Alan Wake is one of those series that spent a good amount of time being hyped in development. After being announced in 2005 it wasn’t release until 2009. It never quite reached Duke Nukem, Prey or Too Human levels of vaporware status, but in this day and age 4 years of development is nothing to be scoffed at. Now, we get annual entries of most of the big AAA titles, or at most we get one every two years. So when it came it, it’s fair to say a lot was expected of it. Did it live up to the hype?
Well, the game was released to side critical approval, garnering a score of 83 on Metacritic. However, on the commercial side, things were less than ideal. The game got off to a slow start, but did eventually manage to break a million copies sold. Which while nothing to scoff at, is not the kind of sales expected of a AAA title on a current gen system. Remedy eventually released a PC port of the game on Steam, and that has recently gone a long way towards recouping costs.
That said, Remedy has been adamant that series would not end were it did, and last year, they finally announced a new entry in the series entitles, American Nightmare. Unlike it’s predecessor, American Nightmare is a Digital Download Xbox Live Arcade title. However, the developer has insisted that there have been no compromises in quality or scope. So how does the game stack up? Read on for the details.
Presentation Graphics and Sound
Likely one of the biggest concerns with the transition would be whether or not we could expect a significant visual downgrade because this is “not a real game”. That couldn’t be further than the truth. The game is the visual equal of it’s predecessor, and while the game was never the most impressive of games in the visuals department, it was no slouch. Especially in the department of lighting, which is a central theme of the series. While spotting frame rates isn’t my forte, the game runs steady and only once through my play through did I run into any significant slowdown.
Another major feature from previous games was the soundtrack. The original game featured a broad sampling of various great bands and music, including David Bowie, Ray Orbison, Depeche Mode, and most famously Poets of the Fall. Being that this is a smaller game, it follows that the soundtrack would be more limited in scope. Still it does not disappoint. Kasabian’s Clubfoot features prominently, as do some new songs from Poets of the Fall. That said, much of the score is now original. Being made so as to fit the new pulp genre leanings of the game.
That’s right, the game has gone from straight horror to pulp. Alan Wake is a writer, and Remedy decided that it’d only make sense to be able to change genres. Since Wake’s more famous stories in the game world actual more pulp-like novels, it really does. However, if you’re worried this will mess too much with the look and feel of the game, don’t worry. The pulp influence is subtle and doesn’t change the basics of the Alan Wake look and feel. The atmosphere and enemies remain true to the original. With a few new additions in terms of weapons, such as the crossbow which can pierce the darkness without the need of the flaslight, the nailgun which is high speed fun, and a new enemy who actually multiplies if you focus a beam on them. There’s more to be discovered, but I won’t spoil all the surprises for you.
The biggest change is likely in the storytelling, and in the fact that this game takes place 2 years after the original. As mentioned, there’s a pulp influence to the game now, and it’s evident with the addition of a narrator to the story. The game takes place in Night Springs, which some of you may be familiar with from the short live action prequel created for the original game. For those of you who aren’t, Night Springs was a Twilight Zone type TV show that Alan Wake wrote for early in his career. The narrator does a pretty good Rod Serling impression, and it really adds to ambience without feeling cheesy or out of place.
Remedy has been dodgy about what role the game plays in the series. Is it a prequel? A sequel? A standalone spin-off? The truth is, it’s a mix of the last two. Without spoiling much, I can say the game has a satisfying standalone ending, while progressing the storyline of the original game. There are definitely many things left ambiguous, to be answered in a sequel. Much of this will become evident as you progress through the game, though perhaps in a random way.
This is because, as before, much of the exposition is taken care of through the use of manuscript pages you have to find. So it’s possible to miss out of pieces of the story, but luckily the most significant ones are easy enough to find, and will allow you get caught up with Wake’s been up to in the past two years. They’ve also added characters you can talk to, though there’s no dialogue system, you can carry out longer conversations with them, but continuing to talk to them. They’ve recorded quite a bit of a dialogue for them. Not only that, but you can also catch up with a few other old friends, by activating radios you will find strewn throughout the areas in the game as you progress. Make sure to return to them for more and more broadcast.
In addition to that, the TV’s from the first game’s DLC have returned, and are being used by Mr. Scratch to taunt Wake as you attempt to catch up to him. These are strewn about and worth finding, for some really well acted live action scenes. Most of the games cut-scenes are also performed in a live action manner. However, they are really well acted and have great production values and Mr. Scratch makes for a fantastic villain.
This is likely the simplest part of the review, as the gameplay remains largely unchanged. As before, you use your flashlight to sight targets, as well as to remove their protective armoring composed of darkness. You hold down the left trigger to focus the beam, right trigger to shoot. You can run, like before, though Wake seems to have been working out, as he tires less often than before. You also have the return of the usual arsenal of flashbangs and flare for when you’re about to get overwhelmed.
Although, with the addition of ammo refill stations, and ammo drops everywhere, you rarely ever have to. Running out of ammo is rarely an issue, and enemies rarely come in very large groups before the last section of the game where the difficulty begins to ramp up. Even then as long as you’re aware of your surroundings you should be fine. In addition to this, there are safe havens in the form of street lamps, which heal any damage you’ve taken. However, they no longer last indefinitely. In fact, they stop working very quickly, so don’t depend on them too much.
Likely the biggest addition to Alan Wake though, is the Horde Mode style Fight Till’ Dawn. Unlike Horde mode though, there are no fortifications, and it is completely solo. There are arcade leaderboards, but nothing beyond that. Still, you have a selection of a few maps to choose from, and the objective is simple. Stay alive until the sun comes up. You have weapons throughout the map you can pick up, and extra weapons you can unlock from cases, if you’ve collected the right amount of manuscript pages to in single player mode. Safe havens abound, but they don’t last any longer here, so you can rely them too much. The waves get increasingly more difficult, and you may find yourself running more than anything in the last few seconds. However, it’s a blast to play through and through, even if it would have benefitted from the inclusion of online co-op.
So what’s the tally? Well, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, is a great sequel to a great game. It’s a good length, being longer than any of the DLC or standalone episodes. If you were a fan of the original, you’re going to be a fan of this one, and if you haven’t played the original, you should and then get American Nightmare. Even if you haven’t, the game is pretty accessible to newcomers, with it’s retroactive storytelling. The ambience is great, and often thrilling without being cheap, and combat is satisfying and cinematic in a way so few games are. Remedy definitely has a winner on their hands, and hopefully this will translate into more sequels, because if American Nightmare is any indication, there’s a whole lot of greatness ahead for this series.