I'm probably half asleep and nowhere near coherent at this moment in time, so I'm going to just apologize for that right off the bat. Earlier this week I downloaded Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Eventually, since this blog is new and I've got so many games I'd love to discuss with you all, I'll get around to talking about how much I loved that game. I'm also going to say there may be minor spoilers involved in the discussion of this game, most specifically toward the end. I generally try to avoid them, but talking about what I'd eventually like to get to go it makes them a sort of inevitability.
There is something in Alan Wake games that is about creativity and shaping the world around you with words. For someone who spent her childhood writing strange short stories and one strange summer between junior high and high school writing an embarrassing almost novel, seeing this play out in a video game is incredibly fulfilling. This standalone Xbox Arcade game is actually incredibly fulfilling.
You don't HAVE to have played the first game to understand it - though I'm still going to recommend it. Love or hate Alan Wake it does something that very few games, especially in the survival horror genre, even attempt these days.
This game follows Alan Wake and his battle with a terrifying alter ego Mr. Scratch. The easiest way to describe this game's villain is to make a comparison to the Joker from Batman. He is rampant unchained id. At turns he is charming, funny, sexy, and the sort of girl that mothers warn their daughters to avoid at all costs. And then he turns into Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Though I've never found the Alan Wake games particularly violent, there is something about the implied offscreen violence of Mr. Scratch that is truly disturbing. In a world where we show every drop of blood, every slice of the knife, every bullet exploding through a human body followed by a ballet of viscera, this is the equivalent of the the shower scene in Psycho. And it serves to be terrifying. Just listening to him describe the pros and cons of each weapon, the things he plans on doing to destroy Alan Wake's loved ones, my skin crawled. It's a truly admirable feat.
The only thing that got me feeling a little squicky about the game was the treatment of a particular female character. Alan Wake's American Nightmare is filled with damsels in distress, ladies to be saved from dark and terrifying fates. This isn't surprising considering that Alan Wake revolved around saving Alan's wife Alice.
In American Nightmare, Alan encounters three new female characters. A tough female mechanic, a scientist, and a projectionist/curator of the new Alice Wake film project that is going to be shown in town. Each of these characters encounters Mr. Scratch and confuses Alan with him initially. They each have their particular feelings about him. The first two characters are treated with a deal of respect. They are competent and helpful and without them Alan might well be stuck forever.
And then you get to the projectionist Serena Valdivia. Your first introduction to her is hearing her speaking in a seductive voice before you even enter the building. And your first encounter with her isn't too bad. You get the lights restored, she stops acting like a mindless sexual fantasy, and tells Alan about how creepy and disgusting she finds Mr. Scratch. How something about him just feels wrong. Like the Taken in both of the games, you get the feeling that she was possessed by the darkness and not really herself. The lights come on, she's a little dazed, but she is at least a human being again.
It doesn't get truly disturbing until the third time you have to deal Serena. From outside the building, you can once again hear her seductively yowling. There is something reminiscent of the insistent pleading screeches of a cat in heat. This third time her rampant sexual distraction is turned up to eleven. Alan enters the building and there is a cut scene where she says, "You could hold me down, I know you like that. Or I could be your wife, little wifey waiting for hubby, or you could be the mailman or the neighbor." Alan, ever the hero and still in love with his wife, politely turns her down.
I couldn't help my brain from going to the rape/incapable of consent place that clearly had to have occurred before the scene with Alan. As the player sees time and time again, Mr. Scratch is pretty much a deplorable sociopath. But he's also portrayed as the charming sort of guy who could get a girl out of her pants with a wink and a smile. When Alan persists in being single minded in his task, she says, "But I want to be nasty. I want to be nasty with you." After the disgust from before, this just felt weird and awkwardly wrong to me. Why take a game that has been pretty decent in its treatment of female characters and then turn one of the characters into a mindless sex toy? My opinion may change once I replay Alan Wake, but it seems strange that this is the first time we see a female possessed by the darkness and instead of becoming one of the Taken - who are all male in both games - she becomes a brainless succubus.
Having devoted three paragraphs to this, I still have to say that despite the squick factor I enjoyed the game. The story mode plays through pretty quickly and leaves the player with a feeling of resolution. It's a world we're assured that we'll be revisiting again as Alan's story isn't quit over. The addition of an arcade mode in which Alan must survive for ten minutes against wave after wave of Taken on a variety of maps is pretty satisfying and has easily sucked up a few hours of my life.
As a whole, I'd recommend it. It's worth the price and attempting to score over 50,000 points on any of the arcade maps can keep the player occupied for enough time that he feels he gets an experience worth the fifteen dollars they are charging for it.