The idea of someone’s entire life being a lie is something that’s been explored many times. The Truman Show might be the most popular example, but it’s certainly not alone. It’s rarely been done in videogames, though, and American Arcadia, an adventure game set around a reality TV show where none of the participants know they’re being streamed 24/7, has absolutely left me wanting more.
I had high hopes for American Arcadia right from its very first announcement. After all, it’s from Out of the Blue Games, the team behind the rather excellent Call of the Sea. While American Arcadia might be completely different in terms of its story and presentation, it offers the same riveting storytelling – and just like Call of the Sea, this dystopian tale gets its claws right into you and refuses to let go until the credits roll.
American Arcadia follows Trevor, a rather ordinary citizen of Arcadia. He’s lived in the too-perfect city for all his life, and his mundane routine of working at a desk before returning home to his pet turtle, is all he’s ever known. He’s happy with it – at least, he is until his co-worker Gus disappears and he starts receiving strange messages. Something isn’t right, and his world is about to be completely shattered.
Those strange messages turn out to be from Angela, someone on the outside of Arcadia, working for the company responsible for keeping the American Arcadia TV show on the air. Angela’s aware that Trevor’s about to be kicked from the show – and that means being exiled from Arcadia and, possibly, killed. She can’t let that happen. And so, after connecting with Trevor she leads him, via an earpiece, on a journey to freedom.
Of course, that journey to freedom isn’t without its hiccups, and over the course of trying to get Trevor outside of Arcadia, you’ll be thwarted at almost every turn. Expect to face off against guards, deadly drones and high-tech security around every corner. Luckily, with Angela by your side she’s able to hack and control some technological systems for you, but it’s still not going to be easy.
Trevor’s gameplay sections play out like a typical side-scrolling puzzle platformer. You’ll climb up ledges, move boxes to get where you want to go, jump into cover and avoid being seen by spotlights. Occasionally, you’ll get the option to switch to Angela’s view, which will allow you to hack various cameras and items that block Trevor’s path. Maybe you’ll open a door or disable a security light, or even hack a drone to turn it against one of Arcadia’s guards.
When you’re not playing as Trevor, you’ll step into the shoes of Angela, where you’ll experience gameplay from a first-person perspective. Angela’s sections are more puzzle-focused than Trevor’s: you’ll need to crack locked doors, clone keycards and more, all in the hopes of granting permissions for her and Trevor to move forward on their Great Escape. Nothing here is too tricky; puzzles are logical and incredibly satisfying to complete. Even the few that require a bit of timing consideration manage not to be too frustrating.
It helps that fairly quickly, you’ll find yourself rooting for both Angela and Trevor. The characters are three-dimensional, believable and likeable. And the voice cast is just excellent: Yuri Lowenthal, Cissy Jones and Krizia Bajos all take on roles here, doing a fantastic job of bringing their characters to life.
I’m also a big fan of how American Arcadia looks. Inside Arcadia, time is stuck in the 70s, and so it’s filled with bright colours, flared trousers and creative retro-futurism. Everything is bold and rather cartoon-like, but it absolutely works in making this a fascinating world to be a part of.
It’s just a shame there are a few rough edges that need to be ironed out. American Arcadia could have been an almost perfect experience, but some small niggles let it down somewhat. I’ve encountered a few bugs in the dialogue, where characters talk over each other or lines repeat for no reason. The subtitles are also less than satisfactory, with numerous typos and inconsistencies from the spoken text. In the grand scheme of things these are very small problems, but when I’ve loved everything else so much, they unfortunately stand out more than they should.
Taking six to eight hours to complete, I’ve blasted through American Arcadia in just two sittings, being utterly gripped the whole time. The side-scrolling platforming and first-person puzzle gameplay blend together seamlessly, with the story here being king. Despite a few small presentation issues that need ironing out, the gameplay here is flawless – and jumping from Angela’s first-person viewpoint to being in control of a side-scrolling Trevor via her computer monitor is nothing short of genius. If you enjoy adventure and puzzles, and like the sound of a story that’s reminiscent of The Truman Show, this is a game not to be missed.