Steamed – Alan Wake: American Nightmare

Steamed – Alan Wake: American Nightmare

Continuation of me playing through my Steam games for an hour or so and spouting some opinions about them.  Up this time is Alan Wake: American Nightmare, which made me decide on a couple of rules.  Firstly, relevant to this game, if it is a series of games I will just be playing the one, unless there are some significant differences between the entries.  Also, I will mainly be focusing on single player games.  Older multiplayer games are likely to not be too active, so won’t give the best impression.

I have already played through the original Alan Wake a couple of times, so decided to take a look at the semi-sequel, American Nightmare.

At the close of Episode 1 of Alan Wake, the holiday cabin that him and his now abducted wife were staying at mysteriously disappears, leaving Alan afraid and doubting his sanity.  The episode concludes with Roy Orbison’s haunting In Dreams.  About two thirds of the way through the first level of Alan Wake: American Nightmare, you are crashing a satellite down into an oil rig and running away from the hail of fire to the tune of Kasabian’s Club Foot.  I could probably just stop there.

American Nightmare wants to focus on the action sections of Alan Wake, making the torch wielding writer into something more of a traditional action star.  Even down to his outfit, with the leather patches thrown out and replaced by a checkered shirt and a big cowboy belt buckle.  The aesthetics initially seems to want to go with a grindhouse film style, although it doesn’t seem to commit to that particularly.  In fact, the whole game feels a bit like an afterthought, without any real coherence with what it is going for.  At times it feels like it was intended to be an expansion, whilst other times it feels like a fan made effort that misses what makes the original great.

Wiggle that light!

For a game about a writer, Remedy didn’t seem to want to worry too much about the writing here.  The story is as thin as the loose manuscripts you find dotted around the environment.  We open up by seeing the beginning of an episode of the Twilight Zone parody, Night Springs, playing on a TV.  Alan Wake is a writer for the show now and an episode penned by him seems to be coming reality, as he hunts for his doppelganger, Mr. Scratch.

The story mode for the game only comprises of three missions, taking place in fairly open environments.  You are mostly tasked with grabbing objects dotted around the area, which is normally interrupted by being attacked by the Taken, enemies that are possessed by some kind of darkness.  As with the previous game, shining your torch at them until they burst with light, like some kid with a laser pen.   Shoot them a couple of times with a fire arm will take them down.  Nothing here really mixes up the formula for the combat and it grows rather tedious too quickly.  Whereas the original game shifted its focus between story moments and action with ease, using the structure of a series of episodes for its pacing, this doesn’t bother too much with that.  There are some characters to encounter and talk to, but they are nothing more than mission givers, normally the sole person in a desolate landscape.

Just your standard scientist uniform

The enemies you face appear to not differ throughout the whole experience.  They do introduce one type that splits into two when you shine the light on them, adding an element of crowd control, but for the most part you are still just wiggling your torch in someone’s face until you can shoot them.  I also saw some spiders, which continued gaming’s tradition of being the Jar Jar Binks of rather silly enemies.  Fortunately, they aren’t much of a nuisance from what I saw, with their only difference from other enemies is that the light is enough to make them scurry off.

The game also features an arcade mode, which I suspect is intended to be the primary focus.  Unfortunately, it just ends up being the same old combat for a solid 10 minutes and I could only face one round of it.  There are 5 different arenas to fight in, with each having an additional nightmare variant, which is presumably harder.  Multipliers are awarded for killing enemies quickly, but I often found myself running around trying to find the last enemy, as I watched my multiplier plummet.  There were also couple of bigger enemies with giant saws.  I hadn’t seen these in the level and a half or so of the story mode I played, but they just required more torch pointing and more gun shooting to finish off, rather than offering any additional challenge.

Actually some fairly evocative environments, occasionally. Just a pity about what it gets you to do there

To be honest, I’m surprised to see that this game was developed by Remedy and not some third party studio, as it ditches much of what makes them great game makers.  There is very little style here, no real story to talk of, very little weirdness.  The only real Remedy element is the TVs playing an FMV of Mr. Scratch, but even those felt more like mimicry of their style rather than something that they worked on.

A disappointing entry, in an otherwise enjoyable series from a normally very good developer.  There are often rumours that there will be an Alan Wake 2 and there are numerous mentions of the character in the recent Control from Remedy.  Hopefully this one is ignored and they instead focus on continuing the odd, dreamy suspense of the first game and remember that Alan is at his best when he is walking through weird diners talking to ladies carrying lamps and fighting enemies whilst listening to Norse inspired metal bands.

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