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Alan Wake: American Nightmare Hands-on [CES 2012]

While the Microsoft Keynote’s bad taste still hasn’t left my mouth, I did make sure to take time out during CES to head on over to their space on the floor. The primary focus of this year’s booth was to show off the concepts of Windows 8 and how it will integrate throughout all of Microsoft’s products (not unlike the aforementioned keynote). While all of this is certainly interesting, and it will be something to keep an eye on while the Microsoft platform evolves, as it’s certain to affect the gaming marketplace as well, I found myself drawn to the more traditional elements of the Microsoft booth: Their annual showcase of Xbox Live’s House Party.

This year’s House Party features Alan Wake, I Am Alive, Nexuiz, and Warp. I had the opportunity to check out each of the titles, plus Microsoft’s upcoming free version of flight-sim “Flight” while at the booth.

Regular readers of the site already know that I’m a pretty big fan of the Alan Wake ‘franchise’, so, as you might have guessed, it was my first stop on the tour.

The demonstration being provided on the floor of CES was of one of the game’s biggest additions, an arcade mode. Keeping up with the modern trend in gaming to incorporate wave-based defense and survival, Alan Wake’s arcade-mode features a 10 minute survival mode in which the object is to survive until sunrise. Along the way there are points awarded for defending yourself aggressively in the form of kills and combo multipliers. The concept is not a new one, it’s something we’ve seen many times before in that as you kill without taking damage the combo multiplayer increases and thus ups your over-all score.

American Nightmare - Combo

In speaking with one of the representatives from Remedy working on the game it was brought to like that the arcade mode was actually the original concept for Alan Wake’s XBLA debut. The team had built themselves a section of game that revolved around dumping in monsters so they could play with the combat, as it evolved the team decided that the idea was enough fun that it was worth sharing. Eventually it was decided that just the arcade shoot-em-up-survival sub-game was enough, and the concept of bringing Alan Wake on to XBLA with a new chapter in the narrative (via Night Springs) was hammered out, and there you have it.

In our conversation I was able to gleam a little more information about the story-mode of the game, though focus was initially set on to the arcade-mode being demonstrated. The game will take place after the events of the original Alan Wake, fans of the original series may recall that Alan had been blamed for the death of his wife, and as with the previous game fiction in Bright Falls easily becomes reality. Some discussion was had previously on the new antagonist “Mr. Scratch” but now I have a bit better idea of where he comes from. Wake’s murder of his wife has grown in the small community to become somewhat of an urban legend, as the myth takes hold the reality is shifted and eventually creates a ‘dark version’ of Wake in Mr. Scratch, which it is Alan’s job to defeat in order to save his name and clear himself of the murder of his wife.

American Nightmare - Hotel

Personally I was glad to hear that there was going to be this deep of involvement with the original story, considering the amount of times “You don’t have to have played the original Alan Wake” was banded about during my time at Microsoft’s booth. The concept of American Nightmare is of a ‘sub story’ type, in the same way that Batman has had numerous adventures in all manner of genre, Alan Wake has become an opportunity for Remedy to pay homage to a variety of different horror writers. In the first game where were notes of classic Steven King and Twin Peaks. Night Spring lends itself more to action and pulp horror writers such as Quentin Tarantino.

All well and good, but how does that translate into game play?

Well, I have to say, coming in as a bit of a skeptic (I consider myself loyal to the core concepts of the original title); I had a lot of fun with the game’s arcade mode. The idea of the light-based combat is still there, but the focus in American Nightmare (and specifically the arcade mode) is more around the types of weapons that Alan now has access to: Nail guns, shotguns, hand-guns etc. There are also a lot of tweaks to the types of enemies that Alan encounters now. Two new types show in the demo I was guided through were the grenadier, an enemy who keeps its distance and lobs grenades at you, and the splitter, an enemy that actually “feeds” off of light, splitting each time you shine your flashlight on them (reducing the enemies over all power, but increasing its numbers).

Everything in Night Spring’s arcade mode feels a little more fast-paced and frantic than you might remember from the previous game… but without losing the uniqueness of the combat from the original. Light still plays a big part, both in attack and defense, using your flash light will remove shielding around enemies and taking a reprieve under a ‘street lamp’ will replenish health.

American Nightmare - Nail Gun

With everything I’ve seen so far it looks like Remedy's idea of using Alan Wake as vessel to write love letters to some of their favorite horror authors is one that could actually be viable. While American Nightmare may not have the same dark, weighted motif of the original it’s still an interesting and original game that feels like something new. 

Alan Wake: American Nightmare releases as a part of the 2012 XBLA House Party which starts Feburary 15th on Xbox Live.