previews\ Feb 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Preview


When I sat down to play a preview build of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, I was told that the original game is like a Stephen King novel, and this follow up title is like Pulp Fiction. My first response was a simple, “Oh.” After all, that’s quite the leap in terms of atmosphere -- a leap that, initially, I was hesitant of. But worry not Wake-fans; the newest entry isn’t as jarring as you might think and actually has quite a bit going for it. While Alan Wake’s official sequel is still in the works, this Downloadable Xbox LIVE Arcade title operates as an approachable and appetite-wetting side adventure starring the titular writer.

American Nightmare drops Alan in the middle of the Arizona desert with a flashlight, a gun, and a mystery to be solved. With time, Mr. Wake begins to realize that he’s trapped in an episode of the Night Springs television series that he once wrote, but things aren’t the way they should be. The player controls Alan as he collects memoirs, fights shadowy townspeople, and attempts to fix reality.

Remedy Entertainment has made it clear that while the game builds on the mythos of the original, newcomers to the franchise won’t be left in the dark.  In fact, fans of the original will probably be the ones needing the most help. While the original’s third-person flashlight-shoot gameplay is retained, think Luigi’s Mansion but for grown-ups, the enemies are more aggressive, their numbers have increased, and new types of enemies, like the aptly named Giant, keep battles from getting stale.

American Nightmare plays almost exactly like the original game, with the same high regard for storytelling. This is a title that’s been given its fair share of polish, from little details like the camera always managing to find the most aesthetically pleasing place to land itself, to more drastic stylistic choices, like the surprisingly well done live-action cut-scenes that open the game and are scattered throughout Nightmare’s overworld via in-game television sets.

But this isn’t just a simple copy and paste; there are plenty of new features to keep things fresh. As previously mentioned, the plot is brand new and expands on the Alan Wake universe without excluding newcomers to the series. The firepower in the game has been ramped up, with sub machine guns, nail guns, and more becoming available over time. While not present in the build I played, there was also the suggestion of combinable items.

The biggest addition to the series is the new ‘Fight till Dawn’ arcade mode, where players hold off wave after wave of enemies until the sun finally rises over one of the game’s five unique maps.  While the story mode isn’t without its challenges, ‘Fight till Dawn’ completely transforms American Nightmare from a story-driven adventure game into a full-fledged survival horror-shooter. This new mode is tough; it took me almost five attempts before I came anywhere close to surviving. With limited ammo and few places to hide, the emphasis here is as much on survival as it is on killing enemies, and it is a joy to play. It’s a fresh take on the endless-wave gameplay-style, by far the most exciting new feature American Nightmare has to offer, and likely a major selling point for this title.

Fans of Alan Wake may be hesitant about approaching American Nightmare, but here are a few things to keep in mind: This is a world-building side-story and not a full fledged sequel. Also, the gameplay and storytelling of the original are intact, even if the style has gone in a new direction, and it’s far from a bad direction. So why not try something different while the sequel (probably more in line with the original’s vibe) is worked on? Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, more than anything, is an opportunity that the developers have taken to have a little fun with their darkness-plagued hero, and if my time with the game was any indication, that fun will transfer over to the players quite nicely.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare drops February 22nd for 1200 Microsoft Points on Xbox LIVE Arcade.

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