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Games of 2012: Alan Wake's American Nightmare

Troubled writer returns on Xbox Live Arcade...

Alan Wake was a thriller set in the woods of the American northwest, inspired by Lost, Twin Peaks and Stephen King. Two years on, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is an all-action bloodbath in the Arizona desert, inspired by From Dusk 'Til Dawn, urban legends, and The Twilight Zone. How's that for a twist you never saw coming?

"After we were done with Alan Wake, our team started improving the engine and experimenting with ideas that came up during development," says Remedy's head of franchise development, Oskari Häkkinen. "The team started doing wild things - testing ideas they'd been brewing - and we were having fun, so it kept ballooning. Pretty soon we had this adrenaline-fuelled arcade action game with hectic combat and scoreboards, and the team were competing against each other - we kept adding to it and it kept getting better. Before long it started looking like a perfect fit for Live Arcade."

This feature is taken from the latest issues of PSM3 and Xbox World. Order them here and have them delivered straight to your door

But American Nightmare is the game nobody demanded - Alan Wake by way of Smash TV and Gears of War's Horde mode. If Wake was going to be in an arcade shooter, he'd need a good excuse to be there. "So, of course we went and added a story mode to it," says Häkkinen. "That's kinda our thing."

Including the two-part Signal DLC, the first game's story has eight 'episodes' - American Nightmare is episode nine, and perhaps a bridge between seasons one and two of Alan's episodic story. American Nightmare's campaign is Wake's equivalent of a Doctor Who Christmas special, with a higher bodycount, more blood and a rapid-firing nailgun.

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"In Alan Wake's world there was this TV show like The Twilight Zone, Night Springs," says creative director Sam Lake. "And the story goes that early on in his career, Wake had written several episodes of this show. In the story mode of American Nightmare, you're playing an episode of Night Springs written by Alan Wake himself..."

But that's just the start. After that, things get really weird.

EPISODE NINE

"When Wake disappeared at the end of the first game, a twisted urban legend was born, and it's been told over and over," says Lake.

Following that, Wake's wife Alice returned to civilisation but Wake stayed trapped in the Dark Place beneath Cauldron Lake, trying to write himself to freedom. In his absence, fans of the missing writer re-imagined his disappearance as a cover-up for something more sinister - "And in Wake's world," says Lake, "Fiction has a habit of coming true."

The legend goes that Wake disappeared into the woods and returned as Mr Scratch - a serial killer made real by the Dark Place in Cauldron Lake. "It's that classic idea of a boogieman," says Lake.
"Repeat his name too many times and you invoke him. Mr. Scratch is headed west towards Wake's wife, and Wake is following him across Arizona towards the town of Night Springs. All the way Scratch is taunting Wake, leaving him videos of his horrifying deeds.

In Wake's world, fiction has a habit of coming true

"But Wake has learned a lot since we last saw him. He can rewrite reality with his words and that becomes something of a puzzle in the game. The question is: is this episode of Night Springs really happening, or is this a fiction created by Wake in an attempt to escape from the darkness? Wake isn't even the narrator in this piece; we use the iconic Night Springs narrator through the whole game.

"In any case," says Lake, "it's clear time has passed in the real world. If you explore Night Springs and pay attention to conversations, the new manuscript pages, TVs and radios, you learn what Wake's wife has been doing since her husband disappeared, and find out what Wake's friend and agent, Barry, has been up to.

"Anyone can jump on board and enjoy the Arcade mode even if they've never played Alan Wake, but for the fans there's a huge amount of content that will be immediately familiar, content that drives the story forward."

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