Fresh from my adventures in Bright Falls, I eagerly dove straight into American Nightmare. I had to know what happened next, and I needed to challenge myself further after mastering the gameplay mechanics. Right from the title screen, the newness and individuality of American Nightmare struck me. The words “ARCADE ACTION” got my blood pumping, and I was surprised at the environment in the background, vastly different to what I had seen in Bright Falls. It felt like a sequel, even the font was different. “New Game” fever hit me in a way that had eluded me since I was a kid, and I hadn’t even started playing yet.
It’s two years after the events in Bright Falls, and this time Alan Wake actually has his shit together. His mind is organised and he knows what he has to do; contrary to the often confused, self-defeating Alan Wake of the original game (who quite frankly deserved many of the player-induced deaths that unfolded). The mistakes Alan has made now take on an obvious physical form through the darkness, and the man pulling all the strings is a dark version of Alan himself named Mr. Scratch. The story in American Nightmare is more blunt and to-the-point, and that doesn’t make it any less enlightening. The manuscript pages are so well-written they hit you in the face and make life’s struggles seem so easy and manageable. Alan’s psychotic “hit and miss” genius has evolved into a focus and clarity that I find a lot more inspiring. In American Nightmare, he knows that he can alter reality the way he wants, and he knows he can handle anything Mr. Scratch throws at him with simple logic.
The core gameplay mechanics remain the same, but the darkness has given us some new toys to play with. The game no longer pushes you down a linear path, and now we have big open areas to explore with a mini-map and multiple objectives. New weapons include a nail-gun, assault rifle, SMG, and crossbow, which is refreshing after using the old pistol / shotgun combo for 20 hours in the original game. Suitably, there’s a handful of new enemies for us to unload these new toys on. The enemy designs are brutally different to the original game, where almost every enemy approached you in the same way. There’s a bizarre bird guy who flies around and does his best to surprise you from behind, and a really fast axe guy who splits into two, then into two again in an attempt to surround you. There’s also an annoying bloke in some kind of space suit who hangs back and lobs grenades at you from a distance, with the sole intention of ruining your combo. His grenades are so obnoxious they can also take out other enemies which is fun to use to your advantage. There’s also stronger versions of the basic enemies, and combined with the rest it can prove quite a strategic headache in battle. The good kind of headache.
Alan Wake must have been developing this game, because like his head, the gameplay has become a lot more streamlined and accessible in ARCADE ACTION mode. 5 big arenas separate from the main story mode have you fighting to survive until sunrise, which apparently takes 10 minutes. Enemies come in waves that continually get stronger, and there’s a combo meter that resets when you take any damage. Arcade mode injects replayability into the game by being so easy to approach and get straight into. The gameplay in Alan Wake was always good, but now it finally has some breathing room and it truly shines on its own. Finding the right position, taking care of small enemies from a distance, shooting a flare when your combo meter is at it’s peak – it’s exhilarating! Amazing lighting effects compliment the action to make sure every shot is as satisfying as it should be.
Here’s an AWESOME song from the old rock gods in the game; this is a great example of how fleshed out the world is in Alan Wake. Turn on a radio in the game to hear interviews with these guys and other people in Alan’s life.
The characters do a great job expressing how the darkness manifests itself through dialogue and actions, and American Nightmare introduces some new interesting people that could easily star in their own games if they wanted to. But they don’t, because Alan Wake is where it’s at.
American Nightmare is a rare instance where a downloadable game not only equals the original, but triumphantly surpasses it. While the story doesn’t have as much depth and variety as the original roller-coaster ride through Bright Falls, it’s just as memorable and doesn’t waste as much time. This is one of my favourite games ever and I’ll be playing Arcade Mode for a long time improving my scores; it’s so damn fun. Being a downloadable game is the icing on the cake because it’s always there on the Xbox dashboard. I highly recommend this to everyone – I’ve got shivers of excitement thinking about how awesome the real Alan Wake 2 will be.