‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’ cuts down story but improves gameplay

By Glenn Battishill

“Alan Wake” was a psychological-action game that came out in 2010 after being in development for five years and was a well told story wrapped in a few annoying game mechanics.

It’s Xbox Live Arcade sequel, “Alan Wake’s American Nightmare,” functions as a sequel and a side story to its’ predecessor.

“Alan Wake” centers on a troubled novelist, Alan Wake, who takes a vacation to a small Washington town to overcome writer’s block but soon discovers an ancient darkness has besieged the town. Armed only with a flashlight and a pistol, Alan had to used the light to expose enemies and then use the pistol to finish them. It was a simple but engaging combat system that thankfully has had all of its’ kinks worked out. The dodge function is still fun to use and makes the player feel awesome.

“American Nightmare” takes place in the small desert town of Night Springs nearly two years after the first game. In this story Alan must face off against his literal dark side, Mr. Scratch, while trying to escape from “the dark place.”

While the first game felt like a Stephen King novel, “American Nightmare” feels much more like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

One of the most annoying things about “Alan Wake” was the unsynced voices. Remedy studios is based in Finland so naturally they had to hire voice actors for the english version of the game. The result was distracting and nearly unwatchable.

Voice actor Lloyd Floyd narrates the story and he really sells the “Twilight Zone” style of the game.

The real star of the show is Ilkka Villi, the Finnish motion capture model for both Alan and his evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch. The game has several live action cutscenes being played through old televisions wherein Mr. Scratch taunts Alan and generally acts insane.

The combat is fluid and fun and offers much more weapon variety than its’ predecessor. In this game players find manuscript pages that foreshadow upcoming events or flesh out the back-story. The pages can then be cashed in for better weapons.

While the story mode only lasts about six hours on a normal run-through the game does offer a challenging and very fun “arcade mode” wherein players battle “the taken” in over a dozen battlegrounds with lots of variety.

The original game had the problem of not being very thrilling, often wrenching the camera from the player in order to show an enemy approaching from a mile away. While it might have benefited the faint of heart it never let the player feel tense. Thankfully, “American Nightmare” hardly even shows enemies before they are charging you with an axe and a bad attitude.

The soundtrack also deserves a mention; Poets of the Fall create an atmospheric set of tracks that help to build the mood for the big showdowns or battles.

The game is available on XBLA and retails for $15. Fans of the series will have no reservations in paying that price but players playing for the story and not the bonus mode might want to wait for the game to go on sale.