Alan Wake's American Nightmare Review

Susan Arendt | 24 Feb 2012 21:00
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One of American Nightmare's other collectibles is a holdover from Alan Wake - interactive TVs. In Wake, they played episodes of Night Springs, but in Nightmare, they play messages from Mr. Scratch that will chill you to the bone. He's the manifestation of Alan's dark urges, a serial killer bent on claiming everything Alan has - his wife, his life, his sanity - and then destroying it all. He leans towards the camera, sighing contentedly as he discusses the merits of one knife over another as implements of torture. He beams as he discusses exactly how he'll play the good husband "as long as he can stand it" before killing Alan's wife. He's incredibly disturbing, a charming ghoul in a well-cut suit.

If only Alan himself were as interesting. In Alan Wake, we saw a complex man ill-suited to the role of hero, but driven by love and guilt to rescue his wife. In Nightmare, he's embraced his situation and is quite comfortable shouldering the responsibility of saving the day. In fairness, Nightmare is a much smaller game than Wake, which leaves little room for nuanced character development, but the relationship between creator (Wake) and creation (Mr. Scratch) is so fascinating that I couldn't help but wish for it to be explored in more depth.

Alan Wake was rewarding for players who took to its story, but was lackluster when it came to combat; conversely, American Nightmare is most enjoyable when it comes to killing bad guys, but falters when it comes to its story. Mr. Scratch has trapped Alan in a time loop, which means you'll be visiting the same three locations not once, not twice, but three times. Your tasks change slightly in every go-round - after all, you know what's coming, so it makes sense that you'd work ahead - but retracing your footsteps means that progression offers very little by way of surprise. The animations used for Alan's interactions with the locals repeat, too, so that cute scientist from the observatory literally makes the same motions every time you see her.

American Nightmare is arguably most fun when it ditches the pretense of plot altogether. Arcade Mode, in which you rack up points by fighting off Taken for as long as you can manage, is immensely enjoyable and its numerous maps help alleviate the visual ennui inspired by the main game's repeating locales. Nonstop combat isn't exactly what springs to mind when I think about a writer grappling with the chaos of his own creation, but it works well here.

Bottom Line: Alan Wake's American Nightmare feels a bit spiritually out of step with the original Alan Wake, but provides just enough story to balance out the action. But, seriously, it needs more Barry.

Recommendation: You'll have fun with it even if you never bothered with Alan Wake, so pick it up.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Alan Wake's American Nightmare
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Remedy
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform(s): XBLA
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