American Arcadia Review

Fool me once...
American Arcadia header artwork

The Truman Show is one of those films that instantly become a foundational pillar of pop culture, a story so iconic that there’s no chance to borrow even a sliver of its core conceit without this film being an obvious point of inspiration. American Arcadia is massively indebted to The Truman Show, but adds its own twists and more modern day ideas and themes into the mix.

The game follows Trevor Hills as he tries to escape the domed city of Arcadia, the setting for a Truman Show-style reality series. Arcadia is an idyllic retro-futuristic vision of a city, trapped within the 1970s with flares, discos and lampchop sideburns all around, but with a Tomorrow’s World-ian element thanks to electric cars, monorails, drones, super computers and all the rest. Life within the gilded cage isn’t all that bad.

It isn’t just Trevor who’s at the heart of the show and its unknowing star, as the tens of thousands of Arcadia-born citizens all blind to their lives in front of the TV cameras and the millions of people watching the ultimate reality show. In fact, he’s barely even a background character, as he happily focuses on work, heads home and relaxes by himself.

But strange things start happening to Trevor, and through the intervention of an outsider who reveals the web of lies that makes up everyday Arcadian life, Trevor is practically forced to go on the run as the sham city’s security forces try to clamp down and catch him.

American Arcadia Trevor

And run he does, going doggedly from left to right in a light side scrolling platformer that lets you take in the vibrantly colourful cityscapes – no, the 70s weren’t just 15 shades of sepia – and the contrasting backstage gloom. There’s some simple environmental puzzles as well, with block pushing to get you up to higher ledges, and the like, while certain scenes allow that outside help to view from CCTV cameras and trigger doors, robots and other electricals remotely. The controls feel a little fiddly for these – you’re still able to control Trevor with the left stick, while the right stick lets you toggle and switch items on – but the emphasis is on letting you experience and progress through the story.

But who is that outside helper? Well, that would be Angela (AKA Kovacs), and as the game shifts to her perspective, the wider truths behind the dome and the massive reach of the Walton Media company are revealed, smushing together modern day Disney, tech companies and the increasingly contrived reality shows we see on telly into one. Compared to the 90s where TV was the dominant medium for pop culture to spread, it’s now smartphones, apps and the internet, but there’s still huge corporations behind it, and they’re even larger and more influential than before. American Arcadia really is what The Truman Show would be like if it were set in the 2020s.

American Arcadia Angela

Angela’s sections step back into familiar ground from Out of the Blue’s last game, Call of the Sea, and switch to first person view and more of an emphasis on puzzle solving and hacking. It really helps to have a second contrasting side to the story, a change of pace to the gameplay, and another way to up the ante and raise the stakes.

That’s important because it often feels like the game is holding steady so that the narrative can be gradually unfurled, and that puzzles are mainly there to try to break up the dialogue and exposition. Trevor’s platforming is often really just running toward the side of the screen as he and Angela talk, or with Interceptor guards following him at juuuuust the right pace that they can’t catch him. The puzzles in Angela’s side of the story did have me stumped on a couple occasions, but then there are cutscenes that take control off you for a few moments.

American Arcadia CCTV

Yet it still comes together well and American Arcadia is an enjoyable game and story to play through. There’s a few twists that I didn’t see coming, just as there were those that I did, there’s a great visual style and strong contrasts throughout. I particularly enjoyed the payoff of having snippets of a song be played to Trevor early on, and finally get the release of hearing the full song in the credits – yes, you can just find the OST online, but don’t spoil it for yourself.

American Arcadia takes The Truman Show's core concept and updates it for the 2020s with a two-sided tale of escape, freedom and corporate control. The gameplay is mainly there to help deliver this story, but I always wanted Trevor to keep running to get me to the final moments and grand reveal.
  • A fun Truman Show-style race to escape
  • Good contrast between Trevor and Angela's sides of the story
  • Striking and vibrant art style
  • A bit too much idle gameplay while story unfolds
  • Puzzles are generally quite simplistic
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