Like many gamers, I have been patiently waiting for the next chapter in the "Alan Wake" saga. "Alan Wake's American Nightmare," the recently released Xbox Live Arcade exclusive, isn't the sequel I have been hoping for, but rather an interesting footnote to the continuing story of the author-turned-hero.
"American Nightmare" takes place within the same universe established in the 2010 original, but plays as more of a spinoff instead a full-blown follow-up. Wake, still trapped by the darkness at the bottom of Cauldron Lake, finds himself reliving an episode of the "Night Springs" television show he wrote for before he found success as a best-selling novelist. In order to escape this new nightmare, Wake must rewrite history in this altered reality and defeat his evil alter-ego, Mr. Scratch.
Whereas the original "Alan Wake" was a story-driven affair, "American Nightmare" places the focus squarely on the action and Wake's battles against the Taken. The narrative is still interesting (though served with a little more cheese than its predecessor) and is told in such a way to be accessible to anyone who may have missed the original. Hidden manuscript pages return to help push the story forward, but also fill in much of the backstory for "Alan Wake" newcomers. While the setting has shifted from the Pacific Northwest to the Arizona desert, the core gameplay remains relatively unchanged.
Indeed, the light-vs.-dark dynamic that worked so well in the first game makes its return in "American Nightmare." Wake must use light, be it a flashlight, flare or flashbang, to burn off the darkness surrounding the Taken before using more conventional weapons to dispatch them. Combat scenarios boil down to effectively juggling your available light sources and weapons to eliminate groups of Taken. These altercations can still be tense affairs, but Wake has much more firepower at his disposal this time around, including special weapons caches that can be unlocked by discovering the aforementioned manuscript pages. The focus on combat is further emphasized in the new Arcade Mode, which pits Wake against waves of Taken across five different maps in an effort to survive the night.
Across both modes, Wake will encounter a number of new threats in Night Springs. Developer Remedy has increased the types of Taken in "American Nightmare," addressing a point of contention in the original. Wake will face off against Taken that split into smaller creatures when hit by light, enemies forged from flocks of demonic birds and hulking giants wielding huge saws.
While these new enemies tested my reflexes, little about "American Nightmare" evoked the same level of terror I felt while playing through the original. Perhaps that is because I never really felt in danger because weapons and ammo were so plentiful, but more likely it had to do with something Wake, himself, noted during a voiceover.
After surviving the events at Cauldron Lake, Wake was simply no longer terrified by the evil forces that haunt him. I couldn't help but feel the same way as I played through "American Nightmare" - after all of the epic moments that I experienced in the original, laying waste to more Taken in Night Springs seemed like just another day at the office.
Even though "American Nightmare" failed to deliver the same thrills as its predecessor, it remains an outstanding game in its own right and a welcome addition to the XBLA library. And it certainly fueled my desire to see a full-blown sequel, which hopefully Remedy will shed some light on sooner rather than later.
"Alan Wake's American Nightmare"
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available for: Xbox Live Arcade (1200 MP)
Rating: T for teen