Crossing the Steams 11.17.12: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Ah, Alan Wake, we’ve barely gotten to know you. While coming out originally on the Xbox 360 and having a less-than-successful debut, it eventually came over to the PC. It wasn’t a typical rush job though, and took about 2 years to make it on over. American Nightmare, however, came out in Feb. of this year on the 360, then came out 3 months later in May for PC. It was a much quicker turn-around time for the series. Whether or not the game is particularly good is a bit up for debate.
American Nightmare feels well-made, but also a bit cheap at points. The basic core of Alan Wake gameplay, using your flashlight, shooting baddies, dodging around, picking up stuff, etc. all makes it feel like your typical Alan Wake experience. You go around the various levels, pick up manuscript pages, come across enemies, break down their darkness armor and then shoot them in the face until they die. American Nightmare serves to add a few new wrinkles though, a few good, and one semi-bad.
The good are the weapon selections and the collection of the damned pages. In the first game you collected pages, coffee thermoses, TV episodes, radio broadcasts and cardboard standees. Aside from the pages and radio/TV stuff (which filled in the back story some), the other things didn’t mean a damned thing. In this game, they reduce the number of collectables to three; the pages, radio broadcasts and TV episodes. The radio broadcasts still only help to fill in the backstory. The TV episodes aren’t about Night Springs (since the game is supposed to take place in an episode of Night Springs), but they deal with the villain, Mr. Scratch. The biggest change though is with the pages. While they serve to fill in the backstory, you can also collect them to unlock chests that contain new weapons. This gives you an *actual* reason for trying to collect all the pages, as opposed to just filling out a checklist from the first game. The pages are also helpfully displayed by a question mark on the mini-map, and they sparkle in the game world.
The weapons have been overhauled with some new additions coming to forefront. In the first game, you only had 5 weapons over-all, and 2 types of auxiliary weapons. In American Nightmare the number is brought up to 8 weapons, with the 2 auxiliary weapons being the same. The two notable new weapons are the nail gun, and the crossbow. The nail gun is a one-handed automatic weapon that shoots out nails on an arc. It’s the weapon that is most closely associated with American Nightmare, even if it is kind of not-great. The other notable weapon is the Crossbow. This fires out slow bolts (at an arc as well), but you don’t need to take down the darkness armor that enemies have. You can just shoot them with it, and it will kill them….assuming it hits. Actually though, I mainly used the Submachine guns, and the Assault Rifle, throughout my entire time playing the game. There are also magical ammo/battery boxes in the game which alleviate almost all of your resource management from the first game. Flares, flash-bang grenades, and flare gun ammo is still scarce, but the combat is a lot easier due to you never running out of bullets or batteries.
The story is well-told through the game, with great writing (thanks Sam Lake), good story beats and some hilarious FMV sequences by Ilkka Villi. The videos are supposed to be dark and brooding, but they’re so over the top, you can’t help but laugh. The three new characters they introduce are also pretty solid, with my favorite character being Serena Valdiva. Your interactions with her are hysterical and twisted, both at the same time. One weird part of the story is that it never really explains itself concretely. When I was finished with the game, I never had a clear understanding of what happened, or what was going on. It’s a bit of a minor point, but the game ends on a big cliffhanger and there really hasn’t been much news about where the series is going next.
With all these positives, the big negative pops up: the structure of the game, and the overall length itself. American Nightmare is structured into three different parts; the town, the observatory, and the movie theater. Then you repeat this sequence two times more, for a total of 3 revolutions, total. Very minute changes happen in the three cycles, but it’s hardly noticeable. You’re still largely doing the same things over and over again, which is kind of a bother by the time you hit the 3rd cycle. It just feels like they wanted to have a lot more stuff in the game, but the budget, and the original platform (Xbox 360 Arcade) throttled them, in terms of creating a big environment for you to explore.
The game looks nice though, even with the limited setting. Wake’s character model has been slightly upgraded, the new characters are distinct and everything is nicely detailed. The lighting effects, slow-motion and other visual cues really help with trying to make the world a more surreal place. Combat is also peppy, and never really slowed down during the many encounters you have.
Audio is quite excellent in the game, but the same problem of repeated motions comes up again. The sound effects are spooky and quite good, the voice acting is fantastic and the two Poets of the Fall songs are superb. However, every time you do an action in the game (you do it 3 times), the same one song plays over and over. It’s a good song, but once you hear it the 3rd time, you will be a bit sick of it. Except for the repeated song, this game has some amazing audio in it.
Replayability is also a bit of a factor in the game. Unless you’re a die-hard fan, you’ll likely get through the game in an afternoon and not touch it again. There are achievements and such for collecting more hidden stuff but it never feels important, and is usually auxiliary. There is also an arcade-style mode, where you have to survive waves of enemies, but this isn’t really fun. It’s a bit too chaotic but also rigid in how it lays weapons/enemies out.
The game installs fine, and runs without any real problems. Due to it being a former 360 game, full gamepad support is included, and the only way you can really play the game. Most of the achievements are pretty easy to get, but some will take some work. Yeah, I really have no issues with how this game works on PC at all.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a short, slightly frustrating but ultimately enjoyable piece of gaming. While the gameplay mechanics work well, just the idea of having to cycle around the three environments, three times, is a bit of a buzz-kill. The combat and peripheral things (visuals, sounds, awesome FMV sequences) make the game worth a look though.
Graphics — 8.5 The world is nicely detailed, and everything looks sharp. The FMV sequences are particular standouts, as are some of the lighting effects. The repetition is the negative thing.
Gameplay — 8.0 The shooting and exploration stuff is nice, but it’s just how limited aspects of the game feel. Enemies also pop in at really weird times.
Sound — 9.0 Some good ambient music, and good licensed music. Sound effects are appropriately weird, with the highlight being the voice acting.
Ease of Installation/Playing – 9.5 The game works as advertised. No bugs or crashes, good gamepad support and achievements will keep you entertained.
Replayability — 6.0 Once you get through the main story, there is little reason to play again, unless you like collectibles. The arcade mode is interesting, but not that fun.
Overall — 8.2 (exact) which I’ll round down to 8.0
Other Steam News
I was going to look at Guns of Icarus: Online a bit, but I got a little behind. So that bit will come next week, and go for a week or two. There are several games coming out for next week, so I’ll simply list them out, with a brief description:
On the 19th is Little Inferno, an adventure game with World of Goo’s aesthetics.
On the 20th, everything else comes out. Hitman: Absoluion, a new game in the popular Hitman series. Also, Scribblenauts Unlimited comes out and is a PC version of the popular hand-held Scribblenauts franchise. Planetside 2 also is on the 20th, which is a F2P shooter that a lot of people have been clamoring for. Lastly Assassin’s Creed 3 is due out, which is the continuing saga of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Next week I shall look at Puzzle Quest.