Alan is a multi-tasker, and as any man knows, problems soon arise when the brain is taxed beyond the realms of "play game, scratch arse." Somewhat appropriately, you'll meet Mr Scratch throughout the game's four-hour runtime. He is the darkness to Alan's light, a conflict that forms American Nightmare's main premise. In true doppelgänger style, Mr Scratch represents a crazier, more up-for-a-laugh Alan, whose humour mostly revolves around the brutal mutilation of tortured victims. What a card!
Mr Scratch's appearances are sporadic, and he's never significantly developed as a villain. He goads Alan via a number of pre-recorded tapes, but after the first execution, his antics become less shocking. Each message drones on for far too long, failing to effectively place the character within the plot.
For all of your antagonist's cocksure taunts, the oddest anomaly I witnessed was Alan's checked shirt getting caught by a gust of wind whilst indoors. This extra-terrestrial movement didn't only steer my attention away from the television, it lead me to a test of extreme dissection. What does the black and white pattern mean? Is this a metaphor for Alan's inner conflict? Does he support Newcastle United? Did he once tirelessly campaign against apartheid? Basically, I wasn't hooked by the on-screen action; Mr Scratch's interludes are far too predictable, and never provide a full explanation for his motives in the game.
The lack of clarity throughout Alan Wake's American Nightmare isn't helped by the protagonist's charismatic meltdown. He still feels the need to point obvious things out, and reads from each of the 53 collectible manuscripts with a lifelessness that's infectious. I found myself dreaming of Nathan Drake and Keanu Reeves, only to snap back to reality with a conglomeration of the two staring back at me. His movements are equally as perplexing, as he seemingly has some kind of twitch we haven't been made aware of. Alan's chin disappears into his neck, his head jaunts at oblique angles, and when he runs it's as if he's a child trying on his first pair of 'smart' shoes.
As frustratingly vanilla as this game becomes, there are genuine moments of interest. The darkness often shows itself as a poltergeist, flinging cars and diner signs around with great efficiency. Towards the conclusion, a stint of ripped-jeans rock plays over each battle, offering a breath of fresh air for a quest that drowned a long time before.
Away from the main campaign, a Fight Till Dawn survival mode places you in 10-minute challenges to outlive dusk. A co-op element would have been nice, but the arcadey addition does manage to squeeze some more playability out of the 1200 Microsoft Point title.
Whilst ambitious, the promise in Alan Wake's American Nightmare never materialises. The elementary combat system is entertaining, but ultimately overshadowed by a hopelessly contrived plot. Mr Scratch's presence could have been something special, and it's regrettable that his performance is throwaway. As with the rest of the game, a lack of cohesion and clear thought from Remedy ensures American Nightmare feels like a missed opportunity. The time-loop experiment is an intriguing idea, but restricts the game's design. Alan's Wake's first spin-off never manages to outshine the intricate nature of his original outing, and the author has lost sight of the game's dominant genre.