Remedy unleashed the original Alan Wake nearly two years ago, and while it didn't sell nearly as well as anticipated by Microsoft (until of course the PC version was released), the game was impressive, filled with dozens of spooky scenes in horrific settings. Nonetheless, a sequel was expected, and you can imagine how dumbfounded fans were when Remedy announced Alan Wake's American Nightmare was for XBLA. As details began to emerge, fans realized that this title was very much unlike the original. American Nightmare not only takes place in an entirely new setting – the American Southwest – it focuses more on action and survival, rather than detective work. Alan is different this time around, but is he worth playing?
Despite the changes with American Nightmare, Alan Wake loyalists will appreciate a well-crafted experience. Alan's ability to pack a punch in the desert is not only a fresh taste, it stays true to the original game's personality. Alan still wields his pistol and flashlight, but this time around, he's not afraid to use them. His reality is distorted by his evil nemesis, and it's apparent that he's willing to go to whatever lengths to stop him. With thousands of Taken waiting for Alan, a little more action is definitely welcomed.
American Nightmare can best be described as an eerie spin-off to Alan's world, rather than a straightforward sequel. The game finds Alan trapped inside a script he wrote for a TV show called Night Springs (think Twilight Zone). He's stuck in a desert town in the Southwest rewriting reality after his evil twin, Mr. Scratch, unleashed a world of hell for Alan. 'Taken' are strewn throughout the world, and innocent civilians are threatened wherever darkness abounds. Alan has one night to rewrite this script before Mr. Scratch holds all control, and lets just say it'll be a night he won't soon forget.
The story comes about in quite a different way than seen in Alan Wake, and sadly, it's what keeps the game from being an instant classic. The plot is terribly hard to follow, and fogged by thousands of questions: How did Alan end up in Night Springs? Why is rewriting reality such a big deal? In addition, the game talks heavily about Mr. Scratch, and how much of an evildoer he is, but you never really come to know the man. His role as a villain is indeed creepy, but when you struggle to find out what motivates him to be evil, it becomes somewhat foolish.
Despite a dragging story, Alan Wake's American Nightmare looks absolutely gorgeous. Simply put, it's one of the prettiest XBLA games around, and can stand toe-to-toe with several recent retail titles. The environments create a creepy feel through both darkness and dim lighting that serves as a safe-haven for your character. In terms of character, Alan looks better than ever, and though enemies are uninspired visually, they're ugly enough to shoot at before they rip your soul in two. It's evident that Remedy put countless hours into creating a $60 visual experience packaged in a $15 download, and for that they should definitely be applauded.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, stands the gameplay. Throughout the story mode you'll be repeating the same sequence of events in order to right reality, or as Alan says, rewrite reality. Unfortunately, this means you'll be stuck revisiting sites that you've already explored thoroughly. You'll be doing the same things during these revisits as well: fetch quests. After an hour, these do grow tiresome and repetitive, almost feeling like a chore to complete. Luckily, though, the gameplay is saved by the bell through outstanding action. Alan isn't afraid to use firepower this time around, and it's quite the rush, especially after numerous Taken are breathing down your neck.
Overall, Alan Wake's American Nightmare proves to be a solid addition to the series. The four to five hour campaign will keep you busy, especially if you're set out to find every manuscript in Night Springs. A "horde" multiplayer mode also offers a chuck of action worth visiting from time to time (at least you won't have to continually fetch for stuff in this mode). For an XBLA game, Remedy has really offered a worthwhile product that is available for a reasonable price. Fans of the series will appreciate the improvements and changes, and newcomers will enjoy an eerie action-packed title that'll have you asking questions for quite some time.