Let me just get this out the way now: if you don’t have a lot invested in the first Alan Wake then you’re going to feel left out right off the bat. A lot of the negative press surrounding the original Alan Wake game was that it wasn’t very scary for a horror title. This problem still manifests itself in American Nightmare. With its tongue-in-cheek feel and narrative choice, the whole experience becomes a muddled affair. Is it an action shooter, a thriller, or a puzzle game?
As a shooter, it actually stands pretty well. Using the torch to aim adds a new dynamic to over-the-shoulder shooters that usually force you to stare down a reticle, since firing from the hip amounts to the same level of accuracy as someone with Parkinson’s shooting clay pigeons with a blindfold on.
However, as a horror game, The limited view caused by the closely following over-the-shoulder camera presents the only scares in the game by making it difficult for players to see what is sneaking up on them.” Even then, there’s nothing shocking about these encounters. Music signifies when the ‘taken’ spawn in, and more often than not, their appearance is coupled with a brief cut scene, eliminating any element of surprise the game might have. Furthermore, with regularly appearing ammo and health supplies at your disposal, you never feel like you’re on the back foot. While the game recommends running away during certain encounters, you rarely find yourself employing this tactic.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare also has an arcade mode, although playing through the story is advised since collecting ‘manuscript pages’ from the main campaign help unlock weapons in arcade. While this mode is substantially more scare, simply because you constantly have to watch your back and ammo supply, the control scheme doesn’t lend itself to such a style of play. Aiming with the torch works well in the campaign, however in the combat-focused arcade mode, having the battery expire every time you want to aim is enormously disadvantageous.
For those of you, who have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to explain.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is set in a TV episode written by Alan Wake… I think. As such, the narration of the game is that of a Twilight Zone-like show. In this episode, Alan Wake is tracking down his evil doppelgänger Mr Scratch, who is the ‘herald of darkness’. It is this darkness that turns people into the zombie race, known as the taken, and this is where the torch comes in.
Are you following? Don’t be ashamed if you’re not. Having not played the first game, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on either, but thanks to the manuscript pages, Wikipedia and the rather interesting in-game live action videos, I managed to piece something of a story together. But I digress. To destroy the taken and beings that have been ‘taken’ over by a darkness, you must rid the darkness that protects them and then finish them off. The darkness is harmed (surprisingly) by light. Using your torch, flares and flash bangs, you must strip the darkness from your opponents if you want any hope of defeating them.
Likewise, lit areas provide a safe haven from the taken, and standing directly under a light will replenish your health. These ammo and health packs give an old school feel to the game, and coupled with its superb graphics (especially for a downloadable title) it gives the game a certain charm you can’t shake off, despite its failings in other areas.
The environments themselves are quite large and detailed, however the mini-map provides the location of hidden items, health and ammo in your immediate area, but not those of enemies, and this feature hampers exploration somewhat. For the completionists out there or those that want to be able to use all the weapons available, then exploration is obviously recommended. But the game is very story-driven and objectives are signposted clearly for you on your map, so it can be very easy to settle into a routine of running from one objective to another and utterly ignoring your surroundings.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
All in all, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a lot more fun than it should be. While the whole concept is flawed, seeing as it’s a horror game that isn’t scary, the interesting mechanic of the torch and the compelling pull of the story-driven gameplay were enough to maintain my interest. I personally don’t think this game is worth $14.99 in terms of enjoyment, but when you look at the production value, and length of the game then maybe it is. However, If you’re strictly into horror games it’s not something I’d chance.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 4 Hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None Reported
- Control Scheme – Xbox 360 Controller, Keyboard/Mouse
- DRM – Steamworks (None if purchased via GOG)
- System Specs – GTX 460, 2.4GHz Core2 Quad , 4GB RAM
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam, GOG.com