Alan Wake's American Nightmare|
Remedy has done something that I wouldn't have believed possible before playing it: They've released a bargain-priced episodic game with the look, feel and, albeit shortened, content of a full game. Alan Wake's American Nightmare is an action game with a tint of horror, and despite some ugly spots, it provides an incredibly slick experience that serves well as an invitation or a welcome back to the action-horror world that the first game started.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare follows the tortured writer turned hostage of the darkness and warrior of the light on a trip into the depths of his own creations to hunt down Mr. Scratch, his evil twin. Of course, as a new player, I didn't have a terribly solid grasp on what was initially happening, and it was only through the manuscript pages sprinkled through the game as both background and admission to better weapons that I was able to piece together what was really going on.
Still, the game's basics are explained quickly, and come easily: Your enemies, the Taken, are protected by the darkness, and any attack you make will arc harmlessly away. Fortunately, as a champion of the light, Alan Wake is able to use his flashlight to strip away the the darkness that protects his enemies. The light also makes your foes recoil, and fighting one enemy is an easy enough task. On the other hand, you rarely just fight one enemy, and fighting multiple foes is always interesting. The need to juggle between stripping enemy protection, driving enemies back with the light, and applying bullets to multiple foes kept me on my feet, and the ability to dodge away from enemies that get close enough to attack was both welcome, and added an element of reaction to otherwise very methodical combat.
The game's story follows Alan Wake through multiple iterations of one rough night in a small Arizona town, and is expertly narrated by a man doing his best to sound like Rod Sterling, which helps drive home the feel of being locked into the television world of Alan's own creation. Though Mr. Scratch is always a few steps ahead of you, and seems to have the upper hand, Alan's literally written twists in the story of the world's events, and finding the clues that you've left for yourself becomes central to the story. It can get a little bit convoluted at times, but once the rules of the world are set up, the game does a solid job sticking to them and presenting a solid story.
The only ugly bits in the game are when the immersion in the story is broken. For all of Mr. Scratch's maniacal glee as a villain and the narrator's Twilight Zone-esque inflection, the dialogue between Alan and the people he meets as he explores the town are a little bit off, giving the impression of a game that wasn't originally written in English. The game's far too generous with ammo and flashlight batteries, which hurts the horror elements since you never need to face scarcity or get worried about encounters against the Taken. And, sometimes, the light-trumps-shadows rules are forgotten for combat set pieces. Still, given the overall quality of the game, those hardly sink the ship.
Of course, the game being on PC brings its own upsides: The game boasts multi-monitor support and stereoscopic 3D for those cool kids with the fancy gear. For those who aren't so well-equipped, the arcade action mode presents Alan Wake's take on the third person shooter survival paradigm. While matches start slow, it soon becomes a desperate scramble to survive until dawn, trying to make the best use of your resources as dozens of Taken surround you. The arcade mode actually manages a better job on delivering tension and fear than the main game, which certainly makes it a keeper.
All told, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is an impressive game. The production values, aside from some of the dialogue, are amazing, the action is smart and challenging, the story is more than interesting enough to carry the action, and its arcade mode is a high point. Anyone who's a fan of Alan Wake should pick it up, but the price is low enough to justify its purchase even to the unfamiliar. We can only hope that this is a sign of a new era of episodic games.