Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

 A good DLC follow-up to Remedy's latest best-seller of a series! *contains spoilers to Alan Wake*

Overview

After finally playing Alan Wake nearly a month ago I quickly fell in love with the game and enjoyed every minute of it, upon completion I was quite sad that the epic thrill-ride the game presented was over and immediately started hoping for a sequel in the near future. Then lo and behold, I discover that a downloadable follow-up to Alan Wake is due out in February of this year and I immediately become ecstatic. Then the release date approaches and once again I became lost in the epic of Alan Wake's struggle against the Lovecraftian Dark Presence that haunts him.


Story

American Nightmare picks up two years after Alan Wake's fateful arrival in Bright Falls, having given himself up to The Dark Presence in exchange for his wife's return he now seeks to write himself an escape from the Dark Place beneath Cauldron Lake. And his chance for escape seems to come in the form of an old memory of a script Alan wrote early in his career for the Twilight Zone-ish, T.V show Night Springs. After being deposited on the outskirts of the town he is immediately attacked by the nightmarish shadowy figures known as The Taken yet again. After which it is revealed that the duplicate of Alan named Mr. Scratch  whom was seen just before his imprisonment under Cauldron Lake has been at work commiting various attrocities while claiming to be the "true" Alan Wake free of any inhibition towards his desires no matter how malicious they are. Alan must now use his ability to rewrite reality to escape Night Springs and defeat Mr. Scratch before he brings harm to any of Alan's loved ones.

I can safely say that I was somewhat disappointed with American Nightmare's story. After the Stephen King style thrill-ride of the first game the bar has been raised fairly high to the point where this game's Twilight Zone meets Pulp Fiction style story misses it by a fair amount. There is a great deal of plot convenience that the story completely revolves around as opposed to the one or two instances from the original game (*cough* the Clicker *cough*) since the story does involve a time loop that I will not spoil the nature of. The mentioned time loop seems more like an excuse to justify the presence of only three areas in the story mode as you will revisit each area more than once doing the exact same thing everytime with a slight variation. The story mode is also very short, and beatable in less than five hours, however since this is a 15$ DLC title this is forgivable but it is hard to shake feelings of wanting more than what you get. The narrative style and pacing is still really good though and will satisfy anyone who liked the first game.




Art Direction

One of the most highly spoken of aspects of the first game was its excellent use of setting and atmosphere to invoke tension and anxiety in the player, and this game does not disappoint. As opposed to the misty forest setting of the previous game, American Nightmare takes place in the Arizona desert and features three different location in the story mode consisting of, a motel and diner at dusk under a dark red sky, a dark mountain-top observatory, and a drive-in movie theater, at first these locations feel very different and unique from each other but as the time loop story goes on they begin to lose some of that charm as you immediately know what to expect from each area.

The character models look MUCH better than the first game and the lip-synching is fairly spot on this time. This game also features several well-acted live-action scenes such as the moments with Mr. Scratch taunting Alan through the TVs which are integrated seemlessly with the game's graphics and really enhance the cinematic experience. And as was the case with the first game the voice acting ranges from really good from the main characters to ok for the others, and depending on your thoughts in the last game you will either like or hate the lack of usually laughable random dialogue from The Taken in this game. And finally the game's music is once again amazing, the music matches the atmosphere perfectly and is very memorable. This game's sountrack also features two new tracks by the Poets of The Fall which you will immediately want to buy after hearing them if you like good music.


Gameplay

The gameplay is more or less the same as the first game, you use your flashlight to burn away the dark shrouds protecting the Taken and then open fire on them all while dodging their attacks and running to Safe Havens when in danger, this time though Safe Havens cannot be stayed in and will disappear for a while when Alan reaches full health. Also light-based weaponry is much weaker than in the previous game as flash-bangs and flare-guns will not instantly kill all kinds of Taken and will only injure some, this seems to be compensated for though due to Alan's increased arsenal of weaponry consisting of nail-guns, assault rifles, and magnums as opposed to just the revolver, shotgun, and rifle from the first game.  Manuscript finding also returns to provide motivation for exploration as well as backstory for certain characters and events and foreshadowing for the future, manuscripts are also now used to unlock cases containing new weapons. Also since we have new enemy with a bigger imagination, we get several new kinds of Taken. The basic foot soldiers are still around and the chainsaw maniacs have gotten a lot bigger and more monstrous, but adding to their ranks are Splitters which break into multiple Taken when exposed to light, Birdmen which attack with talons and can turn into a flock of ravens to escape Alan's light and gun, and Bombers which hurl explosive balls of darkness from a distance.

The big addition in American Nightmare is the arcade-style Survive till Dawn mode which pits you against waves of Taken that you must defeat until the timer runs out with each wave being more difficult than the previous. Killing many Taken without taking damage racks up point multipliers as well as killing multiple Taken, so it is very important to use EVERYTHING at your disposal to win. There are many various stage such as graveyards and ghost towns each littered with the various weapons Alan has unlocked in the story mode which must each be utilized to get the max score and survive till dawn. This mode is indeed quite addicting and provides a little more fun factor than the previous game did, especially if you just wanna slay some Taken without moving through the story mode, in fact I would call this mode the main draw of the game due to the rather short story.


 Conclusion
To be blunt this game is more of a follow-up and NOT a sequel which Remedy themselves have said as well. While the game's story is not quite as strong as the first it is still enjoyable and worth playing for any fan of the series, however most people are really going to like the Survive Till Dawn mode whether they like the story or not. As of now Remedy has planned another Alan Wake game so lets keep our fingers crossed that this one is indeed the sequel we have been waiting for, now if you'll excuse me *gets assault rifle and flashlight* I've got some Taken to deal with.

Grade: B+
Definitely worth a purchase with its price tag of only 15$.

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