When last we left Alan Wake, the titular tortured author had saved his wife from the unimaginable horrors of Cauldron Lake, a portal to a place of pure evil located in the fictional mountain town of Bright Falls, Washington. Now, as our hero finds himself trapped in the nightmarish and purgatorial dreamscape known only as “the dark place,” he begins to realize the true power of the written word when all logic and reason start to crumble around him. The dichotomy of light versus dark explodes into an all-out battle for that which is good and everything Wake holds dear. Who is the enigmatic Mr. Scratch, and why does he look exactly like our hero? Will Wake be reunited with his wife? Will he even make it through the night? Make sure you’ve got plenty of flashlight batteries, and enter the non-existant Arizona town of Night Springs to find out.
In a medium where gamers are often placed in the roles of invincible super-soldiers or faceless grunts with supernatural powers, Wake’s flawed and layered character is an interesting change of pace. He is an everyman armed only with a flashlight, a couple of guns and the power of his imagination. Rewriting reality is a strange and exciting concept, especially for those with a knack for the written word. The morality and ethics involved with shaping the paths of living, breathing humans is touched upon—albeit briefly—but the ramifications of altering free will is a pretty philosophical question to raise, especially in the confines of a downloadable title. The arsenal of weapons and enemy types have both grown since the first Alan Wake title, and the new arcade mode—think Gears of War’s Horde only you’ve gotta survive til sunrise—is an exciting addition to the overall package. Developer Remedy’s “flashlight first/shoot-‘em-up second” mechanic adds an immensely exciting/satisfying layer of challenge that has you frantically searching for the most immediate threat; you actually have to think strategy as opposed to the increasingly boring run ’n’ gun found in so many of today’s shooters. Very few downloadable titles wind up looking this good, and Remedy should be commended for taking a chance with its sequel and for the fair price.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place in three areas, and you’ll be revisiting each of them an awful lot. Seriously, though—A LOT. It’s almost as if Remedy had put together half a game and realized it could simply reuse each environment and save some serious time and cash. Players of the first release will notice that some of the scare-factor impact is lost, especially since this outing seems to go out of its way to announce when and where the evil minions of darkness will show up. While not awful, exactly, the voice acting could have been better—specifically when it comes to a certain female character who, for some inexplicable reason (and to the detriment of women everywhere), acts like a drunken slut whenever Wake stops by. Lack of co-op in the arcade mode seems like one of the most insane oversights in the history of gaming and, barring future DLC, American Nightmare is pretty effing short.
The Bottom Line
While we’re all waiting around for games like Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock Infinite to come out, this title will do just fine. Fans of the original Alan Wake will surely want to take the chance, but American Nightmare is by no means as full an experience as its predecessor. Yes, we can be hopeful that Remedy’s willingness to release such a good looking game without the $60 price tag is a sign of good things to come, just don’t expect a glorious new era in gaming or more than a few hours worth of entertainment before you go out and buy (or re-buy) the original Alan Wake in hopes of a more complete package.