For all its gloomy aesthetics and creepy storytelling, the original Alan Wake was a deceptively cheeky game. Sure, you spent the bulk of your time wandering through the woods battling terrifying shadow monsters, but let's not forget that epic heavy-metal-and-fireworks stage battle, or pretty much any scene featuring hapless sidekick Barry Wheeler. So it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see that Remedy is taking Wake in a decidedly more outlandish direction with the downloadable spin-off called Alan Wake's American Nightmare.
"In terms of tone, Wake was more Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock," says Remedy CEO Matthias Myllyrinne. "Here we're going for much more of a Quentin Tarantino and From Dusk Till Dawn kind of approach." American Nightmare represents a stylistic shift toward a different subgenre under the horror umbrella: the eccentric world of pulp horror, though the game could also be described as a pop culture melting pot encompassing desert highway urban legends, classic sci-fi, and even a little bit of grindhouse minus that particular genre's propensity for awkward sexual lewdness.
The idea is that Wake is living through an episode of Night Springs, Remedy's tongue-in-cheek nod to The Twilight Zone. The action has moved from the Pacific Northwest to small-town Arizona where Wake not only has to battle even more bizarre and powerful shadow creatures, but also has to chase down a serial killer who just happens to be an evil manifestation of his own self. The latter, cutely enough, is portrayed via in-game television sets that show live-action video of bizarro Alan Wake (called "Mr. Scratch" in the game) taunting you in suitably creepy fashion.
But a new tone isn't the only departure from the original game. "There's a different focus here. If Wake was maybe two-thirds story and one-third action, American Nightmare is two-thirds action and one-third story," says Myllyrinne. "It's really the Remedy team kicking back and having fun."
Of course, that move toward a more action-heavy game does raise one particularly glaring question: wasn't action the weak link in the first game? One of the most common complaints with Alan Wake was that its combat started out strong but failed to evolve in a meaningful way as the game went on.
Myllyrinne, for his part, recognizes that this was a flaw that needed correcting. So what American Nightmare does, according to Remedy's man in charge, is take the core combat of the original game and expand outward from there. The idea of light and darkness still plays a significant role, with Wake weakening enemies with his flashlight before even thinking about firing a weapon.
This time around, however, Remedy is taking advantage of the "exaggerated pulp-action tone" to go wild with enemy designs that present new challenges as the game moves forward. You'll find shadow creatures that split into two or more smaller versions of themselves when shot, a monster who rapidly shape-shifts between a crawling human and a flock of crows (what Myllyrinne calls a "tip of the hat" to fellow Finnish video game property Angry Birds), and more than a few massive saw-wielding creatures who are easily twice as tall as Wake. But in an act of fairness to you, Remedy has included newer, more powerful weaponry that presents interesting strategic options, such as a crossbow that can kill enemies without the need for a flashlight, but it takes forever to reload.
Remedy is so confident in the expanded combat system that it has even included a timed survival mode (what it's calling "arcade action mode") that has Wake trying to survive 10 minutes in a cemetery until daylight arrives. As the name suggests, this mode is all action, giving you a multiplier system and leaderboards to encourage high score runs. But sticking with the game's theme of survival, you still need to be smart with your ammunition because you've got only so much to spare.