After the end of the first Alan Wake and its subsequent DLC, as players, we definitely had more questions than answers. And while Alan Wake: American Nightmare, the downloadable sequel to Alan Wake that will be out from Remedy Entertainment sometime in the beginning of 2012, may finally answer some of those questions, I wouldn’t be surprised if true to form, the game only continues to deepen the mystery before us. Of course, this only made me all the more excited when I got a chance to get a preview of the campaign and the brand new “Fight Till Dawn” mode.

Where the first game took place in the picturesque Pacific Northwest, now Alan finds himself in the deserts of Arizona, and the color palette before us, exploding with reds and oranges, definitely let us know we were in a new locale. It was explained to us that Alan is now living through an episode of Night Springs, the fictional TV show introduced in the first game, that he happened to guest write when he was still starting out as a writer.  Only by going into this previous work of his does he hope to catch Mr. Scratch, a bogeyman in some ways, a charismatic but psychotic serial killer in others, who we first saw in the last Alan Wake DLC. Being an episode of Night Springs, I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that Alan is no longer the primary narrator, but instead the Night Springs narrator will serve that role for the game.

Another key fact I learned was that in the time between games, Alan has come to grips with the fact that he is now a “Champion of Light”, thrown into this surreal war between light and dark, day and night, and he must act as the counterbalance and defeat Scratch, the “Herald of Darkness”. Part of being this champion though is that somehow his words can take on a reality altering effect now, making those missing manuscript pages from the first game even more crucial in this one. The manuscript pages have become so important in fact that aside from being a collectible or adding to the back-story, they actually are key for driving the game forward now.

This page importance played out in the very first objective I saw in our demo, which required Alan to rescue a lady who had locked herself in an auto garage after being chased by the Taken, the darkness possessed individuals from the town, for she had found one of those pages. Something I noticed immediately in our first encounter here with the Taken is that there is several classes of Taken now to provide greater game play variety. Some even have powers, like one I saw in this first batch split up into two and then four copies of himself when light was shone on him. Luckily, I was armed with Alan’s new favorite weapon, a nail gun, and were able to deal with them just as easily as regular Taken, although they did eat up quite a bit of ammo. Another tidbit that really became evident during the first battle was the changes made to the HUD. Alan now has a life bar, a clearer GPS radar, and a larger ammo and weapon icon to help keep track of the item you’re currently using and it was definitely an improvement over the first game’s.

After saving the lady, I learned just what we were able to do with the manuscript pages. Because of Alan’s reality altering powers, aside from predicting events that were about to take place with the pages like in the first game, Alan could now interact with the world around him, taking clues from the pages to instead change things and solve puzzles in the world around him in order to better suit his needs and open up new paths. These paths are also unique as unlike in the first game that had a more linear feel, Alan will set up shop at a central location that will act as a sort of level hub and then go explore his surroundings from there, affording players the chance to explore and re-explore some areas even as necessary.

As I was moved to a further point in the game, Alan was beginning a trek up towards an observatory where he was looking for an astronomer who has clues as to what was going on in the town. Here, I saw the environment begin to have an effect on game play like in the first game. Dead cars and other debris on the path came to life and began to fling itself at Alan, and since the darkness has only been growing stronger since last game, it even tried to bring a chunk of mountain down onto our hero. Since the environmental graphics have been improved since last game, there is actually a lot more stuff that can be flung at Alan now while he travels through the world and so a greater level of suspense is reached as every inanimate object now can become a threat.

Once I reached the observatory, I came face to face with the latest variety of Taken introduced to the game and what the boys from Remedy lovingly refer to as their “answer for Angry Birds”. This new Taken can transform into a flock of crows and quickly move all over the area. He also isn’t nearly as weak against light as many other Taken, but more powerful items like flashbangs, flares, and another new weapon in the crossbow, which can act as a one-hit kill on most enemies, can still dispatch him for you.

After clearing up the mess at the observatory, my story mode demo was finished, and I was salivating for more. Although there was a clear emphasis on more action this time around, the atmosphere from the first game still comes through strongly to give it a bit more of a pulp comic feel and it should be interesting to see what else unfolds in Alan’s world when the full game is released.

But I was far from done. Whereas the first game was all about the story, American Nightmare features a new mode called “Fight Till Dawn” along with what Remedy believes will be a 5-hour campaign. I was able to go hands on with this new mode and true to the game’s atmosphere, it is a one-player mode with Alan fighting for his life. What it really reminded me of though was the challenge maps from Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City as the premise of the mode is for Alan to work through as many waves of enemies as possible in a 10-minute time limit by himself. If he can survive that long, the sun will rise and you will survive.

This game mode is score based though, where you can build combos for every enemy you dispatch and attack you avoid, so if you really want to do well and work your way up the online leaderboards, you’re going to want to try to mow down as many enemies as possible. And with each wave getting harder and harder, you’ll have an interesting dilemma on your hands as you try to decide on whether or not you should run away and try to preserve yourself or dive head first into the fray in order to try to get the best score. Especially since there is a limited amount of items around the map for you to collect and wield against this army of Taken. Remedy also confirmed for us that there would be 10 maps total for the mode at launch, five normal maps and then five Nightmare versions of those maps.

All in all, if you were a fan of the first Alan Wake you’ll probably be surprised by how much content Remedy is fitting into this downloadable sequel to the first game, but still enjoy how far the story will progress. With a stronger emphasis on action though this time around, this could also be a great point to jump into the series for newcomers, especially with less of a financial commitment since it is going to be an XBLA title. All I know is that I can’t wait for American Nightmare to finally be fully playable within the next few months.

What do you folks think? Are you amped for the new Alan Wake game? Are you surprised by it going to an XBLA format? What do you think about the Fight Till Dawn Mode? Let us know with comments below!