Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review

There have already been two downloadable add-ons for the original Alan Wake. In Alan Wake’s American Nightmare you’ve got a standalone story mode and a half-dozen or so survival mode levels added to the mix as well.

I wasn’t really sure what was in American Nightmare until coverage for the game started picking up prior to the release.

Alan Wake’s story was kind of like Twin Peaks. Alan and Alice Wake, his wife, visit a sleepy northwestern town for a vacation and mystery ensues. Alice’s wife is trapped by “The Dark Presence, ” Alan rescues her only to find himself trapped with the same “darkness” that has been controlling the townsfolk and causing them to turn against him.

In American Nightmare’s the “darkness” is a villainous parallel version of Wake, Mr. Scratch. Each level is presented like an episode of The Twilight Zone, featuring decent Rod Serling-esque narration and a campy plot. The story is engaging and has enough going on to keep you interested until the exciting conclusion. I was definitely surprised a few times at what the developers were willing to do outside of a disc-based retail game.

It sounds awful when you find out that you’re going to play the same three levels three times. The developers have understood how terrible that might play out and instead change each level with each visit. Initially you’re seeing almost everything a stage has to offer, but on repeat playthroughs you’re getting the gist while the developers put in twists for Alan.

Once you’ve completed the game you’ve got Arcade Mode still to play. Nowhere is it more clear that Alan Wake is Max Payne’s literate cousin than in this wave-based survival mode. With ten minutes on the clock Alan has to stay alive until sunrise.  Weapons are more automatic than the previous game, and is still the unique blend of third-person shooting where you’ve got to weaken enemies by illuminating them with your flashlight before lead can do them in. The slow-mo effect from Max Payne is back whenever you’ve cleared a set of enemies. This camera effect also occurs when a foe is about to sneak up on Alan, pulling back to give the player a second to react. The camera can be a little frustratingly inconsistent in giving the player this glimpse of danger. Sometimes you’ll be left wondering why you’ve lost your score multiplier due to a hit that could have been avoided if only the monsters were a little less subtle.

Though entertaining, American Nightmare is short. Despite returning to the same locations over again I only got about 4 hours out of the story mode. This isn’t too little, instead it feels just about right for what I expect from a $15 side-story from the original Alan Wake.

If you haven’t played the first game, I can’t recommend this one. The original game is referenced through manuscript page collectibles strewn around the game but there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t want to play it when it can be had for about $20.

Speaking of manuscript-page collectibles, one addition to the game is really nifty. Each area in the game has a TV with a short FMV sequence featuring Alan’s nemesis indulging in some of the finest b-grade movie villainy witnessed on the small screen.

One final note, If you do decide to purchase American Nightmare on Xbox Live Arcade, please make sure to switch the HUD to “fading” on the options menu. Otherwise the HUD will obscure your view for far too long.

I loved Alan Wake’s American Nightmare and it is one of the best games to be released on the 360’s downloadable service. While the story-mode content could have made more sense as DLC for the original game, the arcade mode is fun enough to justify the price. Get the original if you haven’t played it, and then have a Nightmare.