2010's Alan Wake
endured a lengthy development cycle which made American Nightmare's release only two years later something of a surprise. Even though it's minuscule compared to its predecessor, it was still billed as a sequel albeit Remedy Entertainment
was insistent that it was not
Alan Wake 2. This saving throw prevents American Nightmare from being a total betrayal of what made the first game so interesting but the faults of American Nightmare are still very apparent nevertheless.
Alan Wake was one of the few games in the post-Resident Evil 4
world that managed to find a decent, although imperfect balance between survival horror and action horror. Supplies were supposed to be limited but the abundance of supplies in certain areas made it easy to stock up. American Nightmare doesn't even try to pretend its survival horror. American Nightmare is instead best described as an action-focused spin-off in the Alan Wake series.
You can see a kernel of a good idea in this approach in the "Arcade Action" mode, which is just a Nazi Zombies/Survive the Horde mode that manages to be genuinely tense and enjoyable with enough variety between maps to keep things fresh. If this was the first thing Remedy designed, I could begin to understand why they adopted this approach for this semi-sequel.
Where everything starts to go wrong is with the story mode. To condense a complicated plot into one iconic sentence; "It's Groundhog's Day!" This means you will be running through the same handful of environments, accomplishing very similar tasks ad nauseam. It's a clear tactic to save money while providing more game but it becomes tiresome in record time. The new action focus doesn't mesh well with the combat of the original which has two too many steps for an action game. The open-world is also a way to give the illusion of content as the actual world has very little in terms of collectibles or things to actually do. The original Alan Wake was linear for a reason as American Nightmare proves that Remedy is at their best when they're providing a more focused, linear experience.
The graphics and art design are still up to Remedy's high standards. Wake's new flannel shirt looks great and the environments are gorgeous. The American Southwest is an underutilized setting and Remedy created a wonderful recreation of it. Detailed buildings, majestic canyons, and one of the best skyboxes in any game made it a visual showcase for the Xbox 360 in its twilight years.
In the sound department, Remedy hits a few rough patches. The studio's infatuation/association with Finnish band, Poets of the Fall
, continues and it fits as well as it does in any Remedy game, as in, it could be worse. In the early 2000s, I fear we would have heard rap rock so I'll take Poets of the Fall. The voice acting is a little clunky at times due to an awkward script but Wake's VA, Matthew Porretta, does a fine job with the material he is given.
For a spin-off to Alan Wake, American Nightmare works a curiosity. As it stands in 2016, it is the only way to quench someone's thirst for more Alan Wake and it unfortunately does a poor job of doing so. A bog-standard 3rd person shooter on its own, its association with a stillborn franchise hurts it more than it helps. Visuals aside, it's too bland for it to really stick out.