Alan Wake’s American Nightmare PC Review
There are a few places where the writing in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare really excels. As a fan of the first Alan Wake, and Remedy’s work in general, it’s not hard to pick out the places where the developer really shines. One such location is in the manuscript page-driven narration sprinkled throughout the game. Just like in the last go-round, finding manuscript pages is key to the gameplay elements, both to unlocking new weapons to use to battle the Taken, and in developing the story and the characters introduced in the first game.
Finding yourself always following in the footsteps of Mr. Scratch is easily the best reason to play American Nightmare. Alan finds messages from the serial killer recorded on videos that play on TVs, and he has an easygoing psychotic evil that makes for a great character. Some of the scenes are crazy; some are rather violent; some are just eerie. It’s a testament to the power of the Alan Wake world that Mr. Scratch is such an effective, frightening protagonist, however: He’s constantly implying that he intends to run amok in Alan’s life, and our previous relationships with characters from the franchise make that a real and palpable threat.
In fact, it’s almost criminal that Mr. Scratch, like most of the elements in American Nightmare, goes underused. The antagonist appears in reality only briefly, and only to send groups of Taken skittering after Alan. Well, we’ve played that — we’ve done the “Taken try to surround me but I shoot them” dance in the first Alan Wake. We need something new.
Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough new in American Nightmare to make it compelling. Sure, you can use a nail gun now, or an assault rifle, or a sawed-off shotgun, but the basic gameplay is the same: zap bad guys with flashlight, shoot them with gun. What’s more, encounters are actually somewhat infrequent, which helps to build suspense, sure, but taken together, comes up short in terms of overall gameplay. Most of American Nightmare is spent wandering huge areas looking for stupid manuscript pages, and this reliance on collectibles and over-large environments was a major drawback of Alan Wake, as well.
A couple of new kinds of enemies make an appearance in American Nightmare to change up your tactics. One is a Taken that turns into a flock of birds when hit with light; another splits into smaller enemies when assaulted with the flashlight; still another will throw grenades your way. During the main story of the game, they’re frightening without being too deadly, and unfortunately they’re still not so significantly different from what we’re used to that the gameplay experience is remarkably different or more intense.
Things are a little better in American Nightmare’s dedicated survival arcade mode, in which players have to fight off waves of enemies until dawn. These get hairy because hunting for weapons and ammo takes place simultaneous to killing whatever the game throws at you, and enemies tend to spawn all around you and in large numbers. It’s a great deal more thrilling than most combat situations in the story campaign. The trouble for me was that Alan Wake has never been about the combat — the scares and battles intensify a compelling story. A dedicated arcade mode, then, is more a passing distraction than a reason to play the game repeatedly, at least for me. That said, Remedy has done a good job with it, if you’re into the combat of the Alan Wake series.