When it was first released in 2010, Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake proved to be a big hit. Thanks to its survival horror sensibilities, mixed with inventive game-play mechanics, and a story and script that felt like a love letter to the horror stylings of Stephen King, it set itself out as different from other games in the genre where your aim was to mow down hordes of the undead.
What a lot of people didn’t like about the game, despite it being great, was the ending. Whilst the ending is good narratively, the fact that it sees the hero lost in a world of darkness and evil forces, promising to find a way home, left fans wanting more. Two years later we finally got more in the form of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare; a quasi sequel, although it’s place in canon could change with the upcoming Alan Wake 2, and the fact that the remastered version of the original game made no mention of it.
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The plot of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is told a little differently than the original, taking place within the frame-work of an episode of Night Springs, the fictional television show that exists within the game as a Twilight Zone type show. The show’s narration explains that Alan is still trying to find his way home, but first must find and destroy his dark doppelganger, Mr Scratch, who appeared briefly in the original game. Mr Scratch, who is using the powers of the Dark Presence, is trying to destroy everything Alan loves, including his wife Alice.
Alan emerges from the darkness of the other world in a small town in Arizona, called Night Springs. Alan learns that two years have passed, and that the world believes him to be missing. The town around Alan soon descends into chaos as Mr Scratch summons hordes of Taken to fight Alan. Now players must try to find their way through the town, track down the information they need to defeat Mr Scratch, and break their way out of a time loop that sees them playing through events again and again trying to get them right.
Released onto Xbox Arcade, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare never really felt like a full sequel to the original, instead being an Alan Wake 1.5. Though the game was definitely bigger than your standard DLC add on, and sold as an individual game that didn’t require the first to play, it was also a lot smaller than the first. The story for the game, though interesting, isn’t nearly as long as the original, and the game-play does seem to be more of a focus this time around. The game only really has three environments, and thanks to the conceit of the looping timeline and needing to figure out how to get the perfect outcome to break free of it, it means that you’ll end up playing through the same areas multiple times.
Despite this, the game doesn’t really feel repetitive, and manages to keep your attention. This may be due to the fact that the developers seem to know that they’re making you play through the same areas multiple times, so they cut things out and streamline events for you on your second and third times round. It also helps a lot that this time around, the team seems to have had a shift of focus onto combat. Not only are there more enemies, and enemy types, than the original, but Alan himself is much better equipped. There’s a lot more ammo around, as well as new weapons like combat shotguns, machines guns, and as featured on the cover, nail guns. You’re not left dashing desperately for the next patch of light, hoping it will bring you safe haven and some much needed bullets; here you get to fight back, and it’s actually really satisfying.
In addition to the new story campaign the game also came with an Arcade Mode, which drops Alan into different arenas where you have to grab some weapons and fight your way to survival as wave after wave of enemies come at you. You get ten minutes to fight and survive the Taken, which doesn’t seem like that long. But once the enemies are running at you and the bullets are flying it does become a challenge. These missions were a lot of fun, and whilst they felt very different to the main game it made for a great extra to this short but sweet experience.
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With the news that Alan Wake 2 is coming in just a few years (I’m hoping the strange compression of time that’s happening during the pandemic helps this come sooner) it isn’t clear if Alan Wake’s American Nightmare will still have a place in the series as an official sequel, or if it will be relegated to a side game that no longer counts. Either way, it will remain an entertaining addition to the Alan Wake universe, one that tried some different things and had a lot of fun along the way.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was released on 22nd February 2012.