At first, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, seemed like a game with a story made up of a mix of clichés, with an above average gameplay resulting from its memorable game mechanics. However, after the initial couple of hours or so, from between the cracks of the clichés, truly well thought out, rare ideas emerged. There weren’t a lot of them and there weren’t taken all the way, but it’s nice to see them manifest themselves in the realm of popular culture, where even things that are presented as being exceedingly smart are, more often than not, just pretending to be, lacking actual depth or novelty.
The elements employed in the telling of the story are also promising, at least at first sight, however, some of them fall short of realising their full potential. The repetitive structure of the story created an initial reaction of disappointment, but later turned into a positive experience and proved itself to be pretty well implemented. The Mr. Scratch live action cut-scenes are a good idea on paper, but what’s actually in the game feels more like an initial rehearsal than the final product; they fail to convey the evil nature of the character, although they try to, they even become boring at times. Also the idea of narrated manuscript pages is a good one, particularly given the thought behind them, they’re a motivator and a weapon for the character to escape the darkness; however, at times they seem more like caricatures of good writing than actual good writing, because whoever actually wrote them was probably trying too hard to convey through them the idea that the main character of the game is, has to be, a writer. Another element that probably sounded promising, was borrowing the technique from the classic TV shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, of beginning and ending each episode, or chapter, in the case of the game, with narration. Unfortunately, instead of adding to the suspense and the overall feel of dread, they tended to get you out of the fiction because of their sub-par interpretation, that came across as fake more often than not. However, I guess even the existence of such elements is quite rare in video games.
But ultimately, the lasting impression comes from the gameplay. There’s originality in the design of the enemies, they feel well-balanced and the game is never too easy, but what makes it unique is the light plus bullets mechanic that really makes for an engaging combat system. Graphically the game’s not spectacular, however it looks pretty good for a two-year old game and the character animations in particular feel natural, with a lot of small touches that add up for a noticeable overall effect. The exception to this, are the lack of character facial expressions during the dialogues that feature in the cut-scenes; but I guess that’s harder to notice, given that proper lip-sink and facial acting from video game characters is still quite rare.
Despite the shortcomings in its finish, the game left a positive impression upon completion. Mainly because of its unique elements, its well implemented shooting mechanics, that came with a twist, the well designed and balanced enemies and the story that tried to say something rarely seen or heard in pop-culture. Overall, the developer of the game, Remedy Entertainment, is commendable for what it tried to achieve.