Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review: Alan Wake's American Nightmare (PC)

Alan Wake is a writer. Trapped as he is in some kind of nightmarish other place, his only weapon is his writing ability, his gun skills and ability to reload a flash light battery in a half-second. Terrors made terrible through the power of his own imagination, he fights without end in an endless looping homage to The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, and LOST. And possibly the Roswell Incident of 1947.

That's really the pointy end of the stick of Alan Wake's American Nightmare. It's everything and its own thing all at once and it pulls this trick where I'm constantly over-thinking everything; trying to sort out the storyline where it doesn't need sorting; trying to explain things that aren't explained.

American Nightmare's story is weird, leave it at that.

Really, all the game is demanding of me is to burn off the shadows of the Taken with my flashlight then blow them to Hell with my nail gun or shotgun or carbine. The craziness of the story and seemingly random turns introduced by a Rod Serling sound-alike, are just extra, like the pages of the story that are strewn around (in-game) to help fill in the gaps of what is happening.

The fact American Nightmare plays on my brain so much is interesting given the fact the Xbox 360 version, when it came out months ago, grabbed my attention for longer than it probably should have. It should have ran its course by now. But replaying the game makes me appreciate it more.

The story beats haven't changed with the PC version, but the controls (obviously) have. With a mouse and keyboard, encounters that slowed me down or presented any kind of challenge became easy hurdles to clear after the sensitivity of the mouse movement was learned. This made the Arcade mode -- where Alan squares off against wave after wave of enemies -- an attraction rather than something to try once or twice and forget about. Being able to snap the view around so quickly makes all the difference as it eliminates enemies easily flanking Alan just off-screen to swing an axe into his spine.

And it's strange to say it, but pressing TAB to shift the view from left shoulder to right shoulder is pretty awesome. The Xbox 360 version featured some kind of "director" that dynamically shifted the view depending on how players were proceeding, but being able to slip it to the side when it was warranted was a good acknowledgement that there are more buttons available and the shifting didn't need to be left up to chance.

As a standalone "episode" of Alan Wake, American Nightmare is something PC gamers should be checking out, particularly if the craziness of it appeals to you. For $15 there's really no excuse; and if it ever goes on sale, the trigger on this purchase should be pulled without hesitation. Just be sure you're sitting in a well-lit room and wearing flannel at the time.
Alienware M18x

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Great setting and rollicking story
- Has some really funny moments
- Leaves an impression
- Accuracy is much improved over the 360 version

The Bad:
- Over thinking everything will leave many questions unexplained
- Better aim doesn't mean that the combat isn't relatively one-dimensional

Score: 8.5 / 10