Written By: Adam Dodd
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Last month brought us a double dose of Alan Wake with the original game's long awaited port to PC, and a brand new adventure with Alan Wake's American Nightmare. What's most exciting about American Nightmare, other than the new story, is the way it's being delivered. Alan Wake is a series that was made for the world of episodic gaming. The first game was formatted like a TV series, with each chapter having its own story arc so you could easily pick up and play the game whenever you wanted. With American Nightmare, developer Remedy is really only taking this idea further by creating a standalone game in the series.
The main story took me about 4 hours to complete, making it roughly the same length of 2-3 episodes in the original game. The dark and intensely creepy forest environments of the first game have been replaced with wide open Arizona deserts, complete with closed off coal mines, dusty motels, and diners that look like they were taken right out of the 60's. It's a welcome change of scenery, and the more open environments that are all far larger than anything in the original game make exploring a lot more fun.
There's only one problem with this, and that's the repetition in the environments you'll be exploring. It's all explained in the story, so I won't spoil anything, but you'll explore each of the game's three main levels twice. They're big, so it's not too annoying, and you'll see some new places within those levels your second time around, butt it does hurt the game a little bit after you're forced to traverse the same map twice for the third time in a row. It was done because of the budget constraints that come with creating an arcade game rather than a full retail release, but it's still an issue.
Something you should know about American Nightmare before you dive in is this really isn't a horror game. Though the series was never billed as "horror," instead they went with "psychological thriller," but the first definitely had its roots in horror. This time around, pretty much all that has gone to the wayside to make room for the new Grindhouse style. It sounds neat on paper, but it's never really fully committed to. Had they removed the gruff narrator's voice at the end of each chapter, I would've found it difficult to draw a comparison between this and Grindhouse cinema.
Wake's arsenal of weapons has seen a serious upgrade, and the Grindhouse-lite feel to the game makes the image of an Uzi-wielding author a little less comical. You start off with the basic assortment of weapons available to you, including the shotgun, pistols, nail gun, flares, etc. As you collect the many manuscript pages that have been littered about the massive environments, you'll be able to unlock the various weapon caches to receive more powerful weapons. These can include the aforementioned Uzi, assault rifle, combat shotgun, and hunting rifle. They're all incredibly fun to use and they blend well with the more action-oriented approach to Alan Wake.
Arguably the most exciting new feature here is the Fight til Dawn mode, that's inspired by similar modes in a myriad other games that have come out since Gears of War 2's Horde Mode made it popular. Obviously, Fight til Dawn shares some resemblances to other survival modes, only it's been given a distinct Alan Wake flavor.
Basically, you start off in a map that has various tools and weapons scattered around it, and a timer that immediately begins counting down. Your goal is to survive the full ten minutes while racking up the largest score possible in the short amount of time. You'll be pitted against wave after wave of Taken, including all new additions, like the lumbering circular saw-wielding giant, the Splitters who break into two smaller enemies when you shine their light on them, and the very cool Taken that bursts into a murder of crows only to reform behind you for a surprise attack. If you survive until the end you'll be saved by dawn, which immediately kills the remaining Taken.
American Nightmare isn't just a fantastic game that packs a ton of content inside a budget price, it's also a look into the exciting future of Alan Wake. I hope this isn't Alan's only assault on the arcade, because American Nightmare is good fun, and the Fight til Dawn mode is a welcome addition to the series.
This review is based on a redemption code for the Xbox Live Arcade release of Alan Wake's American Nightmare provided by Microsoft Studios.