Alan Wake’s American Nightmare review for XBLA

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Remedy
Medium: Digital Download
Players: 1
Online: No

Since the last DLC installment ended on the original Alan Wake, many gamers and fans like myself wondered just how long we would be back in Alan?s novelistic themes again, especially since it took over 5 years to bring Alan to the Xbox 360 in the first place.  Well last year Remedy surprised us in two ways, one saying that Alan would return sooner than later  in a full fledged sequel, and the other in a digital download only version, both exclusive to the Xbox 360.

Since then, many wondered just what kind of content would be offered in Alan?s XBLA game, and what new experiences, if any, would appear since Remedy has offered two additional stories that tied into the original game.  The answer is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a title that not only provides gamers with more insight into Alan?s troubled psyche, but a very cool survival mode called Fight Till Dawn that will provide more game play once the credits role.

In this installment you are still struggling with finding freedom from the darkness that has kept you trapped in a world that you have created from stories you?ve penned in the past.  Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place after the events of the first Alan Wake title and while you have saved Alice, your wife, from her peril, your journey to get back to the real world and her is still the conflict that you are taking on.

You’re still fighting with your alter ego, who now has become a smooth talking party guy, also representing Alan?s wild side, known simply as Mr. Scratch.  He has come to fruition in a former story that you wrote for the television series ?Night Springs?, so you are now a part of this episode and must relive the events you’ve penned. Now you must find your way not only to the end, but hopefully back to Alice and home before Mr. Scratch takes over your mind and ruins all you have fought to become for Alice, your fans, and yourself.

The game play is very similar to what fans have grown to love, but if anything, the game takes on a greater action tone with less  scares than the previous installment, but this feeling also comes from the fact that there’s always plenty of ammo to be found. The feeling of dire straits never enter your mind as all it takes to take out the ?taken? and the darkness around them is only a hop, skip, and jump away?literally.  While the lack of urgency and demise isn?t there, one thing this provides is a way to really pay attention to the details and intricacies of the story line and enjoy the complexity that is Alan Wake without having to relive scenes due to a costly death.

You are armed with a firearm and a source of light and deciding how to use them can mean the difference between life and death.  You have a basic pistol and a flash light as beginning sources of offense/defense, but other helpful tools like flares, flash bangs, and tons of more powerful firearms are yours, provided that you have enough manuscripts to open them up.  What I mean here is Alan once again needs to find his lost pages scattered throughout the world, which are bits and pieces of this particular episode of ?Night Springs?.   Along your journey you come across gun cases that can only be opened if you have enough manuscripts collected, so using that combat assault rifle or sawed off shotgun might take some time to unlock and utilize, but once you do they pack quite a bang and will help you fend off larger foes with little problems.

Your journey progresses through 3 areas of interest, a diner/desert, a stargazing lookout center, and lastly a drive-in theater.  Finding the things you need to accomplish to complete each level is a mystery within itself, but with some helpful hints, folks trapped in the universe and even some tidbits on video from Mr. Scratch help to tie things together.  The environments, enemies, lighting, and textures all come together just as polished and detailed as they did in the full disc version of Alan Wake, so gamers will not have to feel cheated with the quality of the game?s visuals, presentation, or sound by any means.

I will admit that the story mode may feel a bit brief at only 4 to 5 hours in length, which is shorter than Alan Wake, yet longer than the DLC episodes that followed, and to be honest, the story, dialogue, and ending make the journey worth the price tag for fans. The developers didn?t stop there as they have added a wonderfully fun, addictive, and even more difficult survival mode called Fight Till Dawn, that takes place in many different and unique environments. It’s up to you to do as the title says, Fight till Dawn and survive for 10 minutes with an assortment of weapons, limited  ammo and scattered light sources, with hordes of enemies waiting to take you out no matter how bad ass you think you are as the defender of light.  You can then replay these levels which you’ll want to do, due to the game?s leaderboards that will have you re-Fighting till Dawn to take down your friend?s scores.

If you are fan of Alan?s painful journey, you’ve probably already downloaded this gem and know the greatness that continues to please fans again and again.  If you have never played this title, I urge you to play the original to understand the story mode as this game does little to explain the past and expects you to already know the events that have happened.  Being a fan,  I don?t mind the lack of rehash, even if I miss the ?Previously on Alan Wake? interludes, but the introduction to American Nightmare that takes a page from the Twilight Zone more than make up for it. As is, this is truly a continued love letter to the supporters of the series, and I for one cannot wait to journey back into the mind of Alan once again.

Grade: A-