Sunday, 19 August 2012

Review: Alan Wake's American Nightmare


Straight after finishing Alan Wake I jumped into the next chapter of Alan's story as he continues to battle the otherworldly elements of the dark place and maintain his sanity.

The story picks up almost two years after the events of Alan wake.  Wake has now been trapped in the dark place beneath the lake in Bright falls all this time and seeks a way out to return to his wife and friends.  Unfortunately for him his doppleganger and all round evil half Mr.Scratch intends on taking Alan's life in the real world and destroying it piece by piece.  To prevent this, Alan hunts down his dark self in the town of night springs, the fictional setting of a television program and a parody of the twilight zone.  Alan has managed to bring night springs into the real world long enough to hunt down his nemesis.

Welcome to night springs
Without going into the details of the plot entirely here this Alan wake game is not a true sequel to the original game, but still a canon part of the story.  Its relatively short by comparison to the main game and has a lower price tag to match this, but its by no means a cheap production.  Full motion video is used for some of the cutscenes and any scene involving Mr.scratch talking to Alan via a tv set.  Radio programs return to help flesh out the story of the other cast members from the orignal game after the end of alan wake.

The gameplay has seen some relatively major changes.  Your torch now only works on the taken when you focus the beam on them, meaning you need to keep your distance and watch your flanks at all times.  Batteries recharge pretty quickly though to compensate for the new mechanic and I only had to change batteries once the entire time.  Alan now also has a health bar visible at the top of the screen, which like many games today refills when not in combat but only as long as the segment still has health remaining in it.  The level design is much more open and free roaming now in a sort of mini sandbox, but the levels themselves are relatively small and uninteresting to look around, with no secrets or easter eggs to find.

You now have a radar/mini-map which highlights ammunition, manuscript pages and health and ammo stations placed around the maps refill fairly quickly.  Really this is a more arcade like Alan wake.  Combat has seen a massive boost in weapon selection and pace.  Where Alan reloaded fairly slowly in the original game, now he can fully reload a pump action shotgun in half the time.  Weapons now come in many flavours, giving you military weapons like combat shotguns, assault rifles and carbines.  SMG's, desert eagles, sawn off's, crossbows and even nailguns are added to the mix.  Alan now has a much wider variety available to finish off the taken.

Birdman strikes
Speaking of the taken they have also seen a few upgrades.  New types make an appearance now such as the birdman who can turn into a flock of ravens and reform next to alan for a quick attack.  The splitter divides into two whenever you focus your torch on him, but his divided self is weaker with each split.  The sapper who throws darkness grenades adds some ranged support for the taken here and finally the giant who wields a massive circular saw and stands around eight foot rounds out the new taken sent after you by Mr.Scratch.

Poltergeists return every now and then, but not often while and entirely new enemy type, the spider is used sparingly and isn't much of a threat.  Really the spider is possibly a hint at what might be coming with the sequel, but in this game they didn't have much of an impact.  I suppose its good to see a completely new threat and hopefully more varied enemies will be present in Alan wake 2.

Sadly the taken have lost some of their personality here.  In the original game they would shout weird phrases and babble constantly, now they simple run at you silently and don't even throw that many wrenches at you anymore.  They do at least look different to fit the setting, my favourite being the old gods of asgard fans.

The returning manuscripts pages help flesh out the plot here and are all available regardless of difficulty.  This time they have another use in game as a form of currency.  The more you have the more weapon cases you can unlock in the levels to obtain better weapons.  The collected number also carry over into the survival mode so its worth grabbing them all even if you aren't bothered about the story.

Fight till dawn starts easy but gets hard quick
The "fight till dawn" mode is a survival gametype which see's you fighting increasingly difficult waves of taken until the dawn sun.  There are several maps to play on ranging from an old cemetary, ghost town, oil field and others.  Manuscript pages from the story mode are used to unlock weapons and maps.  The mode is alright, but it won't do much to keep your attention post game completion, although there are acheivements to unlock specific to this mode.

Graphically American nightmare looks pretty similar to Alan wake.  The textures used are better overall, but don't expect a huge leap in graphical quality here.  Probably the biggest difference compared to the original is the lack of trees and open nature of the maps.  The desert setting means enemies have less chance to ambush you because of the mostly flat terrain so the scare element is pretty much non existant here.

The voice acting is still pretty good.  All returning characters have their original voice actors and the new characters put in a decent job to.  There is a new old gods of asgard track to listen to and a few other licensed tracks also.

Overall Alan Wake's American nightmare is pretty good for what is essentially a standalone expansion pack to Alan wake.  It serves up enough of the good alan wake gameplay with a few tweaks to make fans happpy while also continuing the story of Alan against the forces of darkness.  It's relatively short and the loss of the taken's personalities is sad, but the rest of the game is still very good for a XBLA and steam release.

SCORE: 7.8/10

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