You know that age-old joke that Americans rely way too much on their guns? Well, it's not always a joke in this day and age, but the comic side of our friends over the pond loving their firearms is the central theme of VR title The American Dream, a game that does what many have done and puts guns in your virtual hands, getting you to perform everyday tasks with your trusty pistols, rifles, and other guns... because that's the joke.
Yes, from the very beginning you're treated to this imitation 1950s Americana tutorial that tells you Americans use their guns for everything from mixing cake batter to playing catch with their dad, and so that's what you do. All you do is have to sit there, pick up whatever gun you're given, and complete the various scenarios in front of you, all with the guidance of a companion dog that gives you regular instructions on how to handle your arsenal.
As you're sitting down, your guns can be used with the controllers in your hand (in our case the PS Move controllers). The cool thing about this is that ammunition is unlimited, although the clips get empty, so all you need to do is reload the weapons with new clips each time you find yourself empty. What's extra cool is that when you're dual wielding pistols you have the option to slam a button when you're out of ammo that fires a full clip up in the air, turning things slow-motion for a second while you catch the clip with your gun, making you feel like the baddest action hero of all time.
The trouble is that the shooting isn't always that satisfying. We remember playing arcade game Shooty Fruity and really feeling that we were shooting powerful weaponry when we fired our various firearms, but here it feels like we're shooting BB guns or peashooters - there just isn't the same punch in terms of visuals (recoil, muzzle flash), noise, or damage done to the environment when you shoot at it. What's the point if you can't leave holes in everything around you? What's more is that using weapons with two hands, like the rifle, is often fiddly and very hard to aim.
The plot is that you're a decent, hearty American navigating your life from childhood, including everything from young love to making an honest living, all through set pieces that require you to use your gun. Your first date, for example, is at a carnival with a shooting range, but before that you'll be cleaning your room using guns to shoot at objects you want to tidy up as well. As such you're taken on this ride around a number of set pieces, with your canine companion guiding you through by narrating the entire thing, telling you what you're doing and why, in all a chirpy voice remiscent of American mid-century infomercials.
The trouble is that the joke gets thin real fast. It feels as if this could have all been one level in another game, but the gag that "you're using guns for everyday tasks, isn't that SO American" is not only repetitive but also not nearly funny enough to prop up an entire game. Sure, there are chuckle moments like when you have to dunk the communist at the fairground, but all in all the whole Americana thing is overdone and poorly executed, without the substance to really even be a satire on American culture. Instead, it simply recycles stereotypes while getting you to do silly things, much like in something like Job Simulator.
It also doesn't help that you have to sit through a whole load of talking and waiting around in between things. For a game like this you really need to be shooting at all times, but hearing the dog spout witticisms and story explanation before giving you a simple task gets frustrating, especially when these tasks are nothing more than just shooting a sign.
With the lack of visual fidelity on offer as well (things are often quite angular, or clipping through each other), The American Dream falls short of its ambition to be a witty, entertaining little VR shooter. Instead, it becomes rather dull rather fast as you do simple tasks again and again, and the story isn't nearly funny enough to excuse the bland experience it's providing. It may be worth it for an afternoon, but there are plenty of other VR shooters on the market that are more worthy of your time instead.