Alan Wake's American Nightmare CES 2012 Hands-On Preview -- Wakey WakeyBy Jonathan Deesing - Posted Jan 12, 2012
I’ve never been a fan of cookie cutter sequels; the games that try to maintain as much of their fanbase as possible by changing as little as possible. Luckily, the masterminds at Remedy Entertainment aren’t big fans of the status quo either. Their upcoming title, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare not only represents a drastic shift in the tone of the game, but will also now be a downloadable title available on the XBLA.
Oskari “Ozz” Häkkinen, head of franchise development, explained that the team at Remedy wanted to respond to social media feedback with a game that would fulfill everyone’s wants. This meant more action and stronger enemies. In the process of creating more difficult levels and enemies, the team began an impromptu leaderboard in the office that immediately became highly competitive. It was this that eventually led them to decide that if they were having so much fun trying to survive while shooting shadows, everyone else might like it too.
Zed’s Dead Baby
Thus, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was born. Nightmare takes place as an episode of Night Springs, Remedy’s version of The Twilight Zone. Early on in his career, Alan Wake penned episodes of Night Springs, and yes—you guessed it—now he’s trapped in one of his own stories. Following the events of the first game, the people of sleepy Bright Falls began spreading urban legends about what really happened with Wake and his wife Alice. They believe Wake killed his wife, and so now he has to fight to save her from an evil version of himself generated by the legend—Mr. Scratch.
The key word here, Häkkinen told me, is “pulp.” Because it’s a different medium—a campy TV show instead of one of Wake’s novels—Nightmare is less Stephen King’s The Mist and more Rodriguez' From Dusk Till Dawn. But you could have probably guessed that by just seeing Mr. Wake proudly holding a nail gun on the cover. Drawing from traditional American pulp and science fiction, Nightmare promises to offer an entirely unique experience.
From Dusk Till Ten Minutes Before Dawn
Nightmare’s real strengths lie in its arcade action mode, or Survival Mode. In this mode, players have 10 minutes until dawn—and safety—to survive an onslaught of shadowy monsters on one of five different maps. It’s pretty straightforward; don’t die, collect items, and keep moving. There’s also a multiplier for dodging enemies, which deviously tempts players to get closer to enemies than necessary. For the more unbalanced Alan Wake fans out there, there’s an insanely hard difficulty called “Nightmare Mode” which cranks up the baddies to 11 and never lets off.
For fans of Alan Wake, the gameplay will feel comfortably familiar. Save a few minor adjustments—such as better visuals that provide better feedback of when enemies’ shadow shields are down—Nightmare’s controls are just about the same as before, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
I was able to check out two of the Survival Mode maps; one in a graveyard and the other in what looks like an old Western ghost town. The ghost town was new and offered some awesome strategies. Smack dab in the middle of the level is a gallows that offers a tactical height advantage, but offers the risk of getting surrounded. Running off into the side roads and alleys is the only way to find ammo and flares, but it too presents the problem of getting cut off.
This brings us to the new enemies. Remedy has gotten creative with their shadowy ghouls, and during just these two levels I saw a number of the new monsters sure to spook even the most sound of mind. The Spliter—predictably—splits in two every time it’s hit with your beam of light, forcing you to kill it off quickly or risk being overwhelmed. The Grenadier is the first Alan Wake enemy to actually run away from the player, throwing shadowy grenades behind him. There is also a massive monster of a man carrying a buzz saw while seemingly taking no damage. And as dawn approached in the ghost town, a creature who split into a flock of deadly black birds haunted me restlessly.
On a crowded showroom floor at CES I completely lost myself in this game mode. It was nerve-racking, fast paced, and relentless. The only comparison I can think of is battling through level 50 on Gears of War’s Horde Mode…every damn level, every time, for ten minutes. In the dark.
With Bated Breath
Much of the future of the Alan Wake franchise is riding on Nightmare. As Häkkinen explained, it’s something new and the team is trying to please fans. But if it turns out that gamers want more of the same, they’ll definitely take a step back and pick up back with the old storyline. However, if fans take a liking to American Nightmare, there is really no telling how far Alan Wake can go.
Because Wake is a fiction writer chronically trapped in his own stories, the possibilities for game plots and environments are endless. I mean, Stephen King once wrote a story about a crab man who ate grass for god’s sake. Either way, Häkkinen assured me that they have the bigger picture of Alan Wake mapped out, and they’re going to tell the story one way or another. And I for one can’t wait to hear/play/see it when they do.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare launches next month during XBLA’s House Party, promotional event which kicks off on February 15. No price has been set yet, but you can expect it to cost around 1600 Microsoft Points, or $15.