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Monday, 12 March 2012

Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a sequel



First off, let me just say the quantity of reviewers who've published articles on Alan Wake's American Nightmare and have no idea what they're talking about is astonishing. In almost every article I've read, American Nightmare is described as being a 'spin-off and not a direct continuation of the narrative in the original game.' Others have made direct complaints about 'wanting to see what happened to Alan Wake after the conclusion of the first game' and feeling disappointed that the new game was unrelated. For anyone who's actually paid attention, this is simply not true.

I'll attempt to explain this in spoiler-less fashion, as the story of the original Alan Wake is fantastic and I highly recommend playing it through if you haven't already, particularly if you're a fan of survival horror or the works of such writers as Stephen King. The narrative of the original game ends with a measure of resolution in that Alan has won the battle against the dark presence, but not without sacrifice. Two special DLC episodes, The Signal and The Writer, were released shortly after to directly continue this core storyline, with Alan trapped in the dark place (under the lake apparently) and the true influence of his writing skill allowing him to begin shaping the world around him. The conclusion of the second DLC is a tense cliffhanger. Alan finds his Doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, and begins writing a new story called 'The Return' on his typewriter in order to literally write himself out of the horrific scenario of Bright Falls. Most gamers assumed at this point that Remedy would release a third DLC called 'The Return' to wrap up the story entirely, and to show how Alan Wake would go on to escape from the dark place. The role of Mr. Scratch - the cynical and self destructive copy of the titular character - was at that point uncertain.



In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, Night Springs is the place in which Wake finds himself after writing his way out of Bright Falls. Evidence to support this theory? Read on.
Firstly, and most obviously, Mr. Scratch - Alan Wake's identical but evil twin, spawned at the conclusion of The Writer DLC - is the primary villain in American Nightmare, wreaking havoc everywhere he goes and leaving Wake cryptic messages via TVs throughout the game's 3 distinct areas. If you played The Writer DLC, then you'll remember that possessed television sets spouting insanity were the order of business, but this time Mr. Scratch has gained full control of his maniacal personality and the messages come through fast and clear. Direct story continuation? Check.
Also, at the very start of American Nightmare, as Alan regains consciousness following the opening live-action video cut scene, look to your right. You'll see the cabin from Cauldron Lake slowly slipping beneath the water as a last reminder of the reality that was Bright Falls. This is the stepping point between The Writer DLC and American Nightmare, as Wake writes himself into the new story we see a glimpse of what's left from his last manuscript.
Thirdly, if you simply play through, collect and actually read the manuscripts dotted about the 3 areas of the new game, then it's clearly explained on a number of occasions that Wake is still trying to reach Claire and events in Bright Falls are referenced many times - both written and in dialogue - as having previously occurred. I can't believe that, after all the reviews I've read, I seem to be the only one to have come to this conclusion.

Despite popular belief, American Nightmare is effectively Alan Wake 2, slimmed down for an Xbox Live Arcade release and written in such a way that newcomers won't feel lost without an existing knowledge of the franchise. But for those who are paying attention, details confirming its status as a sequel to the original game are clearly there. One possible reason that so many reviewers are describing the game so erroneously is that they simply haven't played The Signal and The Writer DLC. Without that additional content to bridge the gap between AW and American Nightmare, I can see why someone might come to such a misleading conclusion.



So to anyone reading this rather than any of the mainstream articles on high profile gaming sites, American Nightmare is definitely worth getting. It plays very similarly to the original title, and there are a number of subtle improvements here and there. A broader range of weapons creates a fast paced and action oriented atmosphere when compared to its predecessor, and the change of setting to Arizona is welcomed after many hours spent trawling through mountains and forests. There is more of an emphasis on free roaming in each of the three game areas, and an arcade survival mode with numerous maps makes for a welcome and enjoyable addition. Overall, it might feel slightly lightweight when compared to a full retail title, but it's probably the best game available on the Xbox Live Arcade at present.
But most importantly, American Nightmare continues where we left off in Alan Wake: The Writer, and such a finely written story deserves to be followed to its conclusion.

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