Apple Pie. Baseball. Unaffordable Health Care. These are just some of the hallmarks of the United States of America. Now returning from a holiday out there, I feel I better understand the nuances of American culture, and so would like to share some of what I think are the most American games around in no particular order. Hold onto your faded jeans, people – you might not be ready for the sheer amount of freedom this list has to offer.
Yes, the list technically has no order, but come on. I had to put this majestic beauty first. Explosions, guns, and action heroes from the cheese of the 80’s through to modern day, BroForce is a pure celebration of ‘MURICA in the same way Team America: World Police is. In this co-op, 2D platformer, you take on the role of one of several homages to blockbuster heroes (like Bro Hard, aka John McClain), and battle through a scenario inspired by things like Rambo: First Blood Part II. Blood and explosions abound as you take on the enemy, an army of Commie-Fascists lead by the Devil himself, and of course, save The World as you do so. Every time you save a POW, you switch to a new hero, ensuring gameplay is always fresh on the fly, and you’re not stuck as any one particular hero for too long.
The game is broken up into several destructable, randomly generated levels, and are a real treat to play with a friend. I’d strongly recommend giving this 2015 indie hit by Free Lives a look in, if you haven’t done so already!
That’s right, everyone – Capitalism has a sequel! Whilst this is primarily on this list as a poke at rampant American Capitalism, Capitalism II (And the first one, for that matter) is a really good game, and a personal favourite of mine. Trevor Chan originally developed these titles to aid Harvard Business students in visualising and testing basic business and marketing ideas, but it definitely gained a following amongst the general public due to its accessibility without ditching the depth. Good tutorials and visual aids help you set up a variety of businesses, and work to dominate several cities with your desired industries. There’s something pretty cool about, say, setting up a farm, growing things, processing them at your factory, then flooding department stores with your quality products – So that when you’re ready, you can open your own outlet and reap all the brand power other companies helped build for you!
With dozens of products and industry types, this is a nifty title that’ll allow you to explore the world of 90’s and early 00’s capitalism at your leisure – It’s available from Trevor’s site, Steam, or GOG these days, but it is pretty cheap and worth a look if you like tycoon and simulation titles.
Profit like the big boys! Big Pharma, released in 2015 by Positech Games, is a factory management simulator where one gathers various ingredients, processes and combines them to create the most effective/cost-effective medicines possible. The game primarily takes place in your company’s factory, with you designing supply chains on the main floor – You can, however, send researchers out to investigate new ingredients, and develop better tech to process things. Make pills, sprays, creams, ointments, syrups, and what have you, to treat anything from headaches to chronic conditions. And just like the megacorps, you can charge whatever you want for whatever you want – just don’t be surprised if the competition undercuts you.
Oh, and I suppose you can help cure and manage various conditions, too.
The Rust Belt experience, but with anthros. This game is a story-driven platformer with a charming, 2D artstyle. Exploring themes of mental health and declining small town America, as well as the eldritch and cult-astic, Night in the Woods places you in the shoes of recent college dropout, Mae Borrowski, as she reaquaints herself with a town she left behind and the people who moved on without her in their lives. Spend time with her friends, explore the vast and painfully real Rust Belt town, and investigate the unfolding mystery in what is, honestly, one of the better written titles to have come out back in 2017. i don’t want to spoil this too much, but I’d really recommend you check this one out if you like character pieces or story-driven works. Or pretty awesome rock songs, for that matter.
Long before Bethesda essentially nuked the series reputation, Fallout and Fallout 2 were amazing RPG experiences that took a look at 50’s retro futurism and Cold War paranoia (But with China instead of Russia). You explore the nuclear wasteland of California as a member of a tribe that fate spared from a raid from a mysterious organisation of people. You cross the vast, but far from lifeless deserts trying to discover who took your tribe and why, discovering and appreciating how life has adapted to this twisted world. The visuals are high-detailed, isometric sprites, and the gameplay is a mix of dialogue trees and turn based combat – The game allows for a lot of different playstyles, and has a wide array of companions to take along with you.
An oldie but a goodie, Fallout 2 is certainly worth a look by anyone who likes RPGs, or even those curious about what the franchise was like before Bethesda made the plot essentially “Find Family Member X You Don’t Care About”.
GTA IV – the first of the HD Universe reboots of the franchise – is certainly a game in itself, but it also seems pretty good at a more modern telling of an immigrant’s story. In my own experience as a visitor, America is a lot like everywhere else, but in many ways, it very much is not – The gun culture, the fact every third house seems to have an American flag for no real reason, the abundant lawyer advertisements, the huge food portions, and all sorts of things can really catch you off guard. So Niko’s amusement and confoundment at his strange new world is understandable – things sometimes just don’t make sense as he may understand them. But he quickly learns that crime and betrayal is universal nonetheless.
The world of Liberty City (Not New York) is well realised, and feels lived in – Even though it’s a more tongue-in-cheek take on American culture, there’s a fluid internal logic still at work in this reality. The gameplay is also fun, too – Stealing cars, blowing things up, gunning down randoms, it’s the same GTA sandbox everyone recalls from the PS2 days, just with a new coat of paint. And whilst GTA V is arguably the better game, for this list, I felt GTA IV was more appropriate – It’s much more about the setting than V is, really. And Liberty City circa 2009 is quite a setting indeed. HEY NICO, WANT TO GO BOWLING?
Hail to the King, baby! Just like BroForce before, this game is a hardcore, gory, action extravaganza, but one made during the time of action schlock as opposed to an reflection of it. This late 90’s, 2.5D FPS features pig cops, bikini babes, outrageous weapons, and one liners so bad they’re cool again. Help Duke, paragon of 90’s masculinity, defend Earth from an invading armada and send those bastards straight to hell. With several difficulty modes, a large array of weaponry, and many secrets in maps (Some of which reference movies and pop culture at the time), this title by 3D Realms really is a must play for any gamer – It’s almost on par with Doom in that regard. So it is, perhaps, a shame that we somehow went from that sort of pedigree to Duke Nukem Forever by the end – a confused mess that doesn’t really understand cheese, gore, sexy, or even fun, really. But still, don’t let the missteps of today ruin this blast-from-the-past! Come get some – This title’s available on PC, baby!
I know, I know, the game is called ‘Citizens of Earth’, but really, everything in this game is just so American, you may as well assume America is the whole world in this one. Similar in gameplay to Earthbound, you lead the Vice President of Earth on a quest to defend the planet, recruiting whoever you can for the task – If you see them, you can get them on board! Every character has their own unique abilities, and unlockable skills, and it’s very much worth recruiting and levelling as many people as you can. Fight against whacky enemies, like sapient coffee beans and computer viruses, and explore the wide, wide world of… Well. The World. Similar to Earthbound, this title is a neat little snapshot of Americana, and a pretty fun title too – Thus securing its place on this list. It’s available on PC, and mobile.
Probably the most American game on this list, to be honest, despite being Japanese. The Metal Gear series evolved from a basic stealth-action franchise on the NES to a plot-heavy, conspiracy-focused stealth title with amazingly memorable characters and thought provoking narratives. This PS1 title is an absolute classic, and was one of the first that showed that video games really were an art form all of their own. Great, innovative gameplay mechanics like the Psycho Mantis fight drew in gamers, and the hours of CODEX conversations about both the the in-game and real world kept them hooked. This game is like a great action film, mixed with well considered philosophical discussion: It wouldn’t surprise me if this game was more responsible for teaching about the START accords and nuclear disarmament than schools were, to be honest.
But that aside, you may be asking why it’s the most American game on this particular list. And why I didn’t go with the certainly more American MGS3, what with the Cold War and that. Well… Whilst a lot of games on this list are poking fun at certain aspects of the US, or representing stereotypes, this title is a celebration of what the US’s core really is in general, beneath all that. This game kept the gung-ho action hero stuff, the optomism, and desire to do whats right we so commonly associate with the American spirit, but it also educated and asked us to think for ourselves. MGS3, and all the other Metal Gear Solid titles, are an extension of the core ideals expressed here. And whilst learning and questioning may not be so associated with the US as it once was, I still consider it a core part of them.
This game came out in a time where the X-Files was on TV, when conspiracy documentaries were popular, and people weren’t afraid to ask questions. And whilst there’s been a lot of push back on that sort of thing the last few years, with the powers that be wanting obedience, I still think the core messages of MGS1 are still very much relevant today. It’s good to think, and it’s good to do your best to ensure a bright future. And that’s something about America – the American people – that no-one can mock or roll their eyes at. That no leader can quash.
And that, I think, is a very good thing indeed.