Reviews: Alan Wake

American Nightmare: A Different Kind of Monster

Don't go into Alan Wake's American Nightmare expecting the same kind of experience from the first game. As a downloadable title, the style has shifted from story-driven to action and pulpy. One of the best parts of the original game was its story, so this is a bit regrettable, but it's very good in accomplishing its action focus. With several new enemies and a horde of new guns, American Nightmare blows the first out of the water in terms of variety. The presentation in this game is amazingly high-quality for a downloadable game, feeling on par with the original at times, and the campaign isn't much shorter. The linear levels from the first game have been replaced with pseudo-free-roam ones, so now the compass can actually do something besides keep you from backtracking. As part of the shift to increased action, the story is a little lackluster; it gets the job done, but it isn't something that will stay with you for a while. Mr. Scratch, on the other hand, makes for an excellent psychotic, and is a standout villain.

It might've been because I was playing on Normal, but the campaign feels a bit too easy. Taken rarely come at you in collections of more than three or four outside of a few setpieces, and the game practically throws ammo at you. You rarely need to worry about running out of bullets, and so you can use the more powerful weapons a lot more often than otherwise. When you get a gun like the combat shotgun, the game basically becomes a cakewalk.

The "Fight 'Till Dawn" arcade mode, where you have to survive for ten minutes against consistently larger waves of enemies, fits in with the game surprisingly well. The maps are sufficiently spooky, and the game is quiet enough for you to hear the Taken's footsteps. Due to the increased number of enemies, the difficulty in this mode spikes up a bit, and is all but impossible if you haven't unlocked some of the better weapons. As the waves get larger strategic thinking is required to stay alive, and the last minute on these maps are some of the most hectic times I've had in video games.

If you want a meaty continuation of Alan's story, you might want to pass on this game. However, if you just want to see Alan again in a slightly different context and maybe see some new ideas, pick American Nightmare up. For a game this good, fifteen dollars is an awesome bargain.

Move Toward the Light

When I picked up Alan Wake, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. One trip through Bright Falls later, it's still a bit hard to classify, but story-wise, the game box says it best: a "psychological action thriller". Gameplay-wise, it's a mix of third-person shooting, adventure, and driving. But while it may be hard to define, it's nothing short of great.

While not a notably scary game, the developers said they weren't making a horror game, and the horror was for atmosphere - an aspect they definitely succeeded in, helped by the game's excellent lighting. Washington's dark forests always seem creepy and foreboding, even if you're carrying enough equipment to outfit an army; but you probably won't, because Alan is a fairly normal guy. He doesn't even have any crosshairs, and instead relies on the flashlight to help him aim. It's easy to get the feeling that he's in over his head, and the only thing keeping him from running all the way back to New York is Alice.

Alan's normality, in some ways, helps make the combat more intense than traditional shooters. It's one thing to be attacked by a squad where you have an assault rifle, two tons of grenades, and can recover all your health in two seconds. It's quite another to have an ax-wielding shadow advancing on you as you stumble backwards and reload each individual bullet into your revolver and you remain at low health after killing your enemy. Instead of standard, shotguns and hunting rifles feel very powerful.

The story is fairly good, and always keeps going somewhere - each of the six episodes has a little mini-story, ensuring that, no matter what, something's happening. The characters might not be the most original, but they're well fleshed-out. Interestingly, since the Shout Outs are mostly given by characters, they feel more real than they would otherwise. For example, Alan's trapped in a trailer with a Taken smashing the door down with an ax, and mentions The Shining. A cliche? Maybe, but who wouldn't reference it in that situation? The people in the game act like people in real life would, making them feel like they've had their own experiences that we haven't seen.

All in all, Alan Wake is highly satisfying from start to finish. Its characters, unique gameplay, and dynamic story deliver an experience unlike anything else in games today.