Preview: Alan Wake: American Nightmare

Preview: Alan Wake: American Nightmare

Alan Wake finds himself in an adventure that's equal parts Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino.

Whatever its tourism board might say, don't bother taking a trip to Night Springs. Even when its scientists aren't committing quantum suicide or its residents take a break from impregnating newcomers with an alien brood, it's still a pretty unfriendly place. Take bestselling thriller writer Alan Wake's case in Alan Wake: American Nightmare, an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title. After the events of the original game and its subsequent DLC packages, Wake finds himself in a nightmarish new setting where his own creations want him dead. Players can expect traditional Alan Wake gameplay, a bevy of creative new weapons, an intriguing story, and a few new features that may keep them playing past the credits.

I recently had the chance to sit down with two representatives from Remedy Entertainment, who walked me through a small chunk of the single player campaign as well as the competitive new Arcade Mode. Oskari "Ozz" Häkkinen, the company's Head of Franchise Development, took the reins as he described the philosophy behind Wake's latest foray into the world of gaming.

Ozz explained that American Nightmare is a standalone, downloadable title for the XBLA. While fans of the previous game will find plenty to enjoy, Remedy wanted to create an accessible starting point for new players. If the first game was 2/3rds story and 1/3 action, the ratios have been reversed for this title, says Ozz. Remedy believes that a more action-heavy title suits the XBLA, and has shifted the tone from "psychological thriller" to "pulp action movie" accordingly. American Nightmare has more in common with Quentin Tarantino than Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock.

The game begins in the unpredictable town of Night Springs, Alan Wake's Twilight Zone analogue. Earlier in his writing career, Wake penned a few episodes of the puzzling show, and now finds himself trapped in one of them. Right away, it was clear that American Nightmare is not a typical XBLA game; the graphics look identical to those in Alan Wake, save for a tasteful and unobtrusive grindhouse filter. As Wake ran across a darkening Arizona landscape, Ozz revealed that a big inspiration for the game was 1960s Americana, especially urban legends of the time.

While the UI in Alan Wake was not bad, American Nightmare presents a noticeable improvement. The health bar is now segmented, and ammo and battery levels are easier to keep track of. Some series veterans may be upset to hear that the ungainly dodge mechanic is unchanged from the first game, but the addition of a few new weapons make Wake a more capable fighter than before. Before the adventure is over, Wake will come across familiar shotguns and flares, but also pick up Uzis and get creative with hardware. As Ozz said, "The nailgun is mightier than the sword."

As the demo continued, Wake did typical Alan Wake things. He fought demons with a potent combination of flashlights and shotguns, solved simple environmental puzzles, rescued comely female NPCs, and collected manuscript pages that fleshed out the game's meta-story. While American Nightmare has a standalone plot, it still ties in to the larger series mythos. Mr. Scratch, Wake's enigmatic doppelganger from the end of the first game, has broken through Wake's manuscript into the real world, and is hunting down Wake's wife, Alice. Throughout American Nightmare, Wake encounters Mr. Scratch through video recordings, but how - or if - Wake will confront this villain is not yet clear.

Wake continued to dispatch foes with nailguns, flare guns, or whatever else was handy. Familiar demonic Taken - possessed shells of men - from the first game made their return, but a few new enemies showed up as well. Of particular interest were the splitters, who reacted to light by dividing into two smaller, weaker, faster enemies, and a mobile, unpredictable foe that could transform from a human into a flock of crows. According to the company reps, this is Remedy's "homage to Angry Birds."

The visuals themselves were very similar to Alan Wake, but the color palette had changed considerably, better fitting its new Southwest setting. Instead of the deep greens, blues, and grays of the Pacific Northwest, American Nightmare embraces reds, purples, and browns for everything from the sky to the landscape. This time around, the narrator of Night Springs narrates the game instead of Wake, but the sound design is similar to its predecessor otherwise. Players can expect licensed music, an original score, and a brand new single from those aging metal poets, the Old Gods of Asgard.

The demo wrapped up just as Wake fended off a huge number of Taken in order to rescue a scientist at an oil derrick that seemed to be stirring up trouble in Night Springs. With his new weapons, Wake can handle most Taken with ease, although the vastly increased number of enemies he faces helps to counterbalance this.

After the hands-off portion, I got to try the Arcade Mode, a ten-minute survival match against waves of increasingly tougher Taken. In this mode, ammo for basic weapons replenishes at key points over time, but players can also find more powerful, limited-use weapons by scouring the map. The fights can get pretty tense, especially when the clock is ticking and players must decide between braving the far end of the map for a flare gun or Uzi, duking it out with flashlight and shotgun, or taking advantage of one of the few available light sources, which heal Wake but then darken permanently. While there is no cooperative or competitive multiplayer, players will be able to compete indirectly through Leaderboards in Arcade Mode.

While some players may balk at the more action-heavy nature of American Nightmare, the inspired storytelling and fully realized setting of the first game seem very much intact. American Nightmare is not Alan Wake 2, but Remedy assured me that Wake's story would continue after this. As promised, Alan Wake's foray into the world of XBLA is not exactly a sequel or a spinoff, but it may be just the thing to tide fans over while awaiting the writer's next full-length adventure.

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What is it with self proclaimed survival horror games getting all action-y with later installments? Yeah, Alan Wake 2 might be like the first one, but common! This game has a score and a combo counter. The little numbers that kept popping up in FEAR 3 was one of the major things that stopped it from even pretending to be scary anymore. 'Kick ten zombies in the face, ACHIEVED!'

This made my shoulders droop a little. I had guessed that they weren't going for the same effect as the original game, but this is just... bad.

Seriously, why even call it an Alan Wake game if you're going to take the entire thing and flip it on its head? The crazy story of Alan Wake was what made the game *good*, the shooting was just there to keep things tense and keep you moving along. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the focus.

And arcade mode? Really? This is a psychological horror game, not Gears of War.

I guess Alan Wake has taken a Resident Evil 4.

Guys, don't freak out over this tonal shift. They mentioned this is meant to be a small departure, an interquel if you will. for all we know they can be using the stuff in American Nightmare to freak us out even more in Alan Wake 2. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and I can't wait.

Nothing says horror like a score counter!

Marshall Honorof:
While fans of the previous game will find plenty to enjoy, Remedy wanted to create an accessible starting point for new players.

Ugh... I really hate this mindset a lot of devs seem to be latching on to. It's pretty much what killed the Mass Effect series for me.

Say what you will about Ubisoft and their yearly release schedule, at least they don't try to essentially reboot the series with every new Assassin's Creed game. More devs should just do what they did and slap a "Previously" vid at the beginning and continue from there. If you didn't play the first game, it's your own fault for being confused.

I haven't played the original Alan Wake yet (Might pick up the impending PC version if it's worth the extra scratch), but everything I heard made it sound very story heavy, and I don't see how they can credibly pull this off, especially if they want to go back to brooding survival horror afterwards. If Alan Wake proves himself to be a capable action hero, what would there be to be afraid of in Alan Wake 2?

Looking forward to this. I really liked Alan Wake, so a cool pulp version sounds like a fun way to mix things up. And its good to know that there's a sequel in the works. But they shouldn't tie up everything, as Alan said "The unsoleved mystery is the one that stays with us the longest"

I don't care about the Arcade mode as long as the single player is good.

Have to admit, as soon as I saw the fourth picture I started having Resident Evil 4 flashbacks. I half expect the enemies in the game to start shouting in Spanish and chucking scythe blades at Mr. Wake at some point.

Marshall Honorof:
Remedy wanted to create an accessible starting point for new players.

Umm sorry what? What does this even mean? How about, if you are a new comer to a video game series, you start with THE FIRST GAME? I never understand why we have started using these excuses. Fair enough if the franchise is maybe 10 years old and finding the first games is hard. But are people really so lazy that they wouldn't go back and play a game that's what, at the most a year old? Seriously. I applaud Remedy for trying something different with such a new franchise but let's not hide behind such flimsy pretences.

Marshall Honorof:
Some series veterans may be upset to hear that the ungainly dodge mechanic is unchanged from the first game.

The dodge was awesome! It really made you feel like you actually did just narrowly miss being hit rather than expertly somersaulting out of the way. He is a writer after all, not John McClane.

Marshall Honorof:
Players can expect licensed music, an original score, and a brand new single from those aging metal poets, the Old Gods of Asgard.

Also known as Poets of the Fall. They are awesome and anyone who hasn't heard their music should check them out, now!

I will get it if it has the same writer in charge of the story. I liked Alan Wake a lot just for the storyline.

This looks like it might ruin the atmosphere of 'a normal guy dragged into some horrible twisted reality'

It's a shame really there's no good survival horrors anymore :(

I'm a little depressed that they flipped the formula to be 2/3 action and 1/3 story now. Story is the main reason I play any game, and Alan Wake's story was crucial for it. Because, all said and done, the gameplay parts were only average.
It sounds like American Nightmare is going the way of The Signal DLC. After reading this, I'm afraid Susan's review of it is going to apply to this game as well. Still totally going to buy and and play it though, and who knows? Maybe I'm wrong and it will be up to standard.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/reviews/7908-Review-Alan-Wake-The-Signal

xXxJessicaxXx:
I will get it if it has the same writer in charge of the story. I liked Alan Wake a lot just for the storyline.

This looks like it might ruin the atmosphere of 'a normal guy dragged into some horrible twisted reality'

It's a shame really there's no good survival horrors anymore :(

Amnesia?

OT: I stopped reading the article when it said that it'll now bt 2/3 action and 1/3 story... Alan wakes story and context is what made it such a great game, it wasn't the combat. too bad really.

lotr rocks 0:

xXxJessicaxXx:
I will get it if it has the same writer in charge of the story. I liked Alan Wake a lot just for the storyline.

This looks like it might ruin the atmosphere of 'a normal guy dragged into some horrible twisted reality'

It's a shame really there's no good survival horrors anymore :(

Amnesia?

OT: I stopped reading the article when it said that it'll now bt 2/3 action and 1/3 story... Alan wakes story and context is what made it such a great game, it wasn't the combat. too bad really.

I thought I had read somewhere that their next game wasn't going to be a survival horror but a quick google search says that they just want it to be more challenging. So at least there's that yeah :)

People are hitting the panic button way too early. I think this sounds like a great "interval" between Alan Wake and Alan Wake 2, in that it adds to the mythos and also throws a few new things in to keep it fresh.
For what they are trying to achieve a balance between action and story would be extremely hard to nail. In my opinion the first one laboured on some sections slightly too long with nothing happening. This one might lean a little too far to the action side. It's all a learning experience for Remedy, which should make Alan Wake 2 just right. In the meantime, let's support them for the good work they have done.

Hmm, I dunno doesnt seem like Alan Wake if ya know what I mean.
You proberly dont know do you.

I really enjoyed Alan Wake. It oozed atmosphere, I hope the move towards action doesnt change this.

Programmed_For_Damage:
People are hitting the panic button way too early. I think this sounds like a great "interval" between Alan Wake and Alan Wake 2, in that it adds to the mythos and also throws a few new things in to keep it fresh.
For what they are trying to achieve a balance between action and story would be extremely hard to nail. In my opinion the first one laboured on some sections slightly too long with nothing happening. This one might lean a little too far to the action side. It's all a learning experience for Remedy, which should make Alan Wake 2 just right. In the meantime, let's support them for the good work they have done.

The problem is that by focusing on the action, not only are they robbing Alan Wake of the atmosphere and story which were what made the first game great, if this new approach is a success, they are going to start making every future game in the series more and more action oriented, eventually killing any survival horror that this series ever had. This will read much like what happened with Resident Evil francise after 4 in other words.

Besides, it's not like they can't make American Nightmare more action oriented AND improve it's story at the same time, they're just being lazy here.

Everyone who says "waah it went down the action route" is an idiot. The first game was action thriller. Not a survival horror game. And in an action thriller weapon and enemy variety are an important thing. Nobody says that the story wont still shine trough.

 

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