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Alan Wake's American Nightmare review

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Though it doesn't revolutionise horror games the way its title suggests, American Nightmare is nonetheless an entertaining experience...

'Alan Wake's American Nightmare' (2012) review

“There aren't any good horror games anymore” – that's a complaint that you hear time and again these days. Dead Space and FEAR are nothing but glorified shooting galleries, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series are tragic shadows of their former selves, and the few great horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent are too “niche” and “obscure” to be truly appreciated. A lot of the components of the horror game genre are still there – grotesque monsters, doubtful protagonists, weapons big and small – but there seems to just be something missing. Atmosphere. Tension. True crap-your-pants terror.

So when Remedy Entertainment, creators of the deliciously atmospheric Max Payne series, announced that they were working on a horror game called Alan Wake, the gaming world sat up and paid attention. Fans were ravenous to get their hands on the game, believing it to be the opus that the horror genre had so direly needed for years. And for all I know, it probably was. Unfortunately, being a broke university student meant that that one slipped by my radar. And by the time it became affordable, the lack of hype made it seem just a little bit pointless to be trudging through a game and marvelling (or griping) about all the things that people had already had the fortune (or mispleasure) to witness months ago.

Then came Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Set to be a stand-alone title in the series that promised to be “the perfect jumping on point for new players”, and an Xbox Live Arcade title that even a miserly fool like myself could afford, I jumped at the opportunity. I was expecting the game to be short, sweet and absolutely terrifying. And to be fair, it lived up to at least two of those expectations.

It's not that American Nightmare doesn't have personality – far from it, in fact. From the opening cutscene and the narration ripped straight from an episode of The Twilight Zone, right up to the dramatic finale and the final confrontation with Alan's shadowy doppelgänger, Mr. Scratch, the game is oozing with charm. And it's not that the game isn't fun – in fact, ducking and scrambling around the vicious attacks of the Taken is incredibly satisfying. There's no question at all that American Nightmare is brilliant at what it does. It's just that what it does, sadly, is not horror. It's not that it's some poor attempt at being a horror game – it's just not a horror game at all. From the moment you first pick up a flashlight and pistol and blast your first shadowy enemies into oblivion, you can tell right off the bat that this is not going to be a scary game.

But that's OK. Somehow, you just don't expect the game to try and scare you, and in that sense it doesn't disappoint. In fact, after five minutes, you expect the game to be an entertaining little 5-10 hour romp where you get to shoot some enemies, save some people, beat the villain and “live happily ever after... or do you?”, with some fantastic live-action cutscenes and beautiful acting along the way. And if that's what you're expecting, then you'll see your Microsoft Points well spent. But if you're expecting American Nightmare to revolutionise the horror genre or bring anything really new and innovative to the table at all, then I'm sorry to say that you're probably going to walk away disappointed.

All in all, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is short, sweet and to-the-point. It comes, it lets you bowl through its story mode in a few short hours and have a blast, and it leaves again. It doesn't really do anything grand or magnificent, and it definitely won't scare the pants off you – as you've probably come to expect from its Teen rating. But as long as you've got a penchant for a good storyline and fun gameplay, as well as moderate-to-low expectations, then that won't really matter. While it's true the game drags a bit in the middle, and having to replay through the same three environments three times feels like a bit of a cop-out (even if the plot does a good job of explaining it), it's worth keeping your attention for the build-up to the final act. Without giving away too much, I think it's fair to say that Remedy have kept to their reputation of leaving an ending that leaves you hungry for more. And with a sequel already announced to be in the works, hopefully we won't have to wait too long to be sated.

3 stars

See also:

Exclusive: Oskari Häkkinen on Alan Wake, online gaming, Twilight Zone

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