The Story: Prequel or Sequel?
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare takes place in the town of Night Springs, a fictional town in a TV show that Alan used to write for before he became a famous novelist. Alan has been brought here to face his evil doppelganger Mr. Scratch. Alan must stop Mr. Scratch to have any hope of bringing Night Springs back to its former glory.
Here’s where the confusion sets in. Alan Wake’s story hasn’t been particularly easy to follow, and American Nightmare isn’t any easier. This is supposed to be a prequel in which Alan is living through one of his past written episodes of Night Springs, but the characters make references to the first game which isn’t supposed to have happened yet. Alan is just kind of thrust into this world without explanation and nothing is even known about Mr. Scratch other than being told “he is the bad guy, take him down”. Also, I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler, but even in the end cutscene the narrator blatantly asks “Did this even happen”? With this much obscurity it’s hard to follow along or even take the story seriously.
The Gameplay: More Action, Less Horror
The gameplay in American Nightmare is more or less copy paste from the previous installment. Alan must shine his flashlight onto enemies to drain their shield of darkness and then whittle down their health with weapons fire.
The pacing in American Nightmare goes from walk in the park to up shit creek without a paddle very quickly and levels seemed rehashed. It begins with Alan facing very few enemies in a town setting and there’s little to no challenge. As Alan moves to an Observatory and Drive Thru setting, enemies proceed to get tougher. This is all well and good, but the game decides to through a curve ball at you half way through by introducing a loop mechanic into the premise. This basically means after you hit the third level you are thrown back to the first level except this time it’s slightly shorter and more enemies are introduced. And since Alan is aware that this already happened, he already knows what objectives must be completed to move on. This leads to a major feeling or boredom due to repeating actions. I found myself ignoring every enemy by the second rehashed level because there was no point in killing them. Running away became the norm tactic because why would I stay to fight and waste resources when dodging was just as easy? And when I was forced to hold my ground all it takes is throwing down a couple of flares (which the game gives you in buckets by the way) and picking them off. And you guessed it after the second loop cycle it happens again, back to the first level, hooray! This is where the game doesn’t become challenging but overwhelming. Items are less common and enemies seem to hit your every flank, all the time. This tends to change the feeling from boredom to frustration. By the third rehash I found myself trying to sprint to the objective instead of fighting just because it seemed like all enjoyment was lost. The game just doesn’t seemed balanced well, it tries forcing action down the player’s throat at every turn rather than easing them into it, and seeing the same set pieces three times in a row makes situations predictable.
The enemies in American Nightmare are the same from the previous game. You have your twinks and bears (as Dan and John called them in their walkthrough), which basically means some have more health than others. And four new variants, the splitter which splits into other enemies the more you keep the flashlight on them, spiders which leap at you for small damage, Giant chainsaw wielding hillbillies, and birds which transform into human enemies and then switch back before being killed. Splitters become more trouble than they’re worth because it’s hard to tell them apart from other enemies, meaning that you’ll soon be overwhelmed if you keep your flashlight raised. Spiders shouldn’t have even been introduced because they are so miniscule an opponent they can just be ran past. Chainsaw freaks take way too much damage and in combination with standard enemy types will screw you over very fast. And last there’s the birds. Birds in the first Alan Wake were menacing opponents. They would sweep down take out a chunk of health and then fly away. Now that fear is taken away because they just transform into normal people.
One of American Nightmares draw-ins was new characters being introduced. These characters seem almost completely unnecessary. Hell one of them is only there to charge a freaking battery for you. Light posts are only temporary means of retrieving health now as they break and recharge every couple minutes, meaning if you used a heath post just recently your shit out of luck. Also, weapons must now be unlocked via collecting manuscript pages, so searching for them might be a good idea……except for the fact that the sub machine pistol is the best weapon, is acquired early on, and ammo is freaking everywhere.