Review by bbears
Shining Light on a Lackluster Sequel
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is the new stand alone XBLA game that is supposed to add to the Alan Wake narrative. The original Alan Wake came out a couple years ago and was successful enough to have a couple expansions. Rumors of an Alan Wake sequel have been going around for a little while and there was hope that this title would somehow be involved. But this title is a completely stand alone and adds nothing to the franchise. American Nightmare is a much more action focused game than the original and does not develop the atmosphere and intrigue that we love the franchise for. We do get a new mode called Fight Till Dawn, which is essentially a horde mode. To me these changes are for the worse and takes away almost everything that I enjoyed the first one for. In addition the presentation has also taken a step back. American Nightmare is $10 on XBLA and if you are an Alan Wake fan then you will probably be disappointed with this title. But if you are looking a random new $10 title on XBLA then American Nightmare is an OK choice, read on for more detail.
The original Alan Wake was a gorgeous looking game that had awesome lighting effects and highly detailed character models. While this stand alone game does run on the same engine it is nowhere near as impressive. The textures in particular stand out in a not so good way. At one point was looking at the open hood of a car and the engine was a simple 2D texture. Graphics aren't everything but the level of effort that this represents is true for the rest of the game. The lighting effects still look good though but everything else has taken a step back. The character models outside of Alan Wake himself are poorly modeled and have a washed out look to them. The enemies look fine but considering they are covered in darkness not a whole lot of detail is visible or needed. There are only 3 environments in the entire game and all are always in night. This gets rid of what little variety the first one. The voice acting is well done though and the original actors where present do return. The narration by Alan Wake is still a great effect and sets what little mood that American Nightmare has. The script however is a little shallow and several of the minor characters lines really make them unlikable. The rest of the sound design though I would call a strength for the game. Timely music and great sound effects are all top notch.
The controls in the original were one of Alan Wake's weak points. Everything felt loose and the button mapping was a little questionable. American Nightmare does improve on in this area. Being more action focused the controls are thankfully tighter feeling and reaching all the buttons is much more manageable. Collision detection in certain situations is still a little wonky but the rest of the interface works well.
In Alan Wake American Nightmare you play as the titular character again, Alan Wake, only this you playing through an episode of Night Springs that Wake wrote. The original plot was Wake was a Stephen King inspired writer who went on a vacation to cauldron lake only to find out your writings come life here. Not a completely concept but it was very well told. The atmosphere had just as much to do with story as the plot. With that said the atmosphere definitely takes a back seat in this game. So the plot just plays out rather blandly. Wake is in sort of a Groundhog day loop while trying to avoid Mr. Scratch. But what I really disliked about this game is that being just an episode in the show imaginary show Night Springs you find out that the game has no impact to the rest of the franchise.
In American Nightmare the main mechanic is the combination of your flashlight and firearms. All of the enemies and certain environmental objects require to be bathed in light to be destroyed. With enemies you must break down their darkness shield and then finish them off with firearms. Certain items like flares produce permanent light sources that make a safe area. Other weapons like flash bangs and the flare gun are very powerful weapons capable of both breaking their shield and killing them in one shot. These mechanics are pretty much unchanged from the first one with the addition of a few new firearms. Where the combat is different is that ammo and batteries for you flashlight are very plentiful. Alan Wake was a suspenseful game where you always outnumbered and had to manage your resources well to survive. In American Nightmare with the new weapons and the plentiful ammo make you feel like a walking tank in comparison. This does make the American Nightmare feel like a completely different game and takes away the best parts of the original. In Alan Wake the action felt more like a chore by the end, American Nightmare while bringing this front and center changes it little, just easier and more of. Past that American Nightmare boils down to cheap fetch quests and simple environmental puzzles. There is also a lot of back tracking, actually you will play through the three same areas three different times. Although this definitely make sense to the plot it feels like one other lazy attempt to quickly put this game out on the market. The other content Fight Till Dawn is a horde mode. This single player mode pits you against swarms of enemies using the core shooting mechanics to fight endless waves till the sun comes up. While these modes are well done I did not find them enjoyable nor do I consider a horde mode in a story driven game to be a good thing.
American Nightmare story mode will take you about four to five hours to get through. While the Fight Till Dawn mode has three different arenas with three difficulties each. The achievements are nothing special and don't include reasons for multiple play throughs. There are all the pages to collect like the first one but they are much less interesting this time.
For fans of the franchise this bite sized title is a departure from the franchise. The lack of suspense and atmosphere replaced with more of the same bland combat. $10 is a fair price for the amount of content, but I did not find the game enjoyable and do not see other people who liked Alan Wake being impressed with this XBLA title.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Alan Wake's American Nightmare (US, 02/22/12)
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