American Arcadia puts a retro future twist on Truman Show voyeurism

American Arcadia

Where is my camera?

One of the most compelling things a game can do in my eyes is have a clear artistic vision and go balls-to-the-wall in order to execute it. American Arcadia is one of those games. From the very first trailer I saw, I knew it was going to be one of those titles that delivers on aesthetic and concept, which can either be spectacular, or flop on its face. After playing a preview of American Arcadia for the Tribeca Games Fest, I have a feeling it will be leaning toward the former.

Sometimes a game can bite off more than it can chew with a bunch of different elements — more complexity isn’t always better. There’s certainly much more game than what I got to play of American Arcadia, but from what I did get to see, it looks like a really fun balance of different styles of art and gameplay. It’s got a little bit of retro-future ’70s flair, a little bit of voyeuristic, capitalist dread, some platforming, some puzzles, some snarky dialogue — and yet somehow, it all works together.

American Arcadia screenshot

Premise is everything

The story follows Trevor, a man who thinks he’s living a normal life, but it turns out he and all of the other citizens of Arcadia are being broadcast live 24/7. Sound familiar? It’s inspired by The Truman Show, but actually gives the concept an interesting new twist instead of resting on its laurels. That’s one of my favorite movies, so seeing a game take the conceit and run with it is really cool as a fan.

The twist is that a hacker on the outside, Angela, has taken an interest in Trevor, and wants to help him escape. American Arcadia‘s story cuts between the two characters as they try to navigate the escape, with Angela using the camera feeds and controls to clear the way for Trevor to get the hell out of dodge.

Let’s talk gameplay

Trevor’s portion of the game has 2.5D side-scrolling gameplay with platforming, chases, and puzzles, while Angela’s perspective is first-person with exploration, stealth, and hacking. At first I thought that these two halves of the game would feel too disparate and detached from one another, but like I said, from the section of the game that I played, they actually seem to balance each other out quite nicely.

American Arcadia screenshot

To be frank, none of the gameplay elements seem to really be reinventing the wheel here, but the real magic comes from how all of the different pieces and sequences fit together to create the overall experience. There’s a certain lack of control in Trevor’s section that you don’t really notice until you play as Angela, and that makes for some pretty powerful stuff.

Aesthetic, color, and theme

Art style is more important to me than I care to admit when it comes to games, and American Arcadia has one of the prettiest aesthetics I’ve seen in a while. It’s a visual feast that knocks its retro-future ’70s visuals right out of the park. Walking through the office building that Trevor works in was something out of a groovy capitalistic fever dream, and I love it — never in my life did I ever think I would see a conversation pit for cubicles. What a fun, campy detail that actually demonstrates these characters’ relationships to their work, and if that’s any indication of what the rest of the game is going to be like, I think we’re in for a treat.

American Arcadia screenshot

What I think is most impressive about American Arcadia and its use of so many different elements is how well it uses its dual protagonist/dual gameplay styles to reflect on the story’s main themes. We don’t get to see the world through Trevor’s eyes (at least as far as we know at this point), but instead through the voyeuristic perspective that others have been seeing him through his entire life.

While Angela is trying to get Trevor to a place where he will have his own autonomy, she is still controlling everything he does in order to get him there. This game raises a lot of interesting questions just on premise alone, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how they address those plot elements in the full experience. Just as how the contrasting perspectives make for some compelling gameplay, they also make for a compelling story as well.

It’s on the wish list, for sure

As a narrative-lover, American Arcadia is at the very top of my list of games to look forward to. Out of the Blue Games knows how to deliver on style, as we’ve seen with their first release Call of the Sea, so I have nothing but confidence that Arcadia will be one of the most enjoyable and refreshing interactive narrative experiences of the next few years.

The game doesn’t have a release window yet, but we do know it’s getting a release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC thanks to publisher Raw Fury. For now, this is one I’ll just have to be patient for.

Noelle Warner