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Ben Hornsby Ben Hornsby
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'Alan Wake's American Nightmare' is pretty much a nightmare

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'Alan Wake's American Nightmare' is about escaping meaningless fires to pop songs. It's not as cool as it sounds. Limp-wristed QTEs get in between you and the switches you need to hit; every time you pick up a plot-related item it will leave its watermark on the corner of your screen until you figure out how to use it; there is always at least 10 times the ammunition you could ever need scattered about your immediate vicinity. These and other face-against-wall ideas are scattered all throughout this little game like tiny, chewy raisins in an otherwise just-OK bagel or surprise walnuts in what you already thought was a too-cakey brownie.

Alan finds himself wandering around a dreamlike ghost town where his own personal Dark Tobey Maguire is wreaking havoc on the local townspeople (three women). Alan tries to save them, fails and gets returned to the beginning of the game to try again. Things change each time - the dumb women Alan is trying to help start to get a clue - until Alan ultimately, uh, does whatever. On the way you'll get to experience the revolutionary game mechanics of Pistol, Shotgun, Grenade, and Third-Person Shoot. To be fair, another major mechanic is that you have to blast enemies with your battery-draining flashlight before they're vulnerable to traditional gunfire, and this is almost cool. Except! You're constantly equipped with enough batteries and backup flares to stop an army of shadow-zombies dead in its tracks at any moment.

There's a weird disconnect in the production values between this Xbox Live Arcade release and the full $60 disc that it's a pseudo-sequel to. Character models are weirdly stiff, the voice acting is wretched and the writing is even worse. (Upon entering a dark, scary cave: 'Well, this should be perfectly safe.' Haha! Good one, Alan!) The game's second- or third-biggest gimmicks are the sporadic live-action scenes that move the story along. These mostly involve an actor playing Alan - basically the Whitest, Mannest guy you could imagine - standing in some CGI mist and anxiously pointing a gun in various directions. There are also TV sets scattered about the world, all of which play episodes of Dark Tobey Maguire's live-action hotel room webcam show. These make a blatant grab at a very specific kind of movie-villain creepiness; Dark Tobey prances around his hotel room, whistling, knife in hand, making silly gestures towards the camera as the muffled cries of his bound victim are heard off-screen. Even if all you've ever seen is 'American Psycho,' it's pretty boring.

And worst of all is the skin-crawly save-the-women subtext. You get the feeling that the three townswomen Alan helps might well be listed in the voice-acting credits as Blonde, Brunette and Redhead. There's a lot of 'You'll be safe - as long as you follow my orders' kind of stuff. And that Redhead! She expresses some sexual interest in Alan, so obviously she's possessed by evil. ('You've got darkness on the brain, lady.') Don't worry; Alan gets the lights turned on and cleans that slut right up.

Also, yeah, I have no idea why this thing is called 'Alan Wake's American Nightmare.' It smells like one of those slimy focus-test word-globs. This game has nothing to do with America, and even the nightmare part is a stretch.

(Well, OK, all the television is embarrassing and an insidiously subtle misogyny permeates the entire experience.)

(OK, whoa, maybe this game is genius.) 

zero stars (out of four)

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