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Latest Alan Wake more mildly disturbing daydream than nightmare

An image from Alan Wake's American Nightmare, a new action horror adventure game available through Xbox Live Arcade


Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake never received its proper due.

It was a wonderfully creepy action/horror adventure set in a sleepy mountain town about a pulp novelist whose writings transformed reality. To save his wife, our titular hero was forced to pen himself a nightmarish existence in which he found himself fighting creatures of the dark with flashlights and flare guns. It felt like an interactive amalgam of Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone, and vintage Stephen King.

Alas, it launched in the late spring of 2010 on the same day as Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, a monster of a game the unexpectedly enormous sales of which crushed the hopes of several smaller games released in its wake. This ill-timed arrival effectively doomed the Finnish-made Alan Wake to cultish obscurity.

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Still, it left an indelible mark on many of those who did manage to find it, including me.

Its episodic, lightly Lynchian story included everything from quaint townsfolk caricatures to an aging and reclusive hard rock band that took on the personas of (and perhaps even were) Norse gods. Plus, it turned leading edge lighting effects into an addictive play mechanism where light sources became lifesavers, acting as both weapons and refuge.

These elements return in Alan Wake's American Nightmare, a five-hour mini-sequel available for about $15 through Xbox Live Arcade, but somehow fail to synergize and recapture the magic that made the original game so memorable.

Our champion of light is still stuck in an altered reality of his own making, this time a quiet desert community composed of a motel, an observatory, and a drive-in theatre. These locations are rustic and real, but feel small and unnaturally empty (we meet only three, poorly written secondary characters throughout the game).

It doesn't help that the narrative's primary conceit – a time loop – sees us revisiting each location and redoing the same tasks multiple times, or that the reason for this circular trap's existence – not to mention its jarring resolution – are never adequately explained.

What does still work, however, is the action.

Running through the darkness frantically searching for sanctuaries of light remains a wonderfully terrifying experience. Or at least it does during our first trip through the time loop. After that we know where everything is, making the journey feel routine rather than exciting.

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And the game's unique combat system is just as clever and engaging as ever. The two-step strategy of ridding our enemies of the darkness possessing them with a burst of light and then filling them full of lead – and tapping a button to perform the occasional graceful slow-motion dodge when they get too close – is fun, challenging, and sometimes genuinely cinematic. It's what kept me playing, even after the time loop put things on repeat.

But it may not be enough for those not already enchanted by the original game. If you, like most, were too dazzled by Rockstar's oater a couple of summers ago to notice Alan Wake, give it a go now. It remains a weird and spooky delight, and can be found for around $20 – a great value for one of Xbox 360's most original and entertaining games.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Publisher: Starbreeze Studios

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Release: February 22, 2012

ESRB: Mature

Score: 6/10

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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