Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (Xbox360)-Written Review

Remedy Games has finally launched their answer to Alan Wake 2, in the form of a downloadable game, but does this title fall short compared to the physical release of Alan Wake for the Xbox 360?  Or does it live up to the “dreams” gamers had hoped for?

Sometimes being trapped in a nightmare is better than actually living the nightmare. Confused about this statement? You shouldn’t be.  Alan Wakes American Nightmare, is without a doubt not a sequel to the critically acclaimed Xbox 360 hit simply entitled, Alan Wake. There were rumors for a good amount of time in speculation that Alan Wake 2 would see the light of day, mainly because it was leaked that “the next Alan Wake game is in production”.  Commonly to what would follow would be an announcement proclaiming that Alan Wake 2 would be announced but that time never came, at least in the form of a direct sequel.

Shortly after the internet was a fire with the myth of the next Alan Wake game, Remedy came out and announced that while indeed there was another Alan Wake game in the making, it would however not be Alan Wake 2, and most shockingly it would not be available in a physical format.

To many gamers dismay, the long awaited Alan Wake game would be a downloadable release on the Xbox 360 and it would launch sometime in late Winter or early Spring.
Well the time has arrived, and survival horror fans a like are gearing up for the next installment of the already fantastic series.  This time fans are being pulled from the murky shadow ridden depths of a ghostly forest, and being thrown into a sandy gloomy western town that holds many secrets to how exactly Alan Wake came to arrive there in the first place.

Right off the bat you’ll notice that American Nightmare is a force to be reckoned with, displaying very impressive visuals that match it’s physical release years back.  A mighty feat for a game that holds the mark of around one and a half gigs of storage space.  This alone might make fans weary of this release, but worry not…this is a full fledged Alan Wake game in many aspects, but it certainly does have it shortcomings that may turn off some more critical gamers.

American Nightmare spans into three core areas that you’ll find yourself in.  The areas that are presented are large and have a mini-open world feel to them.  Which is a great thing as the previous Alan Wake felt more like a “straight path” open world environment.

It’s hard to pin-point exactly how the world of American Nightmare feels like.  The setting is based in Arizona, but the town remains nameless at whole, but with a name in place.  This explanation is rather confusing to some but as you veer towards the conclusion of American Nightmare, all will make sense in time, and you’ll find yourself with a small grin knowing exactly what the developers of American Nightmare were trying to accomplish.

The setting of “Night Springs” is one that reminds me of the historical “Tomb Stone” Arizona.  It’s musty, dark, and holds a past filled with mystery. You can’t help but close your eyes at time and picture the early settlers of this town wearing their cowboy boots along with an old Smith and Western revolver attached firmly to their hipside.

This is no doubt a game that you need to turn out the lights, put on a pair of good headphones, or turn up your home theater system, as you get lost in the twirling sandy winds and dry rustling of dead shrubs.  Occasionally highlighted by the erie rattle of a venomous snake in the distance, always keeping you aware of your surroundings, this is a lonely and dangerous place.

Alan Wake clearly matches his surroundings with the proper attire, checkered flannel shirt, and cowboy boots in hand.  He ditches his jacket that matched the chilly weather of the gloomy forest of Bright Falls for a modern western boy look that never really makes him feel as if he is “one of the folks”, but someone who is trying to fit into his public surroundings.

Besides a fantastic environment that is dusted with old western folk lore feel, the small town America town is also equipped with the horror movie cliche’ essentials… the creepy outdated gas station, the overly vacant motel, and of course the classic American diner that glow amongst the humid and musky skies; almost stereotypical to what you would see in most American horror movies in this day in age.

Another fantastic addition beyond the vividly descriptive environments of American Nightmare is that of what we all love in one way or another…guns.  American Nightmare isn’t necessarily uber heavy on action as one might think with the addition of more guns, however it provides players with a much more vast array of options on how to dispose of the evil darkness.

The guns in this game feel fantastic. We all know how amazing the guns sound and feel in the recently released Battlefield 3, but Alan Wake takes it up to a whole new level.
The weapons you’ll get your hands on range from your basic pistol, shotgun, and flare gun, but also range from the more wildly acceptable nail gun and automatic shotguns.
They all feel and look fantastic, but the biggest improvement here is the sound design of each weapon.  With every pull of the trigger your ears will be bathed in the well crafted sound of each firearm.  The sounds of gunfire sound rich, deep, and super punchy…even when you are listening to the game on a normal TV, and nevertheless in stereo.  It’s rare that a game pulls off the feel of a firearm in it’s true glory, and American Nightmare does this in a great way that will hopefully carry over to future installments of the series.

The combat in the original Alan Wake certainly did become repetitive over time but never truly became boring.  We can all agree to that, but developer Remedy upped the ante with American Nightmare and provide players with a instantly familiar feel for previous players, but added a touch of freshness that will make you eager for each new encounter.

It’s something that is next to impossible to describe, but instead it’s something that I can only recommend with the highest regard.  The story of American Nightmare weaves in and out of what seems like a looping reality.  You’ll constantly find yourself back where you started and asking yourself “but why?” only to have your answers quickly fulfilled with each task you under take.

Alan Wake’s previous nemesis, Mr.Stucky is now no more, instead you are presented with an extremely familiar face…that which is of yourself.  A darker and much more evil version of Alan Wake has now trapped Alan in a reality that loops constantly, and a never ending time paradox that seems to have no end in sight.  This time paradox you’ll discover that not only is Alan stuck in this time continuum, but various other people who were helplessly thrown into this endless loop.

The story itself takes place two years after the events of the original Alan Wake, and without giving away any plot spoilers from the previous title and it’s fantastic additional story driven DLC, it seems that Alan has been stuck in an alternate reality; one he had to sacrifice for the better of his love.

The world has forgotten about Alan and his Wife.  Alice has seemingly moved on with her life and this darker version of Alan Wake threatens to destroy the life Alan had left behind.  It’s nothing but a constant struggle to regain control of reality for Alan Wake since the ending moments of the original title, and with each action Alan takes he moves one step closer to putting the pieces together to mend his broken reality.
American Nightmare proves to be a major stepping stone to what will be an exciting future game to come, as noted from the developers themselves… Alan will continue to fight through the darkness.  However don’t let this statement turn you off to this title by thinking “well why would I play this then?” because there are important elements that are scattered through out American Nightmare that are a most to experience.

Alan Wake is a game about progression, building tension, and providing players with a conclusion to each current story, but always opening up the gates to another.  It’s almost like a fantastic TV series you would see on television such as Lost, Nip Tuck, or even The Walking Dead.  It always attempts to draw you in to immerse you into the story, and build a fantastic relationship with the characters.  It always ends each episode with a conclusion to the previous, but always leaving you open to interpretation to what the next episode will evolve into.
In fact it would be safe to say that the previous title followed this fashion in the form of six different “episodes” that begun and ended each in a way as described above.
American Nightmare proves to be a beginning to a whole new season that is ahead.
If the original Alan Wake was Season 1; American Nightmare is no doubt the start of Season 2.

For previous fans you will feel right at home here. The game play and controls have for the most part remained unchanged, and the graphics while not as detailed as the previous title, they do feel and look much cleaner and vibrant.  Right off the bat you’ll notice that American Nightmare uses real life cut scenes which to some people, could draw them away… but hear me out first.  If you have seen the mini live action series that was with the Collectors Edition of Alan Wake and available in episodic form online and through Xbox Live, then you’ll feel right at home here.  They are fantastic bits and pieces to be thrown into the game, and it allows everything to tie into together in a fantastic way that never feels detached from the main objective and feel of the game.

Along with the cleaner textures and solid gameplay you will also notice a drastically different type of sound track that is portrayed in American Nightmare. Now during more heated battles you’ll be treated to borderline “dub step/DJ Scrillex” type of sounds, which in some cases proved to ruin the creepy mood of the game, but for the most part did a fantastic job in providing a layer to the game that could only be achieved through sound. During the later stages of the game developer Remedy ditches the more fast paced techno beats for a more scattered brain electronic sound that can’t help but make you feel “anxious” inside.  Along with a mixed soundtrack the game also features two live action songs; one prove to fit the game fantastically even though I was slightly weary at first upon first hearing, but as it grew on me I couldn’t help but think this was a fantastic idea in the end.

However upon all of these great things that American Nightmare provides players, there are of course some negative ones too.  Before I wrap up my final verdict on American Nightmare, let’s get into some of the details that people might be concerned with.  For the most part American Nightmare is a well paced game, and it provides a decent challenge at later levels, but never seems to reach the par of being difficult at any times (unless you are playing the games fantastic arcade mode).
I found myself urging for the difficulty that the first Alan Wake provided, and had hoped for a later difficulty to open up after I had finished the game, but to my dismay this did not happen.

I think that the over all tension of the game could have been raised to a higher level if the game proved to be an actual challenge in the end, but sometimes it’s not about the challenge, it’s about the journey and American Nightmare does a great job with this.
All together I must have died maybe one time, but keep in mind that I normally play my games on higher difficulties so where this may have been a breeze for me, it may prove a challenge for some.

American Nightmare runs at a very smooth frame rate and overly critical gamers will be happy with the technical performance of this game.  I experienced no slow downs, no freeze ups, and no strange glitches.  The only real issues I had encountered was a screen tare here and there, but this was a very rare thing and one that did not distract me from the environment.  The only other minor complaints would be that of some awkward voice acting at times.  The voice acting as a whole is fantastic, fits the feel of the game very well, and is portrayed by people who fit the look of their voice.  However the movements of the characters during the dialog can feel a bit stiff and awkward at times, almost as if the developers were afraid to move around the characters a little more.
The original Alan Wake had a fantastic cinematic feel to it during it’s voice acting parts, but American Nightmare unforgettably falls a little short in this department.

One additional feature that needs to be noted is that of a brand new mode cleverly called “Arcade Mode” which pits you against endless waves of enemies in large environments that are unique from the main game.  The arcade mode ties in directly with the main game as if you collected “X” amount of manuscripts that are scattered through out the entire main game.  You’ll be able to utilize those in the arcade mode to access various high powered weapons that will help you rack up massive amounts of points.  After you finish the main story I would highly recommend diving into the arcade mode as it is very addicting and add’s a fantastic new idea for the series. However the biggest burn to this is that it does not include any multiplayer or co-op play for that matter.  Some people might be a little annoyed with this matter, but I assure you as I was annoyed too.  I quickly accepted it for what it was and went on to enjoy fighting onslaughts of enemies.  You start off with a pistol and a flare, and as you progress you’ll quickly find more weapons scattered through out the level as well.
Street lamps are here to provide health for you in need, but you will quickly learn to use these in a very conservative matter as they take some time to recharge.
Each level also has a ammo box that as well take some time to re-supply, but each time you re-up at these boxes, it’ll provide you with full ammo for each weapon and additional batteries.

The gameplay starts of slow and quickly tuns into a fast, frantic, and difficult display of all out aggression.  Leaving you constantly running for your life, and planning out how you’re going to collect ammo and weapons.  Doing your best to rack up kill streaks without being hit as you are judged on your performance in the end by a three star system.  It’s with this very system that you’ll need to pay attention to, as it is required to have a certain amount of stars to continue onto the next level of combat fueled action.  Once you’ve reached a certain amount of stars you’ll unlock the punishing “nightmare” levels, and boy did they have me frustrated at times (it was a good “challenged” type of frustrated).  The enemies come at you none stop, damage is doubled, ammo is limited, and street lights are few.  You have 10 minutes until dawn to run your ass off like no other, and trust me, you’ll be doing A LOT of running in the end.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a fantastic starting point for what seems to be “Season 2” of the Alan Wake franchise.  Remedy has proved that they can once again provide another fantastic game that will hopefully open the eyes of gamers a like.

I urge you that if you are a fan of the Resident Evil series, go out and buy this right now.
But if you’re looking for something fresh, fun, and want to be freaked out at times, then American Nightmare is without a doubt your game.

Another notable thing here is one that most people won’t even pay attention to, American Nightmare boast a “T” rating, proving that it does not take vulgar language, excessive gore, and/or ultra violent moments to provide a good scare.
American Nightmare is like the movie the “Poltergeist”, a movie that relies on environments, characters, and tension to creep you out and not cheep tactics that other movie and games have used in the past.  However gore hounds do not feel left out, as I am one too and it’s safe to say that I was very happy with how this game turned out.
Resident Evil you better watch out, Alan Wake might be the underdog here, but if Remedy continues to provide fantastic experiences like American Nightmare, a new king of survival horror could be at hand in the very short future.

Over all Alan Wake’s American Nightmare get’s an 8.5 out of 10
“Fans of the original will feel right at home, while people who have not played the first game will no doubt enjoy this experience. It is recommend to fully enjoy American Nightmare that you go pick up the first game in the series, and the best part is that you can pick it up at a fantastic price that rivals most map packs for games that offer lesser content

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About Nightoftheliving8bit

Hailing from the mighty mighty east coast, Eric has spent the majority of his life being a passionate and devoted gamer. From the 80's all the way up to today, Eric has played countless games over the years for various systems, all the while never truly becoming the dreaded "fan boy" of a particular console. Eric currently works for a video game magazine and a local news station and spends the majority of his free hours gaming and reading/researching into various things on gaming culture, news, events and so much more. Eric is also known under his two names, NightOfTheLiving8Bit and ER1C OF WAR and you can find him creeping the dark and dank places of local flea markets in search for lost treasure or kicking back at home enjoying his favorite new or old school games, while always looking into new ways to help innovate the gaming community as a whole. If Gamester 81 was Yoda, Eric would be his Luke Skywalker when it comes to gaming knowledge and he looks forward to bringing you the best of the current world of gaming and generations past! Favorite Games: (No particular order) Final Fantasy III (US) & VII, Resident Evil, Kings Field, Assassins Creed Series, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Elder Scrolls Series, Fallout Series, Gears Of War Series, Metal Slug 2, Clock Tower (PSX), Halo Series, Super Mario Bros 3, Mega Man 2, Castlevania Series, Donkey Kong, Gran Turismo 2, DOOM, Startropics, Metal Gear Solid, Duke Nukem 3D, Diablo I & II, Quake, Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Crystalis, Ghost N Goblins, The Legend Of Zelda and various others titles! Favorite Systems: The Nintendo NES, Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 1, Xbox & Xbox 360, Super Nintendo, Virtual Boy, Neo Geo AES, PC gaming and the Atari 2600!