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Review - Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Xbox 360 download)
Here we have an episodic, download-only, horror sidequel. Not often we see a game that ticks all of those boxes - but here we do. And for the bargain price of 1,200 Microsoft Points (about £10) the latest Alan Wake game is available on Xbox Live Marketplace.
It's good to see the old grouch back again. The first Alan Wake was an underrated game that I fear many people overlooked. It featured the miserable, ego-centric, selfish horror writer (more Steven King than Garth Marenghi) and his attempt to de-stress on vacation. Naturally he ended up battling hordes of nightmarish creatures - I won't say more in case you haven't played it.
American Nightmare is a shorter game - deliberately designed to be a piece of episodic content. It's meant to be shorter than the first Alan Wake - only 5 or 6 hours' gameplay in story mode - so there is a little less emphasis on story-telling and more emphasis on action. And the franchise adapts pretty well to this. Without much fanfare, our hero writer Alan Wake is transported into the world of one of his manuscripts - forced to battle the minions of his evil alter-ego, Mr Scratch.
As in the first game, these enemies are all based around shadows - possessed people or animals cloaked in ghostly, ethereal clouds of shadow. So Alan Wake wields two types of weapon - guns and lights. So you play the game with a torch in one hand and a gun of some description in the other. Upon meeting an enemy, Alan must shine his flashlight, as bright as the batteries will allow, until its ghostly, dark shadows are destroyed, once that is done and the monster is weakened - finish them with gunfire (or flares and nail guns etc - but that's the broad idea).
And the graphics are beautiful as always. The lighting effects are wonderful to look at - particularly when striking up a flare in a pitch black part of the game, the colours and reflections show real art and serious programming power. Holding a flashlight next to the gun provides a neat way to take aim, the torchlight beam shows where the bullets will go - no need for a messy targeting reticule or HUD. And the controls are pretty easy to master - it's very enjoyable to play.
There are a few criticisms though. The gameplay mechanic can be pretty linear when the shooting stops. All to often, to progress it is necessary to go and find a few arbitrary objects from points B,C and D - then return to point A. This happens quite a lot and seems less than imaginative. The other problem is re-using the same parts of level multiple times. The motel, observatory and drive-in get recycled throughout the game - something that the first Alan Wake didn't suffer from.
But the combat is solid and that's what this episode is all about - a bite-sized serving of Alan Wake combat, with everything else cut down. There is another mode, unimaginatively called "Arcade Action" that plays very much like Horde Mode in the Gears of War games. Basically survive as long as you can until dawn comes, fighting off wave after wave of attackers.
So it's good - definitely worth 1,200 Microsoft Points, but definitely not as good as the original Alan Wake. For the low price - it's worth it and it's great to see Alan back. But this isn't an all-time great.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is out now to download on Xbox Live Marketplace