For this reviewer, when he starts a new game, there’s a question uppermost in his mind: why does this game exist? What is the point of this exercise? In a world full of engaging, exciting, intriguing indie titles and the occasional time-suck of a major release, how can any given game justify itself?
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is a baffling exercise in paradox. It extends the Alan Wake universe... without really extending it. It offers a new take on the game... by focusing on its previously weakest element. It provides new locations... and makes you visit them not twice but three times in a scant few hours.
With very little explanation of why it’s happening, Alan finds himself thrust into or perhaps trapped in an episode of Night Springs – the Twilight Zone rip from the original game – where he must do battle with his doppelganger Mr Scratch. Because the Devil is sometimes called Old Scratch, you see.
The light/dark dynamic from the original game remains, plus the constant self-aware references to this being a “written” experience. Finding pages is just as important as blasting the Taken first with a boosted flashlight and then with standard bullets. And other things, as you go, but mostly bullets.
There’s a small cast of characters who do a decent turn in mystifying meta-fiction, but the desert location seems a bit too... safe? And the emphasis on mowing down waves of enemies and then running to rearm from ammo dumps changes the creeping dread of the original game into something that seems less like a booster pack and more like ironic fan fiction. There’s even a weird arcade mode where all you do is shoot the Taken until they in turn take you out. Why? Why is this happening?
On PC the game lacks much technical pizzazz. It looks okay, but with that certain graphical sheen that belies its XBLA origins. Stretch your cutting-edge rig, this won’t.
There’s much about American Nightmare that is logical. Of course Al is resigned to his fate as battler of the grotesque in a twisted nightmare version of the world that may or may not be real. Of course, given mounds of ammo, Al would hove to with his pistol and show those nasties what-for. But all this just doesn’t gel with the original game. It’s a guy called Alan Wake, walking around in a sidebar of Alan Wake’s world, making references to Alan Wake... yet it just doesn’t feel that much like Alan Wake.
Normally with these sorts of standalone DLC games, it’s cliche to suggest that if you really want more Alan Wake then this is for you. But is it really Alan Wake? Or is it just a weird, short shooter/horror hybrid that disappeared up its own self-referential fake TV show?