Alan Wake is having a rough day. Well, technically it’s been a bit longer than that – about two years have passed since That Thing With That Thing out at Cauldron Lake (see: Alan Wake), and Alan’s been stuck in not-here the whole time, writing scary stories about himself and how his life turned into a Stephen King novel about a troubled writer and how his life turned into a… oh, wow.
Now he’s just woken up inside the TV show Night Springs, in an episode he wrote about… oh no, not again.
The plot of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a bizarre one. I mean, from one chapter to the next, it makes a zany kind of sense, but if you stop to think about it all in context, it’s a big inconsistent, confusing, and clumsy mess. I can’t work out if it’s just bad writing or if the entire thing is a subtle, clever pastiche of old TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. I’m going to pretend it’s the latter, because that way the dreadful dialogue and voice acting are just part of it. Sometimes, suspension of belief is important too.
Anyway, the game plays out as several iterations of the same scenario, each slightly different (well, shorter) than the previous one. I suppose it’s a neat way around the size limit of an Xbox LIVE Arcade title because it reuses assets, but it’s also repetitive and necessarily predictable.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the first time around – it’s still mostly you getting from one place to another and fighting a bunch of possessed firemen and lumberjacks and truck drivers in between. It’s somewhat easier, though, but perhaps that’s simply because you’re seldom up against more than four or five enemies at a time. On the other hand, ammo is put right up in front of you, around every corner, that there’s never any real sense of urgency or desperation.
The focus on narrative exposition over fragging baddies might’ve been a little more compelling if the narrative exposition were, you know, more compelling.
Of course, every game ever is fundamentally just a series of checkpoints in a conditional code block, but great games – including the original Alan Wake – manage to cover this up. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, not so much. It’s not that it’s a horrible game by any means, it’s just rather disappointing given its precedent, and maybe all the more disappointing for it. By the time it finished up, I had more unanswered questions than Remedy’s design brief could possibly have accounted for, and for all the wrong reasons.
There’s also a wave-based survival mode included, and while I get that it’s Alan Wake versus The Army of Darkness and everything, I’m also not convinced that waved-based survival modes are that much fun with just one player.
Standing on its own as a cheap downloadable title, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is actually pretty good, but as a (sort of) sequel, it falls conspicuously short of its predecessor.