The new trend is for game publishers with just-crazy-enough-to-work sequel ideas to release the games as bite-sized, stand-alone downloads that look and feel just like the disc-based games. That’s how ‘Red Dead Redemption’s’ straight-shooting cowboy John Marston ended up tangling with zombies in ‘Undead Nightmare’ and superhuman rail-surfer Cole Phelps of Infamous infamy ended up becoming a vampire in Festival of Blood.

Now half-crazy pulp fiction author Alan Wake gets a crack at the download scene in ‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare,’ and his developers treated him none too kindly. He’s stuck in the Arizona desert at night, chased around by demonic ghouls who fear only three things: Flashlights, getting shot in the face three times in a row and, most importantly, manuscript pages.

If you’re not a writer you don’t know this — apparently, we’re not writers either because we didn’t know this — but there’s nothing more lethal when you’re being chased around a haunted desert than finding pieces of a book you wrote that are spread around the desert, marked by question marks that appear when you approach.

Money may not be able to buy you love, but manuscript pages sure can. Provided you define “love” as “big freakin’ guns that can shoot ghosts’ faces off.” When playing the game, you encounter bins that are locked unless you magically open them with pages. We’re not sure how this works — maybe Alan origamis them into a key or something — but it helps you upgrade a 9MM into a machine gun.

While we’re on the subject of love, let’s address the fantastic magic boxes you encounter that refill all your ammo, flashlight batteries (suckers run out quick) and flares. These suckers would totally put Sportsman’s Warehouse out of business. We wondered if their powers work on other supplies — say, half-empty backs of Peanut Butter M&Ms — but weren’t able to test it out, seeing as how the ghost-infested part of Arizona is devoid of Peanut Butter M&Ms.

The extra ammo is necessary, because it’s too much fun to shoot these ghost demons three times in the face. These guys are total dicks, always lurking in the path between you and your manuscript pages, splitting into two others when you shoot them the first time, then flanking you and shanking you in the back. They’re even rowdier, and more fun to kill, in the arcade-style side mode, which challenges you to last through the night.

Come to think of it, the exhilaration we get from pulling out our nines and laying these busters down echoes that of the indomitable classic ‘Pac-Man.’ That’s the highest praise we can think of for this game. If you’re looking for a futuristic version of ‘Pac-Man’ in which tiny dots have been replaced by manuscript pages and power pellets give way to SMGs, ‘American Nightmare’ is your American Dream.

Rating: 8.5/10

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare ($15) was developed by Remedy Entertainment, published by Microsoft Studios and is available on the Xbox 360. Rated T. The publisher provided a copy of the game for review.

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