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Alan Wake's American Nightmare

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Steam
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Alan Wake's American Nightmare hits you over the head with its central theme right out of the gate: this is a game about light and darkness. And just like the game's story, there's a whole lot of the latter and not nearly enough of the former to go around.

Even if you haven't played the previous Alan Wake title, don't sweat it because American Nightmare assumes you arrived just like the title character, blearily stumbling into the swirling darkness as you try to figure out just what's going on, and how you can stop it. The game is presented like a cult horror TV show, with a sardonic narrator providing the heavy-handed details and background as you go through the game. Each chapter of the game acts like an episode or portion of a TV show, with tedious travel shown by a series of filmstrip cutaways.

Alan Wake's chief antagonist is Mr. Scratch, a doppelganger of pure darkness formed from Wake's worst habits and bent on making sure the sun never comes up again. As you track him down, you stumble across TV sets that seem tuned to him, playing back home movies of him taunting you while committing acts of sadistic terror on anyone who wanders into his path. Radio sets also tune Wake into what's going on in the world outside of the darkness, and give players a bit of a glimpse into both characters seen in the game and in the first Alan Wake. The two main songs from the game's soundtrack pop up in these recordings: "Balance Slays the Demon" is an old-school hard rock number, while "The Happy Song" (with its never-ending "I'm a psycho" hook) seems custom-made for Mr. Scratch's antics.


Alan Wake's American Nightmare takes place after the events of the first Alan Wake, and references them enough throughout the game to slowly clue uninformed players in on what's going on. Alan is a writer who confronted a reality-warping entity, the Darkness, which requires artistic expression to change reality to a version it wants. Alan was trapped within the darkness for two years after freeing his wife, and has written a way for him to both escape and stop the darkness and its servant, Mr. Scratch. However, the trauma of escaping the darkness caused him to forget a lot of what he planned, and throughout the game, he finds pages of manuscripts he wrote to help guide him in the direction he needs to go. Some of those pages can rewrite reality itself, if Wake can set up the necessary conditions described on them.

While American Nightmare's Story Mode follows Alan Wake's fight against Mr. Scratch and the darkness, there's also an accompanying Arcade Mode that lets you fight off waves of enemies, called "The Taken," until the sun comes up and wipes them all out. The longer you go without taking a hit, the higher your score multiplier and the more points you rack up. Doing so is largely for your own gratification, though, since there is no multiplayer or co-op.


Alan Wake's American Nightmare can be tackled rather quickly, especially if the idea of running around collecting extra manuscript pages just to unlock additional weapons doesn't appeal to you. Wake gets trapped in a time loop which causes you to repeat the same three chapters over and over again, Groundhog Day-style, but in the later loops, tasks take less and less time to complete, or in some cases are pre-completed for you by helpful NPCs in order to move the game forward. While this is certainly helpful (and makes a certain sense in the world of the game), it also means you wind up speeding through the last parts of the loop because you know exactly where to go. It's a good feeling at the time, but also makes the game feel awfully short.

As for the Arcade Mode, the amount and types of Taken that show up in each wave can quickly overwhelm players, especially if they haven't played through the Story Mode of the game first. Any weapons you unlock during the Story Mode also become available in Arcade Mode, which is part of the incentive to go back and find all those scattered pages to earn weapons like the Assault Rifle or Magnum, or the hidden Crossbow which has the unique ability to pierce the darkness protecting the Taken and kill them without the use of the flashlight. Standing your ground against the Taken can quickly lead to Alan's end, so savvy players keep on their toes, running between pools of life-giving light or ammo dumps as they whittle down the forces of darkness.

Game Mechanics:

In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the game's narrator calls Alan Wake a "warrior of light," and light literally is his most effective weapon. The Taken appear wrapped in shadowy tendrils of darkness, and shrug off attacks or bullets as they charge toward you. When Wake charges the flashlight at them, it burns away the darkness, which can make the Taken vulnerable to his weapons, but also more dangerous in some cases. Some larger Taken split into two smaller versions of themselves, others disappear into a murder of crows unless pinned down by the light, and some go on kamikaze charges when they get close to Alan. When destroyed, the Taken disintegrate into motes of light carried away into the ever-present gloom that surrounds Wake throughout the game.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare feels like it has a lot in common with the Stephen King novel "Bag of Bones," which is also about a writer fighting against supernatural forces in a small, tucked-away town. While the novel can sometimes feel like it's running a bit long in the tooth, American Nightmare has the opposite problem by having Alan wake up from it far too soon. The lack of co-op or multiplayer also leaves players with the question of what to do once they've finished the Story Mode. Many will simply move on, though they'll probably neglect to turn the lights out when they leave.

-Dark Lantern, GameVortex Communications
AKA Russell Jones

Minimum System Requirements:

OS: Windows XP SP2, Processor: Dual Core 2GHz Intel or 2.8GHz AMD, Memory: 2 GB RAM, Graphics: DirectX 10 compatible with 512MB RAM, DirectX®: 9.0c, Hard Drive: 8 GB HD space, Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible

Test System:

OS: Windows 7, Processor: Intel dual-core 2.13 GHZ, Memory: 4GB, Graphics: NVidia GeForce 9400 GT, DirextX(r): 11, Sound: SoundBlaster XFi Xtreme Audio

Related Links:

Microsoft Xbox 360 JAM Live Music Arcade Windows Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

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