When Remedy Entertainment announced a new Alan Wake game we were all eager for a follow up to the immensely popular first instalment. However, the developers made it clear from the get-go that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is not a sequel and will manifest itself as an arcade title. How do you go from a story-driven thriller to an arcade-style game? Well I’m not entirely sure – and I’m pretty sure Remedy doesn’t know either.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is split into two chunks; Story mode and Arcade mode.
The main campaign makes a feeble attempt at re-establishing the final standings of the original Alan Wake in order to create a starting point for the current events. Whether you played the first title or not you will be bewildered by the plot until about halfway through the game. It’s only then when you’ll kind-of get what’s going on and how it fits into the bigger picture.
The story in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare doesn’t influence the overhead Alan Wake plot – it plays out as an ‘unrelated event’. In fact it doesn’t really influence anything at all. The game boils down to two experiences: meet a damsel in distress and then fetch a lot of stuff she needs.
There are only three levels in the campaign and there’s quite a bit to explore in each one. Unfortunately Remedy deploys one of the oldest and cheapest tricks in the video gaming handbook: they make you replay each level. Three times.
Don’t be mistaken; they don’t make you revisit a level. Oh no – you have to do exactly the same things in exactly the same order you did them earlier. Granted they’ll give you a bit of a shortcut here and there: “Last time you had to fetch three items, so this time you’ll only need to fetch two because I already have the other one”.
All in the name of increasing the overall gameplay time.
In addition to the complete amputation of the storyline they’ve also removed any sense of atmosphere and suspense. There isn’t a single instance where you’ll be drawn into the game let alone sit upright in your chair. The game has completely disconnected from the story in Alan Wake; but I suppose that’s one of the defining aspects of an arcade game. So why bother with a Story Mode in the first place then?
The only mode worth playing is the Arcade Mode. In this mode Alan is placed in a small sandbox environment with a single goal: survive until sunrise. During these last minutes of darkness Alan has to tough it out survival mode – defending himself against waves of zombie-esque enemies known as the Taken. The amount of enemies will increase as you complete each wave which drastically raises the difficulty as you progress.
There are a couple of different levels to choose from and each contains different weapons for Alan to find. There’s quite a stack of new weapons including fully-automatic assault rifles, a crossbow and a nifty nail-gun for shredding through enemies.
I suppose the ‘arcade’ aspect comes from the scoring system. You’ll earn 200 points for every enemy you take out and you’ll increase your score multiplier if you get a streak going. Get hit once by the Taken and your multiplier will drop back to 1.
In between every wave you’ll need to find more ammunition and supplies before more Taken spawn. This is often one of the most challenging things to do because enemies have a nasty habit of materialising directly behind you. As soon as the timer hits zero the sun will rise and expel all remaining Taken as if they were Vampires.
If you complete each of the arcade levels with an adequate score you’ll unlock Nightmare mode. In this pumped up version the Taken will spawn in a constant stream and there’s no distinction between waves. This makes the game freakishly difficult and you’ll need some serious video gaming skill to master this mode.
Although the Arcade version is more engaging than the Story mode it would have greatly benefited from a co-op multiplayer mode. Arcade games are characterised by their ability to have friends compete with each other and the only way you can do that in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is through a dreary leaderboard.
For 1200 Microsoft Points you’ll need to be a pretty big Alan Wake fan to consider this game. In terms of transforming the Alan Wake experience into an arcade game there was some success in the horror-survival mode but the main campaign falls flat on its face.
Perhaps if the developers realised that there’s no need for a poorly implemented story and focused more on the pure arcade side things would have turned out better. The lack of multiplayer and somewhat repetitive gameplay has cost the arcade side of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare quite a few points. If the real Alan Wake sequel is anything like this game the franchise is on a serious collision course.