Alan Wake's American Nightmare Review

Night springs eternal in this enjoyable yet uneven non-sequel.

2010's Alan Wake was a pleasant surprise for players looking for a scare, in part because it delivered thrills and chills without falling into the typical survival horror mold. Sure, it had its share of axe-wielding maniacs and more darkness than you could shake a flashlight at, but the game succeeded because it eschewed jump-scares and horrific imagery in favor of a quieter, smarter brand of terror. Now, the story of Alan Wake continues, sort of. Alan Wake's American Nightmare isn't the full-fledged sequel fans may be yearning for, but it is an enjoyable return to the troubled world of the titular writer, where fact and fiction are often impossible to distinguish.

Bear in mind that this is not a direct continuation of the original Alan Wake. Instead, American Nightmare is presented as a stand-alone episode of the franchise's famed Night Springs TV show--an episode that just happens to star the estimable Mr. Wake. In the show, Alan is cast as the champion of light who must find a way to defeat his dark doppelganger, the nefarious Mr. Scratch. Although it's fun to see these two jawing at each other, you may find yourself wishing that all of this conflict was building toward something directly related to the core narrative of the series.

While Alan Wake featured plenty of exposition and explanation right off the bat, American Nightmare thrusts you into the action with little in the way of either. Although there's a Rod Serling-esque narrator that occasionally chimes in to push the story along (albeit slightly), even diehard Alan Wake fans may feel a bit lost for the first 30 minutes or so. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because part of the game's charm lies in slowly unraveling the narrative via the still-important manuscript pages and the occasional discussion with the three living women that you meet. The proceedings get a bit less murky as you progress, especially after it's revealed that you'll be exploring the same three areas multiple times throughout the course of the game.

Can you believe this place got 4 stars on HotWire?

Though going back to the same locales again and again may sound gimmicky, it's actually handled deftly from a narrative perspective, which prevents it from feeling like a crutch used to artificially extend the length of the game. It's a good thing the gimmick works as well as it does because most of the game revolves around simple fetch quests that would have been downright boring if repeated in full over and over. It also doesn't help matters that the wide-open Arizona environments aren't as conducive to tension as the dense, shrouded Washington woods that helped set the tone of the first game.

Alas, while American Nightmare is technically a stand-alone story, those unfamiliar with the underlying mythology and backstory of the series won't get nearly as much satisfaction out of it as those who completed the first game. It's a shame because a simple "Previously on Alan Wake" video could have provided the necessary details to get the uninitiated up to speed, and the lack of such details is an especially glaring oversight given the first game's episodic structure. A number of references are made to the characters populating the first game's world, and quasi-appearances are made by Alan's agent Barry Wheeler, as well as the washed-up metal band Old Gods of Asgard. Although American Nightmare can be enjoyed by anyone, a history with the franchise helps to make it a more enjoyable ride.

As was the case with Alan Wake, the writing in American Nightmare is very strong, particularly if you take the time to search for and read the 50-plus manuscript pages scattered about the world. The tone of the game is much lighter than the original's, especially when conversing with the aforementioned women in each environment. Alan's "been there, done that, changed reality" attitude is a welcome adjustment to the dour writer that was on display in previous episodes, and a number of self-referential jokes might even make you chuckle. The only issue of contention here is the delivery of some of the lines, which occasionally sound stilted and disjointed. Most of Alan's voice work is solid, but the folks voicing some of the supporting characters sound like they were pulled in off the street.

Proof that you should never order seafood at a diner.

When you're not busy collecting pages or chatting up astrophysicists in short cocktail dresses (yes, really), you find yourself slaying dozens of Taken, which are the enemies protected by a shroud of darkness that must be burned off with Alan's trusty flashlight. The combat remains virtually identical to that of the original game, though there are a number of new enemies that are gradually introduced to keep the action from getting stale. Although the new tanklike enemy is fairly ho-hum, two new foes stand out. One starts out as a lumbering beast before splitting into smaller, more mobile enemies every time Alan's flashlight shines on them; another is comprised entirely of those pesky crows from the first game and is wont to attack from behind if you're not paying attention. Handling these special enemies while dealing with the standard foes adds a needed bit of challenge to the frequent combat sequences.

Unfortunately, the combat in American Nightmare lacks the gut-churning, nerve-wracking intensity found in Alan Wake. This is largely due to the fact that you never even come close to running out of ammo, thanks to a plethora of ammo stations scattered around each of the environments. Part of the allure of the first game was the feeling that you needed every last flare and flashbang at your disposal if you were going to survive, but that's thrown out the window here. As a result of having too much ammo and too many flashlight batteries, you never feel any genuine sense of terror or dread as you easily mow down the waves of enemies thrown at you. Instead, you simply take out a bunch of baddies on your way to your objective before loading up on ammo and repeating the process.

Caution: Men at Work.

However, if mowing down waves of enemies is your thing, you'll be happy to hear that American Nightmare introduces a new Arcade mode. While it might sound odd to have an entire mode dedicated to the occasionally wonky combat of the series, it actually works better here than in the story-driven main game. Although the end goal is simple (survive until dawn while scoring as many points as possible), there's a surprising emphasis on strategic thinking. Because dodging enemy attacks helps boost your multiplier, you must decide whether to kill your foes quickly or get up-close-and-personal to toy with them a bit before finishing them off. In a nice twist, it also pays to play through the campaign before diving into Arcade mode because finding manuscript pages gives you access to better weapons. Arcade mode isn't about to make anyone forget Gears of War 2's superior Horde mode, but it serves as a fun diversion once you're done with the main game.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare is strange in that it straddles the line between traditional DLC and a stand-alone game. While it's not a direct continuation of the original's story, fans of the first game may find some value in reading through as many manuscript pages as possible, though the lack of any real answers may also be frustrating. On the flip side, those new to the franchise might feel lost, thanks to the surprising absence of any backstory or exposition. Still, as was the case with the first game, Alan Wake's American Nightmare manages to overcome some glaring issues, thanks to its strong writing.

Did you enjoy this review?

  • The Good
    Light, self-referential tone
    Entertaining interplay between Alan and Mr. Scratch
    Lots of collectables
    Arcade mode is a lot of fun
    The Bad
    Too much ammo diminishes the challenge and intensity
    No "Previously on Alan Wake..." for new players
    Fetch quests feel like chores
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    Although I became a little bored with the original & didn't finish it, I downloaded this game today simply because it was on offer :) After a fair few hours I'm still enjoying it. It's simple light hearted fun & the graphics are extremely easy on the eye & quite realistic for an arcade game. If you want a break from massively immersive games that take over your life but don't wanna go back to platformers then this is a good bet for the money. Some of the action has been really exiting so far without being too intense. I'd say it's a great game for those times you don't wanna think too much. The 'Alan Wake' style is cheesy yet kind of endearing & I'm glad I decided to get it - kinda makes me wanna give the original another try. The bit of Kasabian worked into the action is a nice touch too, in fact the atmospheric sound in general is very impressive.


    A lot better than the original in some ways, worse in others. Loved the original's tone, but it never felt scary so much as, well, silly. Glad this one realized that.


    This game looks great but also feels short.


    Pretty fine game with light and dark moments. There were things that bothered me (ammo, animation, go there pick that) but also many things that surprised me (darkness graphics, open areas, atmosphere). Alan is still great, and I would give him lesser score, but it's about three times cheaper than the original. So easy 8,0 and for Alan Wake and atmoshperic action lovers it's a must have.


    Great review!


    Thanks, It was a good review from the game. At this time, I can't play American Nightmare but it helps me to remember my 2010 favorite game and wishing to repeat it again.


    This Review is totally wrong. I bought the game and is excellent also have de first one and the history is totally different that the history of the firs game for what do you need Previously on Alan Wake. You will not get recognized putting low reviews.


    Demo was not as enjoyable as I had hoped but most likely still worth a play when the price drops.


    @noturfangirl -- There is no "PC version" of American Nightmare.


    Those still pix above are the pc version. There is no way AW looks that clear and crisp on xbox360


    wow wish this was an actual physical release. I loved the original just hope it eventually comes to disc though that seems unlikely.


    Just played the demo. Gonna get this bad boy soon.


    Is it just me or is Alan Wake sarting to look like that Guy from Evil Dead?


    "Too much ammo diminishes the challenge and intensity" i agree, there was ammo everywhere. You could actually just sit around and wait for the ammo to respawn again and i also notice they dumbed down on the facial expressions but its still a good game and a lot of fun. aahhh and watch them fix all that for us for the PC release with enhanced edition and enhanced graphics. Damn I love being a PC player


    looking back into SP portion of the game. I fell that it needs to step up on difficulty. More frequent random taken encounter with each chapter spawns harder taken, well at least i have a chance to use the all the ammo.


    @shadow580 I've been enlisted in the Angry Joe Army for over 3 years now. ;)


    Mkeegs79 im with you a 7.0 for an arcade game that looks this good?? your right this is gamespot if u had more guns and it was fp mode it get an 8.5 lol


    @boxinghelena It does remind me of Uncharted, because it's feels like you're controlling a movie as you move along.


    Yeah, I could find ammo when I already had nearly all my ammo still. I never ran out of bullets in my weapons even when I cleared an area. A 7 is too low but this is Gamespot so it figures. The site with reviews by jaded gamers.


    7?! it's too low for AW


    this game reminds me and plays alot like Obscure!! 0_o but way better!!


    Just got the last achievement for the game "Poetry In Motion". I did it on Oil Field (nightmare mode). With about 2 minutes left on the clock I got past the 100,000 points mark and the achievement popped up. I still carried on playing and got 116,000 points. I'm ranked no. 3 in the world (gamertag: Prettiest EVER). Was challenging at first but as with all games... the solution lies in experimentation in gameplay.


    @dxBIGBOSSxb you sir speak the truth. All of you people should watch Angry Joe's reviews, found on is webpage and on Youtube. He actually gives realistic ratings, where 5 is considered average and a 7 would be considered a good game.


    @DeeDoubleYou - thanks, I guess I'll just restart it. I wonder what the downvotes were for, it's not like I said the game was bad. I was just wondering if other people encountered this bug and had found a workaround.


    The bad is not bad :)


    @grognard... Yeah I had that happen I tried like 6 times and it would freeze up every time. I'd have to restart my box. I ended up having to restart the game from scratch. Only took about 45 minutes to get through it again since I was able to skip most of the cut-scenes I already watched.


    I think this game was alright not that good as well but just great somehow for me it was kind of short took me a while to complete the game.


    So far I'm loving the game. If you liked the original like I did, you'll probably enjoy this one as well. I agree that since ammo is not really an issue, there's not much of a challenge. The challenge lies more in finding the manuscripts I find. And it's still pretty scary when you get attacked, because sometimes you can't hear them coming from behind as you get attacked from the front.


    Blitzman, its around 5 hours long


    What the... When did Will Tuttle start writing for GS?


    @face_ripper obvious troll is obvious


    How long is the campaign?


    "Too much ammo diminishes the challenge and intensity" i agree, there was ammo everywhere. You could actually just sit around and wait for the ammo to respawn again and i also notice they dumbed down on the facial expressions but its still a good game and a lot of fun.


    People complaining about too much ammo? Now theres a first.


    seriously $15 for a 5-6hrs of SP, added 5 maps for survival mode (2 difficulty modes). Its worth all your penny.


    @dawnofhero: "This game reminds me of Uncharted, but with a completely different setting and gameplay mechanics." So... It doesn't remind you at all of Uncharted?


    This game reminds me of Uncharted, but with a completely different setting and gameplay mechanics. If I had a 360, I'd buy this and the first Alan Wake.


    I got it on launch day and I have to admit, GameSpot is right on with the review. We know it's an arcade game, but there is a lot of things missing. The FIRST thing I noticed was how TERRIBLE the voice overs are . . . It's painful to listen to honestly. Too much ammo, not enough terror but that's what Remedy was going for with this game so it's not a downfall, just a fun change. I really enjoyed Alan Wake, and I am enjoying American Nightmare as well, it's different; but for the right reasons. It's not a sequel! It's just some good ol' American fun!


    Has anyone else had this lock-up the second time you go back to the original map and try to talk to that lady again? It keeps doing this to me!


    @Mkeegs79 I might be wrong, but I think they're trying to reinflate the ORIGINAL concept of gaming scores. 10 years ago, you might not believe it, a 5/10 to most games meant it was average to many reviewers. Today we kind of lost touch with our sense of scoring, and a major inflation has saturated the gaming industry making anything below a 9.0 not worth getting. Chances are I'm dead wrong, but it would be nice to be right. Maybe people will actually start buying 7s and above more often, instead of 9.5s and above.


    @face_ripper It's only 1200 MSP.


    Is it just me or does Gamespot really seem jaded considering so many games they have scored less than a 8.0.


    @face_ripper it's only 15$


    @face_ripper Umm... I'm fairly certain it's not $60.


    I want this game, but for the price, I'll probably wait it out...


    I'm going to buy this for sure but I do hope to see a "Alan Wake 2" sometime in the future. Even if we have to wait a few years, rather have that then these Alan wake titles that have nothing to do with the main story.


    I understand its an arcade game, but what i dont understand is that it costs $60. Game devs, not everygame has to cost $60!!


    can't wait to get this.


    PC version please...

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    Alan Wake's American Nightmare More Info

  • First Released
    • PC
    • Xbox 360
    Alan Wake's American Nightmare, Remedy Entertainment's stand-alone digital spin-off for Xbox LIVE Arcade, will include a relentlessly intense arcade mode called Fight till Dawn.
    Average Rating625 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Alan Wake's American Nightmare
    Developed by:
    Remedy Entertainment
    Published by:
    Nordic Games Publishing, Remedy Entertainment, Mastertronic, Microsoft Game Studios
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    All Platforms
    Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence