Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Plays Like a Flannel-filled Shooter «


Alan Wake’s labyrinthine plot and teasing dialogue that answered simple questions with even weirder questions tended to do two things: intrigued or outright alienated players. In that regard, let me lay down the basic story premise for the upcoming stand-alone and downloadable (think inFamous: Festival of Blood) Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, so that you can determine which kind of player you are: Barry Wheeler (now a manger for the band The Old Gods of Asgard) falls asleep in his hotel room one evening, and on the television is a re-run of the in-game show inspired by Twilight Zone, Night Springs — an episode written by Alan Wake and featuring, well, Alan Wake as he explores the remote Arizonan town of the same name. So it’s very possible that this stand-alone downloadable title (longer than an Episode from the original game, but shorter than the actual game) is a tv show in an alternate reality that forked from the main game’s universe due to the events of said main game. Still with me?

Remedy Entertainment CEO Matias Myllyrinne and head of franchise development Oskari Häkkinen both describe American Nightmare as a pulp action-adventure — more in the vein of Quentin Tarantino than Stephen King. Using the television show narrative device (down to featuring that show’s internal narrator as the main voice you hear as opposed to how Alan used to narrate his adventures in the core game), the developers use this to shift from making a slower-paced psychological thriller into a faster-paced shooter.

Besides putting Alan in a flannel shirt, the developers have made a few more tweaks and additions to make American Nightmare feel different than the original. For one thing, there’s an actual color palette; the developers purposely chose to put the town of Night Springs in Arizona so that there would be more to look at than forestry in the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, there’s a hub structure. In contrast to how the original game featured a linear guided experience (reinforced by how the basic objective at any one time was always, “go towards the light”), in American Nightmare, Alan has to perform several tasks within Night Springs, and can do so in whatever order the player chooses. Maybe he’ll help Dr. Meadows at the Observatory, or investigate a mysterious oil derrick; either way, it’s now up to the player. The latter features a new puzzle where Alan has to recreate a situation described in a manuscript page; it’s only after turning on the derrick, positioning key items, and making sure certain music plays on the radio (again, American Nightmare features its share of licensed music; for this puzzle, Alan needs the radio to play Kasabian’s “Club Foot”) does the necessary story event and wave of foes trigger.

The newer enemies also break up the gameplay a bit — in the same way that the DLC episodes for the original game threw some curveballs at veteran players (most notably, having light trigger some of the most dangerous traps after having the core game condition players that light provides safety). While the “shine a light until they’re weak, and then shoot to kill” pattern has been retained for most of the Taken, some new Taken will mess with your Alan Wake muscle memory. One fellow actually splits in two every time you shine a light on him — while the separated individuals are weaker than the original, the necessity of crowd control against two-to-six little guys on top of whoever else you’re dealing with will likely make most players either pause or curse upon encountering him. Another foe transforms into a flock of birds a la Christopher Walken from The Prophecy; while a third chucks grenades from afar and actively runs away from you.

Click the image above to check out all Alan Wake’s American Nightmare screens.

As expected, there will also be new weapons to take these new foes on. Besides letting loose with a full-on assault rifle, Alan can also use certain weapons — such as a nailgun or a crossbow — without having to use light beforehand. Juggling the weapons — light-requiring and no-light-required — against enemies new and old will be useful in the new “Fight Till Dawn” mode. Think of this as Alan Wake’s take on Horde — Alan has to run around and deal incoming waves of Taken. Weapons are scattered around, and some of the more powerful ones require Alan to find manuscript pages (such as an assault rifle locked in a chest that requires three pages beforehand). The streetlights that keep enemies away and heal Alan quickly? Those are a finite resource, so if you only see three of them, don’t run under one unless you have to. Fight Till Dawn features five maps, and lasting a long time against the Taken in these maps leads to unlockable rewards and bragging rights for the online scoreboard.

I only get to play the Fight Till Dawn mode, and it features the same fine-tuned shooting action that I appreciated in the original game. For the story, I see the earlier mentioned oil derrick puzzle, and a siege moment (with a The Old Gods of Asgard song as accompaniment, much like in the original game) within the Observatory. While I can’t say if the game is indeed two-thirds action/one-third story (in a purposeful inversion of how the original was two-thirds story/one-third action), and whether it works, there is just enough to tease me. Even though the premise uses a stand-alone television episode, the live-action scenes featuring Mr. Scratch provide enough of a tease for the Alan Wake fan in me. Will American Nightmare let me deal, or at least figure out the deal, with Mr. Scratch? Or will it do so, but introduce more baffling thoughts on the level of, “it’s not a lake; it’s an ocean”? Will it be comprehensible for people who haven’t played Alan Wake? American Nightmare has already been submitted for certification and bug-fixing, so we’ll find out most of these answers in just a few weeks into 2012.


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