Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review (XBLA)

Being a huge fan of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series I’ve always felt like it was my duty as a fan of Survival-Horror to step into the land of Bright Falls and explore what 2010’s Alan Wake had to offer. Silly me, I forgot all about it. Coupled together with a newborn arriving on the scene and a healthy (unhealthy) dose of ‘catch-up’ on the 2009 releases, Alan Wake slipped by and fleeted into the abyss of games I shoulda / woulda. Thankfully, Alan Wake returned just in time to not only remind me that he exists, but that he’s bringing an all-new game to the Xbox Live Arcade.

Now as I previously admitted, I am new to Alan Wake, but I do know quite a bit from the previous game via previews, reviews and general word of mouth. But either way I still hadn’t experienced the game play first hand. What’s brilliant about this title is that I now have a way to demo, albeit paid, the game to see if it’s something I would really be interested in. I am sure that there are many people in the same situation as I, and add to the fact that a PC version of the original Alan Wake is now available, it makes for quite a decent marketing move on Remedy‘s part.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare begins with Alan finding himself in a confrontation with Mr. Scratch, your evil doppleganger and all-round psycho in a sweet suit. It’s quite clear that Alan needs to stop him and will do whatever it takes to do so. Alan is quickly overcome by the darkness and moments later wakes up in Night Falls (the TV show that Alan Wake was a writer for before all the fame and fortune). I don’t really want to give away much more on the storyline, but suffice to say there is an interesting mechanism driving the content. It’s not supremely original, but it is different and certainly helps contain the game to it’s 1.3GB file size.

Gameplay will shift between item collection and gun blazing action. The item collection (collect X and bring it to Y) didn’t surprise me, it’s a well known staple of most Survival-Horror games, but the action front surely did. Armed almost immediately with a flashlight and pistol, Alan has the basic tools to vanquish his foes. Players of the original will know to douse their enemies in light until the dark shroud is dropped, at that point it’s a matter of blowing away the exposed ‘humanoid’ with your favourite weapon. While it can be repetitive, it can also get quite tense when you need to prioritise which enemy you will be ‘exposing’ first in an angry mob of four or five. Additional items are available to Alan Wake as you progress, these can include flashbangs and flares, both of which help stifle an incoming group long enough for you to recharge the flashlight or reload weapons. Manuscripts make a return in this game and will give you reason to explore the environments in order to unlock ‘better’ weaponry. While there is certainly some nice choices available, particularly on the higher unlocks, they aren’t altogether absolutely necessary to get through to completion.

In the Story Mode, The amount of weaponry and ammunition available in this game is however something of a concern. While I certainly don’t like the feeling of running into a mob of lumbering enemies with nothing but a hard head, I never needed to worry about that as ammo was so plentiful it quite literally looked like it was growing from trees (alright it was a on a wall near a bush). Ammo and supplies would periodically respawn as well, so I never felt the need to conserve my ‘nuts’. I think that the balance on ammunition available and encounters met could be balanced a little more to give gameplay and gun battles a little more weight on the survival side.

Arcade Mode, however, will see you do just that and probably represents a better survival experience. The objective of this is to survive to dawn (10 minutes) in each scenario and can get quite hectic when you have to race from the angry mob in order to reload a gun. I found myself in a predicament early on, having to run around a structure several times in an attempt to lose the growing ‘tail’  just to reach the ammo cache. Arcade Mode, will give you several different maps, that need to be unlocked based on how well your perform in the maps available to you. It’s essentially a Horde-Mode with waves of enemies pursuing you, and you defeating these enemies to increase your score. There are also ladders for the competitive types wanting to reach a top score.

Stylistically  the game looks quite good for a downloadable title. Granted, almost 99% of the time you are running around the dark with not much more then a torch as your source of light, but still it certainly is adequate considering the genre and locales. I tend to find myself exploring the mise-en-scène when there is light available however and do appreciate the little trinkets and doodads that developers can pop into these areas (keep your eyes peeled for a certain racer enclosed in an arcade machine).

Sound fills out the rest of the game and helps present a suitable atmosphere that Survival-Horror gamers are familiar with. The groan, moans and screeches from appearing enemies can be quite nerve-wracking when you’ve spent a minute listening to sounds of isolation as you hunt down a manuscript. Musical choices also seem to fit well with an early set-piece featuring Kasabian’s ‘Club Foot’.

Overall there is quite a bit of fun to be had in this title. While I can’t say that it would rank amongst my top Survival-Horror games, it certainly provided a much needed distraction. It also gave me reason to indulge in the simple rules of Survival-Horror gameplay – lights off, playing late at night, sound cranked (Wife: “Why would you put yourself through that?” Dan: “I don’t know… I don’t know….”). Alan Wake is available now on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MSP.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

About the Author

Dan co-hosts the Gameolio Podcast and handles the administration of the website. Occasional poster and frequent deleter with a strange love of the colour green.