“Alan Wake is back in our lives, hooray!”
“But he’s forgotten to bring a script with him.”
“Well, has he brought instead a shot of pure adrenaline spiked, rocket fuel filled action packed combat and gameplay brilliance!?”
“Erm……I think you’d better sit down.”
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare landed on the Xbox LIVE Arcade this week carrying with it the hopes and dreams of an army of Wake fans hungry for a little more time in the troubled writer’s shoes.
And surely, you’d think, when presented with a character as potentially deep as Alan Wake and a world as shadow filled and mysterious as the twilight nightmare he inhabits, developers Remedy would be aiming to deliver a full 3 courses worth of rich and filling story with more ups and downs than a game of snakes and ladders. Well, think again.
For reasons I’m sure make perfect sense to themselves, Remedy decided to take Alan Wake the complete opposite direction. The Alan Wake of 2012 is a far more action packed beast, unfortunately he’s also a far more mundane one too.
The story see’s our man Wake trapped in an alternate reality of his own making and hot on the heels of his evil doppleganger and serial killer, Mr Scratch.
Remember that weird, Twilight Zone-esque TV show from the original game called Night Springs, well it turns out Alan used to write for the show and this tale is one he himself wrote. Supernatural killer, Mr Scratch, is making his way to Alan Wake’s wife, Alice and Wake must learn how to control reality and finish Scratch before he finds her.
It sounds like the foundations of what could have been a deep, story driven masterclass, instead it’s a fairly bog standard third person action game.
I’ve probably been harsh so far because, truth be known, American Nightmare is actually a decent romp. The action is slick, the presentation top notch and the pace is high. It’s just it could have been so much more, in fact that’s much like the original Alan Wake game itself. Maybe Mr Wake just isn’t destined for the gamers hall of fame, instead left to rue on what his life might have been given a little more imagination and bravery on the developers part.
Anyway, as I said, what we’ve got here is a solid action game. The combat is unchanged from the first game, deplete the darkness surrounding enemies with a flashlight and then open fire. Remedy have thrown in a few more weapons for good measure this time around such as crossbows and the effect of using a flare gun still looks as stunning as ever.
Remedy have also unleashed a batch of new and tougher enemies upon Alan Wake for this encounter but to be honest there’s nothing particularly jaw dropping here either, there’s no ‘crap your pants and run for the hills’ characters, rather a fairly ordinary ensemble that present you with a kind of ‘ yep, that’s pretty much what I was expecting’ feeling.
The world is considerably smaller this time round, but I think that’s to be expected, this is after all an arcade release, it does though, look lovely. The Neon lit signs of the Motel against the dark is very eye-catching while the surrounding terrain feels rich with life. The characters, particularly Alan Wake, are superbly detailed and fluid in motion and of course the use of light in the game is simply brilliant, when explosions and flares fill the air it’s one of the few jaw dropping moments of this journey.
The soundtrack is also a bit tasty, to be fair you can’t go wrong with Kasabian, and the voice talent is once again solid, despite occasionally teetering on the edge of wooden falls or clinging on above cheesy canyon, the actors and script just about pull it off.
One of the main gripes for myself though with American Nightmare is that if you are going to go down a more action orientated route, then please god make the action fresh, vibrant and constantly changing. Remedy have produced a game that, while it looks great, is dogged by an overwhelming feeling of repetition. When I’d completed the original Alan Wake game the one thing I knew I wouldn’t miss was the combat. So, it’s a damn shame that, like some sort of botched surgery, Remedy have removed some story and replaced it with more one dimensional combat.
There is the return of the manuscript pages to add a little meat to the games otherwise skeletal bones. These give us little fragments of story and can also be used to unlock extra and more powerful weapons. Yeah, this is definitely an action game.
Alongside the single player campaign we have the ‘Fight Till Dawn’ mode. This is basically a survival mode in the vein of Gears of War Horde, only it’s only single player. There are leaderboards accompanying this new mode and that at least gives players some incentive to battle on, but again within 10 minutes it all begins to get repetitive and well, a little bit boring.
At the end of the day maybe I was just expecting too much from a 1200 MS point arcade game based on a franchise that, to be honest, delivered below expectations in the first place.
Alan Wake is a creation that could be realised in the most wonderful way but only when more time and care are devoted to telling a story rather than popping players into the midst of a bog standard action game. Remedy have given us a game here that they are keen to stress is not Alan Wake 2, they’ve presented us a game that having any prior knowledge of Alan Wake at all is not required, it’s a decent but forgettable blast through Wake’s world. Remedy have given us Alan Wake Lite.