PAX AUS Indies 2016: The American Dream

Posted on November 16, 2016

Samurai Punk are no strangers to challenging the status quo of modern gaming; their break-away hit Screencheat took a sacred tenant of classic couch co-op and made its violation the core game mechanic.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised that they’ve gone all in on their latest debut hit.

The American Dream banner shone with the brightness of a simpler time on the PAX Rising floor. It wasn’t till you got closer that you realized all is not what it seems, and *GASP* he’s got a gun!

Alright, so many of you will have already seen this one doing the rounds, and so it’s no great reveal. But seeing The American Dream, and living it, are very different things. Jumping on the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers, there was admittedly a touch of familiarity to settling into the memory pods of the Fallout games, reinforced by the highly patriotic entrance to the 1950’s Worlds Fair theme.

Picking up your weapons of choice, a pair of handsome 9mm (I’ll admit I don’t know my Berrettas from my Colts, but I think that’s right) once you get a feel  of those bad boys in your hands you won’t want to put them down. Which is great, cause you can’t. Instead you are about to  enter the fevered-NRA dream of a life where everything is done with guns.  And yes, it’s just as dysfunctional as you’d imagine.

If you haven’t already, take a look at the trailer to get you up to speed:

I wasn’t entirely sure how immersive an over-the-top, cartoon style VR shooting gallery would be; for at my most cynical, is what The American Dream can be reduced to. However, greeted with an already familiar experience of a track=based movement system, I was relieved that the mixture of these elements as well as careful use of perspective throughout the levels meant that sickening churn of  motion sickness that many fear from VR was nowhere to be found.

While this may look rather questionable on flat screen, I assure you that is a gun barrel (I think those ridges are called “speed holes”; they make the bullet go faster!)  and not, as it may appear, the end of the digestive part of the tour.

I’ll leave you with that imagery to conjure for a second…

The humour and tone of each scenario, which haphazardly attempts to teach you how guns can better every day activities, was in fact more subtle than it appears, and at times while playing I was unsure as to which side of ‘laughing with them’ vs ‘laughing at them’ The American Dream landed on.

Instead of always taking the cheap shot at open-carry and accidental shootings, many of the awkward moments while playing the demo came from the functions that were required due to the inability to let go of your weapon. Reloading, a continuous requirement with my aim, was performed through a movie-slowmo-catch-in-the-chamber-midair move, that I am guessing did not look in any way bad ass to those observing me play; not to mention my actually opening my mouth each time I was spoon-fed food, a far more responsive mechanic than I’d realised was capable with current VR.

Having learned that the guys from Samurai Punk had debuted The American Dream at PAX West in Seattle just two months earlier, I was deeply curious how the American audience had taken to a Melbourne-based indie developer poking fun at a right that many hold as a badge of honour.

“They loved it” Justin reassured me during our interview on the PAX Rising floor. “So it was great to see a mix of people who maybe weren’t such a fan of the way guns are in the state, and, you know, the gun owners there who were picking it up and enjoying the way it felt and everything; so it was a great response.”

It’s unclear just how larger slice of the gameplay this demo entailed, but having already seen some footage of scenes I didn’t get to, my sense is that once the mechanics for each stage is finalised, a breadth of gameplay options will spawn from it, adding to replay value.

For those of us eager for more, the full title is still aiming at a broad window of mid-2017 with no specific date set. But good news for those of you who have already invested in one of the VR technologies (or plan to over the holidays), the guys at Samurai Punk plan to launch The American Dream on the big 3 (PS VR, Occulus, Vive). And of course keep watching Checkpoint for all the latest!