Alan Wake's American Nightmare review - A misguided misfire
Mon, March 26, 2012 at 7:39 PM
Brendan T. Smith in 360, Reviews, Video Games, alan wake, american nightmare, remedy, review, xbla, xbox 360

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an odd concoction built upon the weaknesses of its predecessor. A thin facade of Alan Wake has been spread over a foundation built with other goals in mind. The disconnect is evident. For fans of the universe, this morsel of campy absurdity will scratch the itch for more but stop short of satisfaction. The unfamiliar need not apply, as all they will encounter is an impenetrable fiction attatched to a game that struggles to justify even its bite-sized price. 

Remedy’s downloadable experiment is not an entirely fruitless one, it just fails to meet the lofty expectations one might be lead to place upon such an endeavor given the original’s success with episodic storytelling. Fans are likely to be left with a strange aftertaste upon the conclusion of American Nightmare. There’s no doubt it is exciting to once again enter this bizarre world of shadows and ever-shifting reality, but this newest entry mostly abandons those elements which made it appealing in the first place. 

Instead of a twisting tale full of surprises and fascinating secrets hidden just below the surface, we are presented with a mostly predictable story whose best moment comes in the implications for a future sequel. Instead of wonderfully haunting environments, tightly scripted and atmospheric, Wake makes his way through three bland areas that are open, meandering, and utterly lifeless. Instead of tense battles that force you to make the most of your limited resources while getting your heart racing for fear of your own surival, American Nightmare, despite its apparent focus on action, features mostly bland combat scenarios that are nowhere near as thrilling as the high points of its predecessor. 

Some touchup work has been done to the combat mechanics to make them more fun, but to what end? The story mode is short, bland, and free of difficulty. The “arcade action” mode is a generic wave-based survival affair that will hold your attention for a few hours if you’re the patient type. The infusion of a few new enemy types and weapons helps, but not substantially.  The lack of content, even for an inexpensive downloadable game, is surprising. Don’t be fooled by the four hour campaign length. Only missing the original’s run time by a few hours might seem impressive for a game one fourth the price, but those four hours are the exact same events repeated three times - a lazy structure by any measure. 

Once you’re done, the arcade mode gives you a measly five levels to play in, with the promise of more to come via DLC, for an extra charge of course. The only saving grace here is that at least these areas aren’t recycled from the campaign. The promise of “nightmare” difficulty providing an addictive challenge to keep you coming back is seriously hampered by the lingering mechanical problems not patched up from the last game. The flakey dodge system and lack of any sort of warning for attacks from the rear in particular make “nightmare” mode live up to its name, as both combined will lead to a fair few rude smacks that should’ve been avoidable. The combat system simply wasn’t designed for encounters this frantic.

American Nightmare’s primary strength was to remind me how much I enjoyed spending time with Alan Wake. It ends on a note that makes me eager to play a meatier entry, but provides nothing in and of itself that will be worthy of remembrance in six months. It falls short in the areas you’d want an Alan Wake game to succeed and provides little else to compensate. It certainly isn’t bad, but it is insubstantial and generic. The original title, and particularly the fantastically creative second DLC outing, showed us this team is capable of much greater things than this reasonably enjoyable piece of filler. Let’s hope Wake’s next journey through the darkness will play to its strengths and deliver the game fans really want.

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