Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review: Good Shooting Paired With a Sloppy Story «

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review: Good Shooting Paired With a Sloppy Story
(XBOX 360)
A storytelling misstep mars this solid stand-alone downloadable Alan Wake side story.
By Thierry Nguyen 02/20/2012
Share it:Tweet There’s a moment in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare where the eponymous protagonist attempts to explain the whole situation — the presence of The Taken, his doppelganger Mr. Scratch, and a crazy new plot element introduced in this downloadable installment — to a scientist. Said scientist subsequently dismisses Alan as completely nuts, even in the face of the insanity surrounding them. It’s a comical moment both in that it’s an amusing bit of dialogue and that it also somewhat reflects just how bizarre and convoluted the premise of Alan Wake is in the first place.
Much like last year’s inFamous: Festival of Blood, American Nightmare occupies the “stand-alone downloadable expansion thing” category. Like Festival, its premise hinges on the main character’s sidekick. Festival had Zeke tell a tall tale about Cole turning into a vampire in order to get a woman to come home with him, whereas Nightmare starts with Alan’s former agent Barry Wheeler falling asleep in a motel while the camera zooms in on the episode of Night Springs (the Twilight Zone analog in Alan’s universe) playing in the background. Nightmare puts Alan inside that episode of Night Springs, and it sees him investigating the Arizona town and helping three damsels-in-distress, all while pursuing Mr. Scratch.

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

The gameplay loop works just like a slightly tweaked version of Alan Wake, which itself played like Remedy’s previous character-centric third-person game Max Payne: You split your time between shooting and a gameplay mechanic that complements said shooting, which in Wake’s case is shining light on enemies. Whether you’re an Alan Wake veteran or someone who’s never played it, you should be able to pick up Nightmare’s gameplay pretty damn easily. So you still spend much of your time holding down your controller’s left trigger to focus your flashlight until you’ve burnt the darkness off a Taken before then unloading your pistol into it. You still have the awkward, goofy-looking mechanic which requires you to dodge by pressing the left bumper while moving the left analog stick — and Alan still looks as goofy dodging in flannel as he did when he wore a jacket with elbow patches. Combat is actually easier to jump into this time around due to the expanded arsenal that now includes submachine guns, assault rifles, crossbows, additional shotguns, and oddly, a nailgun.

This core combat still feels pretty good, and helps give the stand-alone Fight Till Dawn arcade mode some actual legs. Taking a page from other third-person shooters in the wake of Gears of War 2, Fight Till Dawn has Alan fending off waves of Taken for approximately ten minutes (the titular dawn) — besides surviving, your objective is to score lots of points. Successive strings of kills and cinematic dodges add score multipliers, while getting hit resets said multiplier. Your score helps unlock all five maps, and subsequently, nightmare versions of those maps. Fight Till Dawn plays pretty well and adds some extended play time to Nightmare, but its single-player nature — the only interaction with friends comes from looking at leaderboards — sticks out sorely in light of the way pretty much every other shooter’s survival mode features cooperative multiplayer.

As for the main story, the minor tweaks that have been added include some light puzzles (grotesquely easy sequences where you simply go to the objective markers and hit B until the marker disappears); a more open feel where you can tackle multiple objectives in whatever order you want; and more enemy types (such as a Taken that resembles a giant hillbilly with a circular saw). A welcome tweak come in how collectibles have been integrated into the combat; rather than serve as bizarre items for the sake of collection (hi there, Thermoses!), the manuscript pages you find then become currency to unlock the aforementioned additional weapons in both the story and Fight Till Dawn mode. Additional collectibles — meaning TV and radio broadcasts — don’t offer gameplay benefits, but at least they provide more narrative clues rather than sit there simply to be there. Yes, I’m still annoyed at how out of place those damn Thermoses were in Alan Wake.


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