Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

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If the first Alan Wake was a classic Stephen King, The Stand perhaps, we're moving more into Desperation territory here.

 

Price: £10.20 (1200 MS points)
Format: Xbox 360 via XBLA
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a follow-up of sorts to 2010′s well-recieved psychological shooter. Once again you wield a torch, a variety of weapons and a bunch of typewritten pages in order to thwart the Taken, humans who have been possessed by the mysterious darkness. Not the inexplicably-popular-in-2003 rock band The Darkness, note – that would have made for far too frightening a foe.

The game opens with Barry Wheeler, Alan’s agent from the previous game, now working as a manager in a seedy neon-lit motel. He falls asleep watching TV, airing an episode of ‘Night Springs’, and we see our eponymous hero on the flickering screen. Tracking his nefarious doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, through the black. We wake up and grab the flashlight, and quickly a pistol, to escape from a canyon over-run with the Taken. There we take shelter at the hotel, and kick off the storyline, meeting mechanic Emma, a dab hand with both a wrench and some handy MacGuffins.

Talking of mechanics, the game is pretty much identical to it’s predecessor in the use of the flashlight and gun to give you two things to worry about reloading, doubling your stress levels. Stress levels aren’t the only things multiplying though – as you snap shots off at the enemies, many split in half upon taking a bullet, replicating weaker version of themselves that still have the ability to swarm your stingy three energy bars.

Crisply rendered as ever, character models are pleasingly solid, as is the scenery, lending a convincing feel to Alan’s fictional worries. There’s perhaps even a little too much polish in the presentation, lacking the requisite filthy VHS grain required for a real pulp videogame nasty. It’s a delicate balance between accessibility and artistry, and here Remedy have done a decent if slightly restrained job.

For a title with a writer as the lead character, which in the first game seemed like a meta-stroke of genius, here the plotting plods a little – perhaps the manuscripts weren’t scattered by the forces of the darkness but merely by a mischievous editor trying to cut a few extraneous scenes. As a psychological thriller it’s a bit more M. Night Shayamalan than David Lynch, which for me was a little disappointing, having expected a bit more of a Twin Peaks vibe based on the opening. I did really enjoy the way Mr. Snatch would taunt you from random televisions or radios, adding menace to any situation though – effectively yourself being your own enemy is quite an interesting idea.

I felt a lack of difficulty level adjustment was a a slight pitfall for the game, especially one so heavily predicated on plot – it’s frustrating taking on the Taken over and over when really you just want the next manuscript page or conversation. Admittedly I’m not the best shooter in the world, and it certainly puts up a challenge if you want one. But I found it a little unrewarding when I finally got to the meat of the story, and I’ll confess at one point I considered letting Mr. Wake die merely for the heinous act of writing a Kasabian CD into the mission.

In line with the gaming industry’s increasing efforts to franchise the last few pixels out of everything, this Alan Wake game is not ‘strictly’ a sequel but a kind of sideways, off-piste but in-canon move to keep the brand in the spotlight without risking the reputation with too high-profile a release. At just over a tenner, it’s no doubt a good addition to the collection of any fan of the first game, but those new to the series might be better advised to pick up a second-hand copy of the original. If the first was a classic Stephen King, The Stand perhaps, we’re moving more into Desperation territory here.

Score: 3/5

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