumping once.
The gameplay on the PC is kept exactly the same as that of the first game. Modern computer keyboard and mouse controls are used to manoeuvre Wake around, with various letters around the movement keys to interact. Even though the genre of psychological thriller may suit the mechanic of a few Quick-Time Events here and there, but this game has none. Instead, you have to have your wits about you and not be cornered by the Taken. It’s simple enough to defeat the Taken too. Just as the last game, focus your flashlight on an enemy and once the Darkness has gone, start firing. You have a lot more choice in terms of weaponry in this outing too. The standard revolver is not default anymore; instead it’s a standard 9mm or a nail gun. The standard gameplay is something that makes this game great.
Visuals and presentation in this game are incredibly crisp and polished in this spin-off. Automatically when this game started, the HUD of this game is very much streamlined and made easier to follow. There is even a compass-like radar at the top-left side of the screen which tells you various pieces of information like where your waypoint is or if there is a manuscript nearby. I found this to be a bit of an improvement over the first game, as you never really knew if going certain places was going to land you a manuscript collectable. The Taken look to be very high quality in American Nightmare too. The detail looks to have been heightened a lot in this game compared to the first Alan Wake. Side-by-Side, these game look similar but American Nightmare takes it in my eyes. Detail like the nails fired from the Nail Gun will stick in enemies exactly where you fired them. I did like the alternation between game graphic and live-action; it made the game seem like a TV show, like Night Springs. The main character models however, seem a little stiff and resemble an elaborate version of The Sims. Realistic looking people are not captured perfectly, but it is still something you can look straight passed.
The writers of this game are some smart people. They allow you to ask yourself, “What the hell is going on here?,” allow you to question a lot of things about the direction of the game and the timeline between this game and the last game, if that exists at all, and intersperse some light humour here and there. The story is incredibly fleshed out. It sounds like a book that was abandoned and made into a game. The background has been created and then both Alan Wake games have been made to fit this universe that the writers have created. It was enough to make the universe, to then make a full game in it and DLC, plus a new standalone game in American Nightmare to make some more of the same but execute it differently is fantastic.
As well as the story mode of this game, there is an added Arcade Mode. Wake has to survive waves of Taken for 10 minutes, by which time the sun will come up ending the game since the darkness cannot live in daylight. This is a very simple horde mode, but is strangely addictive. All it is, is the core game mechanic, with a time limit added to it. It theoretically shouldn’t be fun at all but it’s great! That mode will end up eating a lot of your time should you choose to get this game.
I will say that you definitely need to have played the first game before this; otherwise you will not understand some of the references made by Mr Scratch or the manuscripts.
Overall, I would say this game is addictive. Although it does not look like it from the outside looking in, but it really and truly is. The few bad points about this game bring it down a couple of marks, but as a fan of Alan Wake being critical as a video game fan in general, I feel that everything in this game was captured perfectly and this game is just a way to please the developers and the fans of the series, which is a win/win situation. I give this game and 8/10 for its general atmosphere, gameplay and presentation. However some elements of the story and visuals let it down, but they can be looked passed and this is still a fantastic game! It is definitely a buy (…you know, after you have bought this first game).