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The Game Effect Review

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Review

It's never been better to fight with light.

By Nate Gillick on 2/27/2012
 Alan Wake' s tortured development cycle concluded with the game’s release on May 18th of 2010, and while the game proved profitable for developer Remedy, it didn’t shift nearly as many copies as Remedy or Microsoft would have hoped. However, its thrilling narrative and memorable protagonist helped it earn much deserved distinction as a “cult classic.” Alan Wake’s return in  American Nightmare is sure to be greeted with joy by the  Wake faithful, with Remedy showing in this new title that Alan’s saga is far from over.

Mr. Scratch Wants to Play a Game

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American Nightmare begins two years after the events of  Alan Wake, as Wake’s battle to free himself from the Dark Presence manifests him in the fictional town of Night Springs, the location of a  Twilight Zone -esque TV show he wrote for earlier in his career. Instead of doing battle with the Presence of Cauldron Lake, Wake finds himself up against Mr. Scratch, an agent of darkness manifesting itself as his doppleganger - a living embodiment of the blackest parts of Wake’s soul. In order to survive and defeat Mr. Scratch, Wake must pit his imagination against Scratch’s legion of Taken, and survive a temporal loop, in which he must live the same events over and over.

While Remedy considers this game a spin-off, and not  Alan Wake 2, familiarity with the original title is a must to get full enjoyment of the story, as insufficient exposition is given to establishing the story or characters for newcomers. Manuscript pages scattered across the Arizona desert offer juicy morsels of information on what has happened since the original game, and prove to be the most entertaining element of the narrative. Mr. Scratch provides plenty of creepy moments as a captivating antagonist, though too little time is spent establishing his motivations and activities both in the real world and in Night Springs. Remedy’s choice to use live-action cutscenes instead of in-engine animation for  American Nightmare is a bold direction to take, which pays big with some thrilling moments between battles, and we hope Remedy continues this tactic with future  Alan Wake titles.

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Enemy variety felt lacking in  Alan Wake, which made combat stale by the end of the adventure. Remedy has gone above and beyond to correct this in  American Nightmare, doubling, if not tripling, the number of enemy types within the game. I found myself shooting off Uzi rounds like an idiot in fear of one enemy that can turn itself into a flock of birds to fly away from Wake, then turn back into a person to attack. Another enemy splits itself in two when confronted by bright light, which poses the tactical question - is it better to face one strong enemy, or greater numbers of weaker enemies?  American Nightmare also doubles the number of weapons available, with more shotguns and handguns, but also automatic weapons, and a crossbow for good measure. With so much variety,  Alan Wake' s unique brand of third-person shooting finally comes into its own as a dynamic and thrilling experience.

The new  Fight Till Dawn mode proves the perfect arena to showcase these improvements to  Alan Wake' s combat. Reminiscent of  Resident Evil’s Mercenaries mode, players have ten minutes to survive and rack up points for killing as many Taken as possible. Starting with nothing but a handgun, players must scour the map for stronger weapons while fighting off progressively larger waves of Taken. The immense replayability of this mode shows it has the staying power to keep players entertained and chasing the top of the leaderboards long after the story mode has been completed, and it makes the game worth the price of admission on its own merits, even for those unfamiliar with  Alan Wake's storyline.

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American Nightmare takes the  Alan Wake franchise two steps forward, but also one step back. By creating more open world environments than  Alan Wake s tightly-paced, linear levels, much of the tension has been lost. Going through Night Springs feels like running from one flash point to the next, with little to capture interest off the critical path. Having to revisit each area three times over the course of the story wouldn’t be so rough if each had more to see and do, but as it stands, traversing desolate areas bogs down the story’s pacing, proving Remedy had it right the first time.

Overall Impression

Packing in enough content to shame some full-retail games,  American Nightmare delivers plenty of thrills for its $15 price. While open areas bog down the pacing,  American Nightmare' s story adds depth and complexity to the writer’s tale, backed up by vastly improved combat. Upon completing this chapter of Wake’s saga, stick around for  Fight Till Dawn, which provides enough intense arcade action to stay fresh for dozens of hours. Remedy’s newest title stands out as one of the best downloadable titles to grace the Xbox Live Arcade, and lays a solid foundation for future  Wake titles to improve upon 

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The Good
  • Vastly improved enemy and weapon variety
  • Fight Till Dawn provides the best arcade action since RE's Mercenaries
  • Live action cutscenes
The Bad
  • Open areas bog down pacing
  • Rare frame rate issues
  • Mr. Scratch deserves more exposition
8.0
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rainous on February 28, 2012
i wish somebody would make a gta esk open world zombie game with plenty of weapons where u can just run around a huge city killing zombs and stillin cars
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