Alan Wake was a partially ambitious 2010 game from Remedy Entertainment. Considering these were the guys who gave us the first couple of Max Payne installments, Alan Wake didn’t represent a major leap in gameplay or production. Nevertheless, it garnered enough of a fan base to warrant continuous content from Remedy, thanks to a strong Stephen King-esque atmosphere and some clever writing. So after a weak DLC called “The Signal” and one rather brilliant segment titled “The Writer,” an appropriate follow-up was certainly on its way. Enter Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, neither a sequel nor apparently an episode of DLC, but a standalone effort meant to keep the Alan Wake name afloat. To fans, it stood to usher in a new wave of support for an official sequel, but in execution it’s little more than a watered-down money milker.
What makes Alan Wake such a great character is his persistence among great odds, usually armed with just a flashlight and a handful of firearms. Remedy doesn’t change anything up here, mainly adding a handful of new weapons (the crossbow being the only note-worthy one) and introducing a weapon unlock system instead of flashlight upgrades. What’s frustrating though is how well the team had themselves set up with Alan Wake’s incumbent framework, only to settle for such mediocrity in the creativity area. The nailgun, as prominently featured as it is, is a novelty for the first fifteen minutes, until you find a stronger and more necessary weapon. And while the enemies keep getting stronger, your arsenal doesn’t surprise or elicit much of a response.
Therein lies the greatest fault of American Nightmare, that for your fifteen bucks you get so little. Expect maybe four hours of repetitive gameplay, and a horde mode which is sort of fun until you realize it’s one player and therefore forgettable. The only real reason to play for fans is the storyline, thankfully still written by excellent writers Sam Lake and Mikko Rautalahti, which is told just as creatively as in the previous installments. They played things extremely safe compared to “The Writer” however, after which American Nightmare seems almost too constricted to be effective. The best part of the overall plot comes about one third of the way through, while the most enthralling story detail is told through TV and radio segments. They’re super cool and enhance the atmosphere immeasurably, yet any game narrative which requires pure stasis and patience is immediately behind in the times, lacking creativity and the ability to relate to players.
Oh, and for anybody who didn’t play the first game, expect to not understand the plot at all. There’s some back-story written in the game’s collectable narrative pages, but at best they’re summaries and won’t give any real sense of the grandeur found in the original Alan Wake. These pages inherit their predecessor’s gift of being poorly written, occasionally hitting some great emotional and analytical points but mostly just spewing banal phrases for script momentum. They work into the narrative the right way though, mainly because few games can boast that their collectable items pertain to and enhance the script. For a story about a writer, the team at Remedy obviously gave theirs enough creative input that the writing itself is sufficient enough to warrant all the action, and it stands out as the best part of the game.
The bottom line though is that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a concession to fans in order to get enough presence for a full sequel. It looks fine and plays fine, so it can’t be faulted too much in its overall production, but as to whether it’s worth purchasing, the answer is most likely “no” for you. Buy it if you absolutely NEED more of Alan Wake’s adventures, but don’t if you haven’t played through the far superior original title. Because this meager little offering has gotten enough media time that a legitimate Alan Wake progression is surely in store down the line. And to be honest, by the end I wasn’t even sure as a player whether the events here even happened in our protagonist’s actual storyline or not. Remedy pulled so many punches and chickened out on even keeping with their own established plot that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare may only really be redeemable if they get a chance to continue things with a much improved Alan Wake 2.