American gun culture is often a touchy subject, with the country’s population divided over whether the second amendment is a redundant relic of history or the very bedrock that the nation was founded on. Australian developer Samurai Punk takes the latter view to satirical extremes with its VR shooter The American Dream, a game where firearms used to complete even the most mundane everyday chores.
The American Dream casts the player as a visitor to a world’s fair sometime in the 1950’s aboard an interactive exhibit – a single seater, fixed track ride – that showcases just how useful firearms can be to the patriotic American. The game paints the fifties as a simpler time, one before the rise of youth culture; where the world was full of white picket fences and Mom’s homemade apple pie cooling on the windowsill. Think of Pleasantville (if the cast were armed to the teeth with pistols and shotguns) and you’re not far from vibe that Samurai Punk has gone for.
The game begins with a questionnaire, asking you to confirm whether your left or right handed if you’re proficient with firearms and your skin tone (to which the only answers are American or American). Questionnaire completed, you’re shown a propaganda-style instructional film reel on why guns are so great. The film pokes fun at the what is globally perceived as America’s preoccupation with guns, as a stereotypical fifties family use an array of guns to complete every day takes from cleaning pesky stains out of the laundry to carving the Thanksgiving turkey.
Following the introduction you’re taken through various stages of life, from the tutorial as a baby in their crib to a fully functioning adult working their blue-collar 9-5 job; you’re given a series of what are essentially mini-games to complete in order to proceed. Your guide throughout the game is a Buddy Washington, a golden Labrador that speaks with an upbeat Mid-Atlantic accent; advocating the use of firearms, Buddy sets each scene and explains what is required of the player.
Each scene is a static environment, with painted wooden cut-outs representing different characters. This design choice, along with Buddy’s narration, really helps to make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the fifties. For the most part, you’ll be handling dual pistols; as such a pair of Moves are required to play The American Dream. Nearly everything that isn’t nailed down (and some that are) can be targeted and interacted with, regardless of whether they’re required to complete the level.
Each stage feels different from the last, with objectives in keeping with the setting; whether it’s playing catch with Dad in the backyard or cleaning your bedroom, each new environment feels unique with plenty of detail to take in. The difficulty of each stage varies, from winning a prize for your sweetheart at the county fair to something more complicated like working the grills at a burger bar – using your pistol to flip patties – so that they’re neither under or overcooked. Some stages include a Just Dance style sequence where you have to mirror the movements of the character in front of you.
Should you run out of ammo, reloading is as simple as bashing a button on the arm of the ride with the butt of the gun, which ejects a new magazine into the air. This reload mechanic feels ultra-cool as everything slows down into bullet time, allowing you sufficient time to slide your weapon over the clip as it passes in front of you; in fact, I couldn’t help but compare it to some of the actions scenes from The Matrix every time I needed to reload. If you’re like me and constantly feel the need to reload, a half spent mag can be ejected by pressing the Move button.
Every so often you’ll need to swap out your dual pistols for something with a little more kick. Bolt action rifles and machine guns can be wielded with both hands by substituting the gun on your weaker hand for a wooden hand attached to a (non-firing) handgun. Personally, I found this really awkward, as I’m so accustomed to using the Aim controller rather than two move controllers. The bolt action rifle is especially frustrating, as I constantly struggled with reloading – manually drawing back the lever to expel the spent round and pushing the next round into the chamber felt like such a chore.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, The American Dream is absolutely dripping in satire – a tricky task for any video game as humour is always subjective. This is compounded further due to the game’s reliance on the player’s views on gun culture; however, I think The American Dream would appeal to even the staunchest anti-gun lobbyist as the game consistently tickled my funny bone. I often found myself chuckling away at Buddy’s upbeat commentary, blasting everything in view purely for the LOLs or the downright absurdity of each new situation.
In closing, The American Dream is a light, fun take on the VR shooter genre. My frustration with reloading the rifle aside, the controls are simple and intuitive, which makes it an ideal choice to show off to friends and family that haven’t experienced virtual reality before, which in turn makes it a worthy addition to any headset owner’s library.