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American Arcadia transports us to a 70s reality show. The horror made up of platform shoes and bell-bottoms begins.
The puzzle platformer American Arcadia was developed by Out of the Blue Games (Call of the Sea) and released on October 28, 2023 for PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One. Together with The Cub, it is the only game that was part of the Tribeca Spotlight 2022 and had not yet been released.
When his closest colleague suddenly disappears due to an ominous travel grant and strange warnings that only he can read keep appearing on the screens, 28-year-old account manager Trevor Clarence Hills (Yuri Lowenthal) slowly realizes that he lives with 23,413 other residents under a weather control dome in the 1970s reality show American Arcadia. The television show has been running for 55 seasons and anyone who cannot impress viewers on the Twitch-like streaming platform is radically eliminated. From then on, with the help of stage technician Angela Solano (Krizia Bajos; codename: Kovacs), he tries to escape from her once idyllic existence. Walton Media’s host Vivian Walton tries to stop them and sends an armada of Mr. Smith-like agents after them. The story offers many surprising twists, funny dialogues, pop culture references to TV classics such as The Truman Show, The Prisoner and Westworld. It’s interesting how Trevor defines happiness in the age of popularity and how the story develops until a furious, thought-provoking ending.
In terms of play, American Arcadia doesn’t offer anything fundamentally new, but it does provide a lot of variety. While Trevor has to escape from his pursuers in a 2D perspective and deal with all sorts of platforming and solve environmental puzzles, Angela’s job is to support him from a distance with her hacking skills. The game unfolds its potential in the moments in which it combines both perspectives, such as when we escape from a department store with Trevor while Angela has to deal with a tough interrogation by the security chief of the company behind the reality show. Angela can also intervene in Trevor’s scenes via CCTVs, opening up new avenues for Trevor. Especially at the beginning, this mechanic is used excessively and the game causes some moments of frustration when, in the rush, we have to correctly align the crane in a fraction of a second while letting Trevor escape from the relentless agents. The 3D sequences with Angela allow us to explore more of the interesting game world behind the scenes of American Arcadia, but the stealth passages are a bit dull and a particular scene in Angela’s apartment, in which we have to make the evidence of our support for Trevor disappear in a flash, tests our nerves. It would have been nice if the developers had allowed different solutions to the mostly interesting puzzles. Connecting wires at a terminal and dodging laser beams in the style of Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible isn’t innovative, but it does add variety. The many creative moments in which the story and the gameplay merge make these shortcomings bearable.
American Arcadia is presented in a chic colorful 70s retro future look in low poly style. While the environments are consistently convincing, the missing details in the characters’ faces become noticeable later in the game and take us away from the otherwise dense atmosphere. The production impresses with successful editing and fantastic English voice-over. The cast is known from games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Cyberpunk 2077 and Firewatch. The score by Eduardo de la Iglesia Nieto supports the cinematic 70s flair and the title song Don’t be a Fool by Merle Jefferson will stay in our ears for a long time.
We also noticed a few glitches during our approximately five-hour run. Clinging to ledges is often not registered correctly, which can lead to additional frustration. The otherwise convincing presentation suffers from the fact that characters talk over each other and subtitles are often missing, extend off the screen or are incorrect. There are also crashes, animation errors and cutscenes that get skipped. These may all be small things, but overall they affect the experience.
American Arcadia impresses with its varied platforming/hacking gameplay, but offers little that is new and has some technical shortcomings at the time of testing. The game transfers the setting from the cult series The Prisoner into modern times and tells an exciting thriller story that keeps us hooked until the end.
The publisher provided us with the PC version of American Arcadia, which we used to create the screenshots.