It’s been too long since we’ve been able to enjoy the pure, sexual gratification that comes from penetrating the darkness of an unsuspecting Taken with a flashlight’s beam and watching it burst into an explosion of sparks and dispelled dark energy. But finally we can, and even though American Nightmare is of a considerably smaller scale than its predecessor, it’s still quite a bit of fun.
How fun is it, you ask? I’m not going to prematurely spoil anything, so you’ll have to join us after the break so we can make this co-op review a threesome. The Baby Factor: If Adam stopped with the double entendres and spent some time on coming up with a clever Baby Factor, it’d probably be written right here.
TJ: I hope you never stop with the double entendres. I LOVE Alan Wake. He could practically do no wrong in my eyes. He could full on murder his wife (Like you know who) and I would still love him. My biggest fear with American Nightmare was that it just wouldn’t live up to the original’s horror filled glory. But then again that’s exactly what just about anyone’s biggest fear of most sequels is. I would’ve been happy if they didn’t change a thing and just added a new story. But they gave me a new story AND improvements. The surprisingly biggest thing they changed in my eyes was the running. In the original, Alan ran like I run in real life. I have asthma so I run about 50 feet before I’m out of breath. That’s about how Alan ran in the 1st game. It REALLY REALLY pissed me off. Well, Alan can run A LOT now, before getting out of breath. Then he breathes heavily, and he can run lots more again.
Adam: I also like how the look and feel of American Nightmare makes it feel totally different from the original. The creepy forests have been replaced by arid Arizona wastelands, and it all meshes incredibly well with the pulp fiction style. Speaking of which, I don’t think that was pushed far enough. If they had removed the gruff narrator’s voice in-between the chapters it would’ve been difficult to see the Grindhouse aesthetic. I’m not saying it needs to be on par with House of the Dead Overkill, but Grindhouse films weren’t only about grainy filters and badass sounding narrators, and unfortunately, that’s a majority of what American Nightmare took from the genre.
TJ: I love the desert look. When you’re dropped into the game I stopped for a second and I’m like wait this isn’t Alan Wake, where are all the trees? As far as the Grindhouse feel, I think the game could completely do without it. I prefer Alan narrating me instead of this random guy. I understand it’s kind of what they were going for but after playing both games I’m definitely more into the original games style.
Adam: One thing I didn’t like about the maps was how much less interesting they are the second time you’re forced to visit them. It makes sense in the story, but the recycled environments reeks of We-had-a-much-smaller-budget-this-time-around syndrome. Also, I just made that affliction up.
TJ: I liked how they added subtle differences each time through, and every time that satellite came crashing down I got more and more amped up. But I totally agree, the repeating of each level 3 times over was meh. Once I figured out what was going on with the story I was thinking, oh it looks like I’ll be coming back here again and maybe again.
Adam: While I’m glad Mr. Wake’s a little more physically fit than he was in the original game, my favorite change is the more wide open environments. The story is still delivered in a linear fashion, in that you’re asked to go here, then go there, etc., but the bigger, more expansive environments you get to explore this time around is great. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason the running was improved was so Alan could traverse the bigger maps without having to whip out his inhaler when he gets winded.
TJ: That totally makes sense. I do like that as well. I almost wouldn’t mind seeing a full Alan Wake title that’s less linear and more exploratory. I found myself almost over exploring, pushing the boundaries of the maps and seeing how far out I could explore and what I could find. I like that they kept the manuscript pages in, I feel they are a great way to fill in story gaps, and keep you in the loop of the game. I also like the several nods to other characters in the universe. It makes you think hard about what’s really going on.
Adam: Something I was expecting to run from was the new spider enemy. I have a serious case of Arachnophobia, my third biggest fear, right under clowns. The spiders in American Nightmare are introduced in a really neat way; you start finding manuscript pages that reference them, then you come across the places that are covered in thick webs. It’s creepy, and I was ready to freak right the fuck out, but when they finally showed up, it was all pretty disappointing. They die too easily, move way too slowly, and there aren’t enough them to pose a threat. Bummer.
TJ: When they hinted at spiders, I immediately thought HUGE Resident Evil “I’m packed with baby spiders” fucking spiders. And I freaked myself out. If they maybe came out in droves and all attacked and climbed all over you at once it would have been horrifying. But like you said, it’s almost just as easy to run away from them. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more “out there” enemies. Bigger creepy spiders is a good start, Remedy.
Adam: I think the Darkness would be more terrifying if it was a little more creative. Overal, the enemies are interesting, and for the most part, I love the new additions. With that said, I think something Alan Wake needs is an enemy that disturbs you. The Darkness isn’t scary because everything is too cool looking. The bird man is cool, the spiders look cool, the giant circular saw-wielding guy is cool, but nothing actually scares me. This series needs a dose of Dead Space, even if it’s just a single new enemy that’s freaky as hell. I want one guy that I really, really don’t look forward to fighting.
TJ: The addition of all the new weapons is pretty great as well. The nail gun? YES. There is almost too many of them, and not enough room in my inventory. I can never decide what to hold onto. I was hope for a new “flash” weapon. The Flare Gun, Flashbang, and Flares are great as always, but I was hoping for something different. Maybe some melee weapons with LEDs attached? Also, the flashlight is much different than in the original game. The unfocused beam can no longer peel away the darkness. At first, I’m thinking this is bad news, but the flashlight recharge time has increased dramatically really changing the way you fight.
Adam: I was expecting a new light attack too. A strobe light would be neat, maybe it could disorient the Taken?
TJ: I do want to touch on the biggest, and I mean BIGGEST problem I’ve had with both Alan Wake games. In most if not ALL 3rd person shooter type games your character stays on the left side of the screen. Alan Wake stays on the right. If you click in the thumbstick, the camera pans and Alan is on the left, where he rightfully belongs. However the camera does not stay there. As you run and do other things, the camera pans back over and Alan is back on the right. This drives me MAD. I find myself clicking in the thumbstick constantly throughout the entire game. I did it through the entire 1st game and I was praying they would fix it so you could choose or make it stay on the side you choose in American Nightmare, but they didn’t. That is going into the What We Want In Alan Wake Whatever article.
Adam: Thankfully, the other new enemies are all pretty fantastic. The hulking, circular saw-wielding giant is terrifying, and the Splitter that separates into multiple Taken when you shine your light on him is good fun, but my personal favorite is easily the guy that breaks up into a murder of crows only to reform right behind you for a sneak attack. Oh, and the grenadiers are total dicks.
TJ: You definitely just said “a murder of crows.” Awesome. It almost seems like the enemies are a bit smarter this time around. Like they are working together to royally fuck you over. When I’m aiming my flashlight at the splitter and his splittees, and he splits into 8 guys, and I’m backing up more and more and I turn around and there’s the giant with his saw while the crows are looming and the grenadiers are hucking their bombs at you. You know, you’re gonna shit your pants.
Adam: I hate those Grenadiers. Hate ’em. With a pants-shitting passion that burns hotter than the heat emitted from a thousand flashlights.
TJ: The addition of Mr. Scratch is all around twisted as hell and really made the game creepy. The TVs you watch where Mr. Scratch is there doing weird and horrible things is just great. Possible SPOILERS AHEAD – The problem is, and I was VERY disappointed in this, was the lack of a boss fight at the end. Mr. Scratch antagonizes you the entire game and you never get a chance to beat him senseless. You “defeat” him sure, but there isn’t a one on one fight with him and I so wanted him to eat some flashlight.
Adam: Obviously, the most exciting thing about American Nightmare is the brand spanking new Fight til Dawn mode, where you and up to three friends fight against waves of Locusts… err, wait. Oh yeah, it’s where you choose a loadout and try to survive against hordes of progressively stronger Covenant, no, that’s still not right. Oh, I got it now, it’s where you fight against waves of Taken while desperately trying to survive until dawn comes and saves you. The Fight til Dawn mode is good fun, and the leaderboards are a welcome way to show off your nerd cred to your friends. It might not be a new concept — actually, at this point it’s been rode hard and put away wet — but Fight til Dawn is a survival mode that offers a unique Alan Wake flavor, and for that I enjoyed it quite a bit.
TJ: Fight til Dawn mode is cool no doubt. But I feel like it could have been way way better. It offers you the re-playability, but for how long? A mode like that is only made better by a multiplayer mode which just isn’t there. The only thing really making me want to play Fight til Dawn is the achievement whore inside. If I could play a Fight til Dawn with friends I would play constantly. If FTD came out when the original game was released I think it would have been a bit more fun. That is mainly because there weren’t a lot of already awesome horde type modes out there. My fingers are crossed for the next game.
Adam’s Final Word: This isn’t a perfect game. It’s a little repetitive and the Grindhouse style wasn’t quite pushed as far as I would’ve liked it to have been. With that said, American Nightmare is insanely fun, offers a ton of content for a budget price, the new Fight til Dawn mode is addictive, and there’s a ton of new enemies, weapons, and a few new environments to enjoy as well. This is a must have.
TJ’s Final Word: It’s not a perfect game. Did I still love it? Yes. I’m a huge Alan Wake fan and this did a good job tiding me over until the next. However, without a multiplayer Fight til Dawn mode, the tiding me over part fades quickly and leaves me chomping at the bit for more Alan Wake. While I enjoy a nice XBLA Arcade game, I prefer a full title with plenty of expansive DLC. Overall I absolutely recommend this game.
This review is based on a digital copy of the Xbox 360 version of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, which was provided by the publisher.