Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Review)

After the unexpected success of the first Alan Wake, developer Remedy Entertainment released Alan Wake’s American Nightmare as a standalone title in early 2012. It’s important to clarify from the beginning that American Nightmare is more of a spin-off than a direct sequel to the original game; this becomes more apparent when one notices the limited size (1.33 GB) of the title. The player once more assumes the role of Alan Wake, only this time there is a change of scenery as the game takes place in the Arizona desert, having Alan as the main protagonist of a ‘Night Springs’ episode ,the Twilight Zone-type TV series originally introduced in the first game.

Approximately two years have passed since the events of the first Alan Wake occurred, and this time Alan’s main rival is his own evil alter-ego, Mr. Scratch, who appears to be in a murderous and terrorizing spree, causing all kinds of mayhem and enjoying every single moment of it.

The gameplay of American Nightmare is almost identical to the one in Alan Wake; the player has to aim at the enemy by focusing their flashlight on them in order to weaken their dark aura, and then shoot them until they are defeated. Nevertheless some significant changes have been made, for example Alan’s has a wider weapon selection at his disposal, allowing the player to use several different tactics when fighting enemies as Alan can use both close-range and long-range weapons. Clearly certain weapons work better on some enemies more than others. Additionally, the game has no choice of difficulty level when playing for the first time; nevertheless it falls on the easy category, especially when someone is familiar with 3rd person shooters.  Alan’s enemies are the Taken, the same sort of possessed-by-the-darkness enemies we have encountered in the first Alan wake. This time around we are introduced to three new kinds of taken, each of them requiring a certain combat technique in order to be defeated. On the positive side, Alan’s batteries now recharge way faster, to the extent that the player will rarely need to change them, even when battling large amounts of enemies. This is definitely a plus, considering how frustratingly long it took them to recharge in the original game; Alan can now run longer distances before becoming exhausted, which certainly comes in handy when evading enemies. Well-lit areas where Alan can go in order to restore his health are now plenty and easier to spot. Overall the whole action experience seems to have significantly improved compared to the first Alan Wake.

When it comes to atmosphere the game has the same eerie and dark design, only this time it looks more like an 80s horror movie. This mostly serves in giving American Nightmare a different “taste”; the player should keep in mind though that this is supposed to be just one of the Night Springs episodes which Alan Wake was a scriptwriter of. In fact, the whole story is based on Alan trying to rewrite the episode’s events in order to escape this nightmarish scenario. Unfortunately this is where the game’s biggest flaw becomes noticeable. American nightmare has three original areas more or less which the player is forced to visit again and again in order to complete the same tasks they did before; as Alan appears to be caught in a time loop. Although the whole repetitive scenario fits more than well in the main story of the game, the whole déjà  vu feeling can become quite frustrating, and, no matter how well written the game is, at times it feels a bit cheap. Nevertheless, the developers made sure to add a few subtle changes every time the player re-visits an area and also to skip some events so the player doesn’t have to repeat every single action again and again.

When it comes to graphics, American Nightmare looks beautiful and considerably improved. The game runs on 1280 x 720p resolution; the shadows and lighting work really well and there is notably less tearing. Tearing may become more noticeable when moving really close to enemies or when moving the camera around in order to see something better; it can be fixed to an extent by the new Vertical Sync option which on the other hand can cost the game in framerate. All the same, American nightmare looks quite amazing, especially considering the fact that the game is less that 2 GB in size. The game’s soundtrack is once more a pleasant surprise, consisting of several great tracks by Poets of the Fall, which even reveal hints and answers about the game’s plot in their lyrics. As in Alan Wake, there is a significant (but completely optional) collectible hunting to be done. Once again Alan discovers several manuscript pages which explain the plot of the first game for players who need a reminder or have never played the first Alan Wake. Additionally there are a few weapons which Alan can unlock only if he has collected a certain amount of manuscript pages. Alan also stumbles upon a few radios and TV sets; the first mostly feature broadcasts and interviews giving him a glimpse of what has become of his friend and manager Barry Wheeler and his Wife Alice, while the latter feature special messages from his psychotic and murderous doppelganger Mr. Scratch. All of the collectibles in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare serve in moving the story forward and adding to the plot, which is certainly another positive aspect.

Apart from the main story, the game features a quite interesting Arcade Mode, called “Fight Till Dawn”. This mode has Alan fighting several waves of Taken which keep attacking him until the sun rises. The player must survive all these waves, for approximately 10 minutes, until the level is over. There are 10 levels in Fight Till Dawn, going from relatively easy to significantly hard. Surprisingly American Nightmare’s Arcade Mode is very well designed and quite fun to play, giving the player more to do when they finish the main story and giving the game somewhat of a replay value.

Generally, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a great next step for the Alan Wake franchise. Although it is merely a spin-off and not a full sequel and it admittedly has its flaws, the game moves the story forward while it answers some of the questions left unanswered in the end of Alan Wake (and the two DLCs that followed). On the downside the repetitive visits to the same locations will tire most players but most fans will surely welcome the improvements made to the gameplay and graphics. Overall, it is a game worthy of a try, mainly by fans of the original game and also by mystery/horror fans, as games of that genre tend to be quite scarce nowadays.

Overall: 7/10

Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Review)
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