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Publisher: Microsoft Studios  Developer: Remedy Entertainment  Genre: Third-person shooter

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade  Multiplayer: Online Leaderboards  ESRB: T  PEGI: 18

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is satisfying fan service, but not much more. Developed by Remedy Entertainment and currently available only on Xbox Live Arcade, American Nightmare is a stand-alone entry separate from the original’s main storyline.

Despite being a download-only title, it still plays much like the original full retail Alan Wake. It’s still loosely a third-person shooter/adventure, and maintains that players have to utilize light sources to defeat enemies known as the “Taken.” The left bumper retains its function as the dodge button, only now the timing to properly utilize it is less forgiving.

American Nightmare’s largest change to the formula is its refined combat mechanics. The Taken are much more aggressive than before, but protagonist Alan Wake can now move faster, sprint for much longer lengths, and dodge much more efficiently. If enemies are flanking him from off screen, he’ll now turn his head in their direction to give players a heads up.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

The new setting also complements the change of pace. Players no longer have to worry about finding enemies in Bright Falls’ thick forest. Instead they’ll be gunning them down in the open landscapes of (the fictional town) Night Springs, Arizona. All of these fine-tuned mechanics and elements are a step in the right direction for the series.

The problem is that as much as the combat has improved, it still isn’t strong enough to hold the entire game up. Players will navigate through the same three environments multiple times, basically re-enacting the first third of the game with minor changes each time. It’s all justified within the context of the story, but is ultimately a mere checklist of tasks for players to repeatedly complete.

American Nightmare debuts a new game type known as “Arcade Action Mode.” It’s essentially a basic wave defense game, wherein waves of Taken come after Alan for 10 minutes. Pages collected throughout story mode unlock better weapons, and a chaining system rewards players with point multipliers for consecutively dodging and killing enemies without taking damage. If players score high enough, they’ll unlock more maps. In total there are 5 maps, each of which has a much more difficult “Nightmare Mode” version.

However arcade action mode’s fun is short-lived. It’s fun to experiment with the new weapons and enemies in the sandbox-style maps, but the game type is just too simple to keep anyone but hardcore leaderboard competitors playing.

Unfortunately with all of its improvements, American Nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. The game serves as a testing ground for Remedy’s new ideas, and while they’re all good improvements, the whole package feels less like a downloadable game and more like downloadable content. The episodic format may not be a good approach to the series after all. Hardcore fans that have been craving more will be satisfied with this entry and its story, but newcomers should see how they like the original Alan Wake first.