ALAN WAKE: AMERICAN NIGHTMARE / Remedy / PC
If you're just skimming reviews to see if this is DLC or not, it's a completely standalone game. You don't need Alan Wake to play it, and you don't absolutely need to have played Alan Wake to get the story, though some parts might be a little confusing without it. It is a continuation of the main story, however, sort of a bridge game between Alan Wake and its possible sequel (some day), so it will spoil some of the overarching plot elements of the original game.
So I ended my Alan Wake review with the thought that it was a "tweener" horror game caught between Resident Evil, where the protags are heavily armed and fear/suspense has to entirely come from jump scares and atmosphere, and Clock Tower, where the protag rarely gets a chance to defend themselves and mostly has to sneak, hide and run while solving puzzles and piecing mysteries together. Alan Wake definitely leaned toward combat, putting you in corridors that funneled you straight to encounter after encounter, but made the protag kind of an unfit bum who was also usually overwhelmed by superior numbers. Instead of wholly commiting to the combat and just going balls-out with it (like Resident Evil 4), it kept trying to mix in elements of the "defenseless" horror game style and it was to the game's detriment.
The shorter and tighter American Nightmare, which is basically a DLC chapter that isn't actually DLC, commits to the combat. There's a greater variety of enemy types, but also a greater variety of weapons and ammo lying about everywhere. There's more enemies, but the flashlight recharges much faster, and Alan also seems to have written some CrossFit into his life at some point as he can now sprint more like a normal person. It loses the atmosphere and graphical "wow" factor to some degree, but I thought the end product was considerably more enjoyable on the whole. No escort missions here either!
In this one we're out of the foresty Pacific Northwest and off to the deserts of the Southwest instead. American Nightmare takes place in a small, nearly abandoned Arizona town. Alan is in pursuit of his dark alter ego Mr. Scratch, who is on a murder spree and has designs on permanently crossing over from the Dark World and taking Alan's place in reality. Mr. Scratch is another thing that improves the game, he's a compelling antagonist and the original game was lacking that, just kinda setting you up against The Vague Concept Of The Darkness (oooWOOOooOOOO).
Now, this was originally an XBLA downloadable title, and it only takes up about 1/3 the hard drive space that Alan Wake does. So it's much shorter and more compact, made up of only three small self-contained areas. You'll go through these areas three times each, and there's some legitimate complaint about repetition and lack of variety in the environments there, but for a game that's cheap at full retail to begin with and then frequently gets practically given away on sales or in bundles, I'm willing to let it slide. Each new pass through an area also usually introduces new enemy types, develops the story further with new dialogue, and also often has new weapons to find and sometimes opens up a small new area or two to explore.
Alan's newfound ability to sprint competently actually turns out to not be tremendously useful, as the right answer in this game is always gunning everything down, there's no "run for cover" moments outside of the very beginning of the game. On the whole the difficulty is much lower, though the "safe haven" light pools don't provide indefinite refuge anymore, nor do they send monsters back to their original spawn point. The biggest combat improvement is actually the zippy recharge of the flashlight, which is a trusty way to quickly neutralize a dood when you inevitably lose track of someone in the oncoming mob and get flanked (or some cheap asshole just spawns in behind you). There's also a few regenerating ammo and battery refills in each level, so scrounging is never required. While these changes do lower the difficulty considerably, they also allow you to actually enjoy the combat engine consistently, which was always really pretty good but sometimes hamstrung itself with poor enemy placement and wonky camera in the original game. For a solid challenge that isn't overbearing, set the game up so that one hit kills you.
Aside from the story, which is good for maybe 5 or 6 hours of play, there's also an Arcade mode. This is your standard arena affair where you get dropped into a small map and have to survive waves of enemies for 10 minutes. This mode just pulls the cheap trick of having enemies spawn on all sides of your current position when a new wave starts, so it degenerates into just spinning frantically as you move between ammo and light sources. It's basically Painkiller Black Mode tbqh. It didn't really do anything for me, but at least there's like 10 different levels to choose from.
I have to congratulate this little mini-chapter, as it got me back interested in the possibility of an Alan Wake 2 after I had written the series off. Not only does the focus on combat seem to work much better for the series, but also having Alan come in as this grizzled and more capable vet of the Supernatural Wars and having a touch of Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead to his makeup really helped too. I also liked the framing of having it be a Night Springs television episode and having a third-person narrator instead of Alan doing a running monologue.
* Gameplay Video