Remedy Entertainment is fast becoming one of my favourite developers, despite their limited history of releases. I picked up the first Max Payne on a whim, impressed with the box art and the action depicted on the back, and fell in love with the gritty tale of one man’s quest to avenge his family’s death. The second Max Payne drew me in equally, and then during the seven year gap between The Fall of Max Payne and Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment fell off the radar. The release of Alan Wake in 2010 quickly aroused fond memories, and although the grittiness and over-blown action of Max Payne had disappeared, it had been replaced with dramatic tension and a dash of horror.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare lands somewhere in the middle of the two game’s thematic structures, with a little more of the grittiness and action of the Max Payne series, and a little less horror and tension from the original Alan Wake. Set in Night Springs, the fictional town that served as a basis for a variety of Twilight Zone-esque television episodes in Alan Wake’s world, American Nightmare sees our titular hero fighting against Mr. Scratch, an evil doppelganger of Wake. Mr. Scratch seeks to take over Alan Wake’s ‘real’ life. Should you endeavor to wake Alan from his American Nightmare? Or leave him tossing and turning in an ocean of dreams?
A Whole New Ballgame - The first thing that will hit you right off the bat with American Nightmare is the difference in style between it and the original Alan Wake. Thankfully, Remedy Entertainment have switched up the scenery (and to an extent the playing style), but have kept the smooth combat and satisfying exploration aspects of the original game. American Nightmare feels much faster-paced than its predecessor, and enemies come at you more often and in greater numbers than before. Thankfully, players are given help against these increased levels of foes with an all new arsenal including sub-machine guns, assault rifles and nail guns, amongst others. The weapons all feel satisfying to use and are a great help against some of the newer enemy types that have also been introduced.
Sprinkles On Top - One of the aspects of the original Alan Wake that I most enjoyed most was the sheer amount of additional content that Remedy put into the game. An awesome soundtrack, plenty of hidden items that were well-worth finding made it enticing to discover everything that the game had to offer. American Nightmare continues this tradition with a soundtrack including Kasabian and Poets of the Fall, and a bunch of manuscript pages, TV recordings and radio shows to find, all of which contribute to the player’s knowledge of the wider world of the Alan Wake universe. The TV recordings in particular are very well acted, and give you a great sense of just what Mr Scratch is.
Dodged A Bullet - I, like most fans of Alan Wake, let out a short cry of panic when I heard that American Nightmare was to be released via Xbox Live. Fearing a top-down shooter, or perhaps something worse, I felt an intense fear for the future of a promising franchise. Luckily, I needn’t have worried. Remedy has done a fantastic job of making American Nightmare look and play almost identically to the original, which is no mean feat considering the limitations of downloadable titles.
Fight Till Dawn - If you enjoyed the tense combat and survival horror aspects of the original Alan Wake, then the main story of American Nightmare won’t satisfy you too much. Combat is a lot faster paced, and there weren’t too many moments when I feared for my safety. In fact, during the entire playthrough, I don’t think I died once. Never fear, however, as Remedy have included the ‘Fight Till Dawn’ mode, which sees you fighting off waves of Taken, bringing the tension and fear back with a bang. Set over a variety of locales, Fight Till Dawn allows you to use manuscripts found in the campaign to unlock weapons, with the objective of killing as many Taken as possible and securing a high score. It feels a little artificial at times, but you’ll be concentrating so much on Alan’s safety that you won’t care.
Downloaded Devils - Although by and large American Nightmare looks indistinguishable from a full retail title, there are areas where its downloadable heritage is all too glaring. In dialogue scenes, the two characters often twitch around as if they’re hopped up on too much caffeine, which can be incredibly distracting (and unintentionally amusing) from the well-crafted script. What is even more distracting, however, is the crippling slowdown that strikes whenever too many enemies are on screen at once. This title had some of the worst slowdown that I’ve ever noticed in a modern game, and even though it only happened once or twice, it had me fearing for the safety of my Xbox more than that of Alan Wake.
Short-Run - Both Alan Wake and American Nightmare have well-crafted, intriguing narratives, with good character development and some awesome set pieces. Unfortunately, American Nightmare has a lot fewer awesome set pieces. The main story lasts only a matter of hours, and whilst the playable areas featured are somewhat larger and more open-concept than the original Alan Wake, there are only three of them, and you’ll be seeing them multiple times. This repetition is well-worked into the story, but it will certainly bother some players who are used to new visuals flashed in front of them at regular intervals.
The main question I had when entering into Alan Wake’s America Nightmare was whether or not it would live up to the high standards set by the original. Whilst my answer rested more on the positive side, there were some technical issues that marred the experience. For those seeking a continuation of Wake’s story, American Nightmare is satisfying, in large part due to its well-written story and some good character development. Remedy Entertainment’s latest release is an action-packed dash from start to finish, and there are a liberal dose of science-fiction elements for those seeking an otherworldy experience. Unfortunately, American Nightmare’s campaign is a little short, and the lack of fine-tuning does leave the experience lacking in certain areas. Despite this, I would not hesitate to recommend American Nightmare to anyone who wants a quick fix of supernatural gunplay. Just make sure you’re up to date with Alan Wake’s story before playing, or your head is really going to hurt.