When Remedy first announced that they were working on a downloadable Alan Wake title I experience a dizzying blend of confusion and excitement. Remedy said it wasn't Alan Wake 2 but that it would somehow continue the story. "How can something that continues a narrative not constitute a sequel?" I thought while still being grateful for more of my favorite fictional writer.
At the time all I wanted was a fully fledged follow-up, and I still do, but I'm very happy that the answer to Remedy's initial riddle turned out to be more of what made Alan Wake so great.
American Nightmare isn't the first bite-sized version of a full-sized game. Before Dead Rising 2 there was Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, a downloadable game set before the events of the sequel. Selling at a five dollar price point, Case Zero was a huge success for Capcom. It stands as proof that the multi-million dollar projects can be boiled down to their essentials and succeed in a downloadable space.
As far as quality goes (sales numbers have yet to be revealed) American Nightmare is also a success. It captures most of what made its predecessor special, with some understandable yet still unfortunate sacrifice. Remedy manages to serve up a twisting plot and entertaining FMV while diversifying the combat that some said grew stale near the end of the original Alan Wake.
If there is one complaint that stands out among critics, it's the recycling of areas, an justifiable qualm, and one that seems almost inevitable due to the format and file size constraints of XBLA titles.
There were fears that there wouldn't be an Alan Wake 2 based on the weak initial sales of the original. With this game, Remedy seems to be putting those fears to bed (they even include a message at the end of the credits similar to the end of the original game's: Alan Wake's journey through the night will continue). American Nightmare feels like an interim project, a snack to whet the appetite for the sequel to come.
Will other developers follow suit with this model? It seems unlikely. Most developers these days are focused on huge projects that last years and have budget enough to put a man on the moon. There also seems to be no fine line between success and failure when discussing projects of these sizes. Either they sell millions of copies or disappear into obscurity, Bulletstorm being a (sadly) perfect example of this kind of failure. It's hard to say what makes Remedy so special in this sense, but their devotion to the franchise and their fans most likely has something to do with it.
With the release of American Nightmare on XBLA and the original Alan Wake recouping its development costs for PC in forty-eight hours, it seems that the tortured writer truly has returned from the dark place.