Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review for Xbox 360

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review for Xbox 360

A Nightmare I’d Rather Not Wake From

As a huge fan of the original Alan Wake, I’ve been chomping at the bit for another dose of darkness-slaying action. The first game was atmospheric and creepy, with a fantastic cast of characters and an engrossing, if not a little convoluted, story. Its follow-up, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, takes a decidedly different approach by throwing Wake into the middle of a story he wrote for the fictional Twilight Zone -esque Night Springs TV series. Its tone, setting, and a majority of the characters are different, and the result is a game that looks and feels very different from its predecessor.

Where Alan Wake’s first adventure was heavily inspired by Stephen King and leaned pretty closely to the horror genre—despite being advertised as a psychological thriller—American Nightmare is more action-heavy and very light on scares. With the desert setting, rough-voiced narrator, and Grindhouse-style loading screens, this is more From Dusk Till Dawn than Dawn of the Dead .

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshot

For the most part, I enjoyed the new tone. It was more playful, and playing as an Uzi-wielding author is a little easier to swallow when you match it up with the exaggerated style of the rest of the game. Had Alan’s arsenal included assault rifles and combat shotguns in the first game, it would’ve felt more out of place than it did this time around.

While the Grindhouse inspirations are welcome additions, they’re never really pushed far enough. Grindhouse films tend to be heavier on the action, gore, sex, and other naughty bits, while American Nightmare is pretty tame. Had there been no narrator to transition me from one area to the next, the Grindhouse flavor would’ve been almost entirely lost on me.

Alan Wake has always been an episodic experience, meant to be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks rather than all-night marathons. That’s why the first game was broken into episodes, like a TV series, complete with a recap of the previous episode. This is what makes American Nightmare work so well, because it’s been built to be a short, standalone experience. When it’s over, you’re satisfied, and its more casual nature makes it more open to those who aren’t familiar with the series.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshot

Unfortunately for horror fans, this means most of the scares that littered the first game have been removed. The atmosphere is still thick with dread, and fighting a group of Taken is just as frantic and intense as it’s always been. A few new enemies have even been sprinkled into the mix to shake things up. With the exception of the spiders, the new enemies are all welcome additions that add an extra level of strategy to the combat. Unfortunately, despite a creepy buildup, your first encounter with the eight-legged creatures doesn’t really pay off once you realize you can kill dozens of them without them even getting close.

The Splitter is a new form of the Taken, and it acts much like its name implies. These guys don’t enjoy the protection of a darkness shield, but it’s still easy to mistake them for other Taken, and that’s where mistakes can be made. As soon as you focus your flashlight on a Splitter, he splits into two smaller forms of himself, doubling the threat.

Another new addition is the Grenadier, who likes tossing darkness grenades at you from a distance. They’re also shy, so sometimes you’ll have to chase them down to vanquish them.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshot

My favorite new addition is an enemy that can burst into a murder of crows, only to form together behind you for a surprise attack. They’re easily the most interesting to watch, and they also tend to be the most fun to fight, especially when you’re going up against more than one at a time. Something you really don’t want to see more than one of is the new giant Taken, who is always easy to point out since he usually looms a full person’s height above the rest of the Taken. What makes him more intimidating is the buzz saw he wields. Thankfully, he’s also very slow.

With all the new enemies you’ll be fighting, it’s a good thing Wake’s arsenal of weapons has been expanded. Basic weapons like pistols, nail guns, and flares can be found strewn about the environments. If you’re looking for more substantial firepower, you’ll need to collect the manuscript pages that have been scattered. Find enough of them and you’ll be able to unlock more powerful weapons at various weapon crates around the world. These crates can include Uzis, assault rifles, combat shotguns, and hunting rifles. The added firepower makes you feel a little more capable of surviving the hordes of Taken and possessed objects that will be thrown at you—sometimes literally—throughout the game.

Another noticeable change comes in the environments, which are less linear than the dark forests and empty cabins of the original. The world feels more real and open, even if a lot of it feels a little empty. The constraints that come with being an arcade game also means there are less spectacular set pieces, minus one memorable section you encounter once fairly early and again later on.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshot

That’s right, I said the same thing happens to you twice, and that’s because the story revolves around Alan’s attempt to bring the reality he’s in into synch with the reality his wife Alice is in. It’s woven into the story, but going through the same environment you explored just thirty minutes earlier feels like a lazy design decision. It works in the tale being told, but I don’t necessarily want to explore the same environments twice.

When the story is over, there’s still quite a bit to look forward to in the brand new “Fight ’til Dawn” mode, which takes the increasingly popular survival mode and weaves it into Wake’s world. It’s less strategic than Gears of War’s Horde mode, and doesn’t run nearly as long as Halo’s Firefight. Instead, it’s more like Left 4 Dead’s Survival; you’re never going to last longer than ten minutes, and every second is spent fighting for your life. Basically, what you’re doing is fighting waves of increasingly powerful groups of enemies with the goal of accumulating as many points as possible until dawn comes. Littered about the maps are flares, guns, and ammunition you’ll need to survive. Perform well enough in one map to unlock the next, and the Leaderboards add a little extra motivation to beat your friends’ scores.

Despite some repetition in the environments, the bigger arsenal of weapons, new enemies, easier-to-follow story, and the new Fight ’til Dawn mode make Alan Wake’s American Nightmare a fantastic addition to anyone’s arcade library. There’s enough content here to make it worth the $15 asking price, and the pulp fiction aesthetic offers a new way to experience a familiar formula. American Nightmare offers something for everyone, from action/horror fans to film junkies. This is a story no gamer should miss.

The move from retail release to arcade exclusive hasn’t affected the visuals at all; Alan Wake is a gorgeous as it ever was. 4.4 Control
Running and gunning is intuitive and the dodge maneuver feels more responsive. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is superb, including the Grindhouse-style narrator, and the music and sound effects are fantastic. 4.5 Play Value
When you’re done with the three-hour campaign, the Fight ’til Dawn mode offers plenty of motivation to return again and again. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Experience an all new Alan Wake adventure with an original storyline set in the fictional Night Springs TV series.
  • Battle new enemies using Wake’s larger arsenal of weapons, including nail guns, submachine guns, assault rifles, and combat shotguns.
  • Fight to survive in the all new Fight til Dawn mode, which pits you against waves of enemies.
  • Compete against your friends and show off your survival skills in online leaderboards.

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