Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is the sort of game that I could enjoy. Combining suspense, a bit of horror, and, of course, heart pounding action, it was guaranteed to cause me to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, while American Nightmare has all the ingredients, the recipe is a bit off.
Described as a follow up, but not sequel to 2010′s Alan Wake, released on Xbox and just recently on the PC, American Nightmare once again puts you in the boots of Alan, an author besieged by evil forces bent on entering our world.
Wake manages to escape the dark forces holding him captive, only to find himself in the town of Night Springs, a fictional Arizona town that was also the name of a TV series he helped author. Armed with a flashlight and pistol, he must make his way through a small canyon, past an abandoned oil derrick spewing forth supernatural goo, and down to a motel, where he meets one of several female NPCs who lead him to the next chapter.
Each chapter consists of several tasks that Alan must complete, in order to rewrite reality, and provide him the means to defeat his evil dopplenganger, Mr. Scratch. Along the way, Scratch leaves messages for Alan in the form of video broadcasts that alternately involve him killing someone, gyrating to music, and just sitting down having a conversation. When he is not dry humping his knife, Scratch is busy making Alan’s life miserable, and exceedingly difficult, as everything he does is getting blamed on Alan.
After destroying the oil derrick in a rather elaborate, rock and roll music filled plan, Alan leaves the motel and travels to the nearby Observatory, where he must recover a mysterious signal coming from space. Again, he is faced with the results of Scratch paying a visit previously, and comes face to face with even more enemies, known as the Taken, whom he must defeat in order to get the Observatory back in operation.
After what can only be described as a digital goat rope, Alan is once again on the road, to a drive in movie theater. There, he once again encounters another female NPC, and must complete a series of tasks in order to make his way to the final point, rewrite reality, banish Scratch, and free himself of the darkness tormenting him once and for all.
Or maybe not.
Turns out the whole thing is a trap, Alan rewrites reality, only to discover the piece of the signal he recovered at the Observatory is not enough. Scratch, laughing maniacally, banishes Alan back to the past, where the whole game starts over again…
You go through this a total of three times. Each time some small details are different, the tasks are not as involved as the NPCs begin to remember previous events. The enemies however, do get more difficult as you go from ax wielding maniacs, to gigantic spiders, phantoms that materialize out of flocks of birds, and giant hillbillies armed with power saws. I was hoping for some epic confrontation with Scratch, possibly as he was in the process of dry humping a baseball bat, but it never occurs.
Weapons too, see a bit of improvement, as Alan is able to pick up a few along the way, and unlock certain weapon cases after collecting a number of journal pages, presumably placed there by himself at some point. So, rather than just a pistol, you are able to pick up a crossbow, pump action shotgun, M-16, Hunting Rifle, Sawed Off Shotgun, Combat Shotgun, Flashbangs, Flare pistols, and a nailgun. Each has their own strengths and weakness, but I found myself relying more on the power of the short range shotguns, especially the semi auto combat model, and flare pistol more often than anything else.
Remedy did a good job here. The mix of computerized graphics and live action during gameplay, and the cutscenes played well. There were no obvious glitches that I could see. Certain objects, such as trash cans, reacted to my movements, and some small details were visible in key areas. Still, the hair on every character looked like a bad toupee, and I was extremely disappointed to see the shadow cast by the character to be horribly pixelated. That alone killed my favorable impression.
During the game, the narration and voice acting make one think of an old Twilight Zone episode, complete with a person providing voice over who tries to sound like Rod Sterling. Again, neat the first time through, but after seeing the same damn place for the third time, I just wanted him shut up. Thankfully, the narration was not repetitive.
Certain scenes, such as the asteroid striking the satellite, which in turn crashes into the oil derrick, or as I call it “series of repetitious implausible events,” include some really sweet music to rock out to. Along with that are a few scenes where the background suspense track is exchanged for a deafening blast of metal.
Overall, the background sounds are top notch, but the voice acting is lacking. Conversations between characters is boring, full of bad jokes, and generally seems like the sort of conversation you would have at a party with someone you really don’t want to talk to. I get that the game is meant to be a sort of take on old school suspense shows, like the Twilight Zone, but it seems like the writers missed the boat. Instead, they gave us something that is rather forgettable, or at least I hope it is.
Other than the single player story, American Nightmare features an arcade style survival mode, pitting the player against increasingly difficult waves of enemies during a timer. Each consecutive map is unlocked through your score, and the types of weapons available, depend on the number of manuscript pages you recover during the campaign. Unfortunately, the concept of facing wave after wave of enemies for score is overly used, and offers nothing to the game that a player could not find in other titles.
Certain mechanics, such as the dodge feature, add to the overall experience, making the action stand out a little bit, but in the end, all you do is point your flashlight at the enemy and blast away with your weapon. There is no thinking involved, no puzzles to solve, or any creativity required on your part. Point, shoot, repeat. The idea of being stuck in a loop is interesting for a game, and could be pulled off successfully, if the designers put a little more effort into it. Unfortunately, not only was the main character stuck in a loop, but so was I.
Oh, you do talk and interact with the NPCs during gameplay, but there is no dialogue choice, at my third time through the Scary Hamster Wheel of Suckage, I quit talking to them altogether. The conversation added nothing to the story, and grew boring each time. Remedy did an excellent nod to realism here, by allowing me to walk away as the NPC is talking, something I tend to do in real life when people are annoying.
If the Arcade mode has any appeal to you, then you may come back to this game more than once. From start to finish on the campaign, I spent 5 hours. That includes doing stupid things like jumping off cliffs and exploring the map to see what the boundaries are. Run around too much and some enemies will spawn, but you can bravely run away, and they will stop chasing you.
On it’s normal game difficulty setting, the only challenge is staying interested. There are a number of achievements to go hunting for, and include challenges such as surviving an Arcade level with nothing but a flashlight and handheld flares. But overall, there is nothing to bring me back to this game, unless I am just bored. Even looking for the extra manuscript pages offers little reward after a while, once you have the weapons you are comfortable with.
The old adage “You get what you pay for,” is true here. At 15 bucks, you can’t expect AAA quality. When viewed against the entire picture of this game, I might say it is worth it, but I would not pay a penny more.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare has the potential to be a good game, but only if the developers put a little more thought into the storyline, and paid some attention to the small details. As it is, it’s just okay.