System requirements: Windows XP SP2/Vista/Win 7, 2.0 GHz dual-core CPU, 2 GB RAM, DirectX 10-compatible video card with 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound device, 8 GB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
Alan Wake is one of those rare games that makes you want to show it off to non-gaming friends and family as a beaming example of the medium. Now, Remedy has released Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a $15 chunk of standalone DLC. It expands the combat, continues the story, and includes a new arcade mode. But is it worth the investment, or is it just more of the same?
American Nightmare‘s biggest draw is the resolution of the cliffhanger ending of the original game. Wake is now trapped inside the Twilight Zone-parody Night Springs, while his evil doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, takes his place in the real world. As darkness continues to pursue him, Wake has to use his Super Author powers to rewrite the world he’s in. Each of the three sizable levels focuses on open areas to explore. Then you do the time warp again, and everything becomes remarkably meta. In a lesser game, this might be considered recycling content, but when it’s written this well, it’s just good storytelling.
The new arcade mode shows off the improved combat. You try to survive until dawn while racking up points with a new multiplier system. This is where we separate the bestsellers from the bloggers. While it’s not too hard to survive the early levels, you have to really work the multipliers if you want to score enough to unlock more arenas. While combat is the same deadly flashlight tag as before, new types of enemies and a ton of new weapons keep things fresh.
Not only is collecting manuscript pages its own reward (and more of a challenge with the new open level design), but they also unlock new weapon crates in all game modes. Playing through story mode helps you in survival mode, and replaying the story on higher difficulties is far more enjoyable than before. The new enemies and weapons do a great job of keeping things fresh. Splitters multiply if you try to burn them with your light, while spiders can only be vanquished by your mighty flashlight. There’s even one enemy that turns into a flock of birds and jumps around. Toss in a few tweaks with recharge speed and max battery count, and you have a vastly improved Alan Wake experience.
Even if the story seems disconnected to the previous game’s events, it’s an effective epilogue. Sure, Alan’s new adventures in Night Springs are fun, but what really made me smile was hearing that the Old Gods of Asgard are having a reunion tour, and Berry Wheeler’s promoting them. It’s about learning how Alan’s wife, Alice, copes with his supposed death. This isn’t a thriller about rescuing Wake’s wife anymore. Instead, you wrestle with Mr. Scratch for Wake’s very identity. There’s a meaty sub-theme about the various women in Wake’s life, but that’s for a deeper analysis. It’s there, and it’s worthy of a longer article. Yet ambiguity still remains a strong card in Wake’s hand, as the lines between reality remain blurred through his nightmare.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is mechanically a better Alan Wake. The only thing holding it back is its brevity (six hours for me), but it’s highly enjoyable, especially if you loved the first game. Oh, and there’s a new song from Old Gods of Asgard (played by Poets of the Fall), which is pretty much worth the price of admission alone. Even better, there are backward-masked messages hidden in the song that hint details about Alan Wake 2.