Alan Wake’s Merican Nightmare
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: May 23rd, 2012
Price: $14.99 (Steam)
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a side-story to the main Alan Wake game which was released on the Xbox 360 and later, PC. The Alan Wake games fall under the survival horror and mystery categories, which make them quite an interesting series. They also sport amazing stories and feature some unique enemies.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare follows the adventures of the protagonist, Alan Wake, a writer who writes for (and is also a character in) a television program called ‘Night Springs’. Night Springs seems like it is a parody or tribute to the Twilight Zone television series covering strange and unusual events. The main storyline plays out much like a television program with recurring characters, a story short enough to be resolved in a single episode and a problem that isn’t too large or epic to be covered in over one episode.
What I particularly liked about the story was the way that it was set up. It is a traditional three-part arc with a beginning chapter that sets up the story and the events and what not, a middle arc that really gets the ball rolling and a lot of bad stuff happens and then a resolution where everything is all better and the good guys win and stuff. What’s even better is the way the story writers turned this concept on its head. For instance, when you reach the end of the third arc for the first time, you’re convinced that you’ve done it and you’ve won, but then the game throws your for a loop and you’re forced to do the game again from the start. You can also look at this in the same way, but with all three times you get looped. The first time you do the three chapters is like the first arc where everything is being set up and you think it’s resolved, but then there’s more. The second time is like ‘man this sucks, I have to it all over again’ and it feels like there is no end to all this nonsense. And then the third time rolls around and you’re all ” ‘Eff yeah, lets do this! We’re taking this home and there’s nothing you can do about it”.
I also really loved the characters in this game. Alan Wake is just your everyday guy who gets stuck in this completely weird time-loop and has to find a way out of it. I found this to be quite enjoyable because there are too many stories out there where some highly heroic looking dude is being set up to be the hero and then the hero heroes and does hero heroics with heroness. Alan Wake is just a writer who happens to be the hero of this story. The other characters are also really fleshed out and I really enjoyed the way they played out the villain in this game.
Normally in games, you’d have this villain that every just says is really menacing and a big douche-bag, but you never really see it. It’s like you’re fighting the guy everyone else wants you to fight. But in Alan Wake, you actually see this guy doing so very bad things and you see him enjoying doing it. He is the embodiment of bad, and sexy, but mostly just bad. The way that they’ve set up the villains story is through the way some characters talk about him, but mainly through pre-recorded television programmes that are actually very gripping for their short play time. After finding all of these recorded messages in the game, you really get a great sense of the kind of person the villain is and this gives you more aspiration to want to bring him down.
Another enjoyable aspect to do with the characters is that they all have a lot to say in regards to idle banter. You can skip all of this idle chit-chat if you like and just go on with the game, but I found it to be very enjoyable and it enriched my experience with the game. What I really liked about this aspect is on the third level of the game, there is this one girl who is taken over by the darkness stuff that affects people that you can pretty much skip completely in the second and third time loops, but if you don’t there is even more dialogue to cover with her. I quite liked that the developers took the time to really flesh out the characters in this manner.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare plays, I imagine, very similarly to the original Alan Wake game appearing on the Xbox 360 and later, PC. From my experience though, I’d say that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare plays very similar to survival horror games that play like Resident Evil 4. You’ve got the behind view perspective, you’ve got the aiming and shooting mode and you’ve got the zombies and things you need to kill. The main difference between Alan Wake and Resident Evil 4 would be that you need to hover a flashlight over enemies to make them vulnerable to being shot.
In Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, ammunition is plentiful and you never really find yourself running out of ammo during the shorter battles with The Taken, but you will really be aching for bullets in the much larger battles. Fortunately the game frequently throws ammunition at you and it is never a scarce commodity, which gives the game a much more action filled experience, even if it retains the survival horror intensity that makes the game an Alan Wake title.
What I really, really liked about the gameplay is the amount of detail that went into the game. I know I spoke about the characters in the Story section of the review, but there is much more than that. There are things litttered throughout the game for you to find, like hidden manuscript pages that really get you to really look around in each level. Some of these can be hard to find, but are quite often littered around the areas that you travel through on your way between points. I think when I finished the game, I ended with 48 out of 50-something manuscript pages, so I still missed some during my run. Manuscript pages aren’t useless, each page you can read through in the menu and can also be used to unlock bigger and stronger weapons by opening lockboxes throughout the game. However, you can finish the game with the pistol and other guns that you just pickup through the game.
Also there is an arcade styled mode where you are pitted against waves of The Taken and you must do battle with them. Doing well unlocks you more levels and gives you highscores. There are also a few achievements for you to earn in this mode.
Unfortunately for Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, it has shoddy graphics even on the highest of settings. I believe that this is because it was built for Xbox 360 and then ported to the PC much later. Having a lesser graphics quality than the PC can theoretically produce at maximum really hurts the tension and horror of the game. But fortunately the game makes up for this with its writing, atmosphere and having a menacing villain.
What I really liked about the games graphics was it’s use of live action cinematography. These live-action cutscenes were amazing and really added to the overall feel of the game. However my one gripe with this is that the guy they had playing Alan Wake did not look too much like the in-game model. The model looked a lot like Edward Norton, but the actor did not. But still, if I was directing a movie and I needed someone to play Alan Wake, the actor they used would definitely be my choice. Here’s to hoping for an Alan Wake movie directed by the developers.
The last thing that I want to talk about int eh visuals are the characters themselves. I quite liked how each of the characters looked unique, even if one is an evil clone of the protagonist. The red-head scientist chick is amazingly attractive, as are the rest of the women in the story.
The audio in Alan Wake is amazing. I quite liked its classic rock soundtrack that was used in a few instances during the game and the games score also fit amazingly well. These two things combined not only increased the atmosphere of the game but also gave it a rather unique feel. And this is something that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The games weaponry sound quite weapon like and as a result, you get a pretty decent feel for when it is that you are shooting at an enemy. Having that high-impact noise really helps to reinforce the situation that you are presented with.
I also really liked the voice acting in the game as it was incredibly well done. My favourite would have to be the voice for the main villain as he portrays the kind of menace and evil that fully embodies the character. I will probably forever associate evil and menace with that particular character thanks to this game.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an amazing package for everyone that picks it up. As a side-story it doesn’t really impact the story of the original game at all, but by playing it you really get a stronger sense of the Alan Wake saga. Aside from the sub-par graphics on the PC, the game is a brilliant play and something that I would recommend to everyone. Be sure to pick it up from the Steam store as soon as you can.