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by Maciej Miszczyk - April 2, 2015

Liberal Crime Squad: A Liberal Adventure - Windows, Linux, Macintosh (2002)

The very idea of Liberal Crime Squad sounds like something out of a particularly offensive game of Mad-Libs (or maybe a usual game of Cards Against Humanity): a terrorist simulator made by the man behind Dwarf Fortress and based on an old PLATO game. It allows you to torture people, sell drugs and use cheesy pick-up lines to grant animals full citizenship and stop the conservatives from making Ronald Reagan an eternal president. It's also very loosely based on real events.

Most surprisingly, Liberal Crime Squad is actually a very good game. While the premise might sound either like a badly done piece of propaganda or like a mediocre game marketed on controversy and absurdity, it's neither of those. It's a mixture of deep, complex strategy and very over the top satire on the American two-party system. That is not to say that the game isn't offensive though - it's just that its world is so caricatural that it's impossible to take seriously (with both your character and his enemies having a political agenda that sounds more like something from South Park than anyone's actual beliefs).

Tarn Adams

Liberal Crime Squad has two gameplay modes: a menu-driven one used most of the time and a top-down view similar to that of roguelikes when exploring various locations. This is a reference to Oubliette, an old RPG for PLATO and MS-DOS (and recently also iOS and Android), even though some versions of Oubliette used a first-person for its dungeon crawl segments.

Unlike Oubliette, Liberal Crime Squad isn't too preoccupied with walking around and killing everything. While it is a big part of the game, the strategy segments are generally more important - it's even possible to win the game without committing any actual crimes. This is because victory in Liberal Crime Squad doesn't depend on defeating a certain boss or finding a certain item. Because your goals are political, you need to convince the people to join your cause, make liberal politicians win elections and prevent conservatives from passing their legislation. This can be achieved in many different ways - from violent terrorism aimed at your political enemies to civil disobedience, volunteering and setting up your own newspaper.

Oubliette: A Fantasy Adventure (IBM-PC)

As can be expected from Tarn Adams, the game is very complex. While it doesn't approach the scope of Dwarf Fortress - his most popular game - it's still much bigger than Oubliette. There are many things that can be done and many ways to approach different situations. Infiltrating a location might be done by violently exterminating everyone you encounter or stealthily, using an appropriate disguise. Money can be made legally or illegally, new members of your organizations can be recruited through persuasion, seduction or brainwashing and sleeper agents may be planted in different organizations. One of the coolest features has to be a simple printing press though as it allows you to create your own media which will document your exploits and release any sensitive information you uncover.

In Liberal Crime Squad it is possible to rob a bank, kidnap people and fortify your safehouse so that you'll be able to survive a police siege. Those features are a reference to a real left-wing terrorist organization: Symbionese Liberation Army. SLA was a radical group active in the 1970s in California known for the series of violent robberies and the abduction and brainwashing of Patty Hearst. In 1973, an SLA safehouse was raided by the police, resulting in a shootout and subsequent deaths of six of the terrorists.

The political positions supported by the members of Liberal Crime Squad aren't really based on Symbionese Liberation Army. In fact, both the player characters and their opponents are more of extremely exaggerated stereotypes of American Democratic and Republican parties. While 'normal' liberals and conservatives are present in the game's political system, your goal is the victory of elite liberals from The Progressive Elite Social Liberal Party which will then propose a series of far-left amendments to the Constitution. Of course if you do badly, the 'arch-conservatives' from The $$ U.S.A. Flag Eagle $$ Conservative Party will win, introducing their own amendments that change the US political system into an unholy union of fascism and capitalism. Sure, those are both strawmen - but that's the point as the characters in the game are not really about how things are, focusing on the caricature of how the 'other' side sees them instead.

Patty Hearst in front of the SLA flag

Given the game's focus on law and politics, it's good to see that a lot of detail went into its legislature. President and the members of House and Senate are elected by the general public and for the duration of their terms will vote according to their worldviews. Every act must be approved by both House and Senate and signed by the President - but even if President vetoes something, it may still be forced by Congress. President also appoints members of the Supreme Court who are able to overturn various laws if they find them unconstitutional. Speaking of Constitution, amending it requires the approval of supermajority of the States, which isn't easy to get.

Probably the best thing about the law is how it affects the actual gameplay. If the laws are sufficiently conservative, liberal activism, flag burning and the possession of drugs are criminal offenses which might be even punishable by death. On the other hand, the more liberal the system gets, the harder it becomes to obtain a weapon (if the law is elite liberal, the only way of getting a gun is either stealing one or buying one from a criminal in the crack house).

Speaking of the law, it's great that Liberal Crime Squad includes things usually omitted by crime-related games: arrests, courtrooms and prisons. While in Grand Theft Auto your problems with police usually end when you evade pursuit, here once you commit a crime you're going to be on the run, with law enforcement officers waiting to catch you any time you show up in public. But getting caught is not game over here - other members of Liberal Crime Squad can free you from the police station or prison, and if you prefer to keep things legal you can just hire the best lawyer you can find and actually win the case. If all else fails, you can also just wait for your prison sentence to end (given you don't get death penalty, don't die of old age and the conservatives don't change the Constitution while you're incarcerated).

Those who played other games by Tarn Adams will probably expect Liberal Crime Squad to contain a detailed injury system - and they won't be disappointed. Wounded characters will gradually lose health until the bleeding stops, certain injuries will require professional help and some are even permanent. Your character might lose an eye in a gunfight or even become paraplegic. Funnily enough, being paraplegic does not mean that your character will stop being a terrorist - get him a wheelchair and a shotgun and he'll still be able to murder everyone in sight.

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Given multiple possible approaches and a certain amount of random generation (all the characters are generated procedurally and many locations have randomized layouts), Liberal Crime Squad has a good amount of replay value. Still, the game might become easy after you get accustomed to it - it's significantly easier than both Oubliette and Dwarf Fortress. Fortunately, there are different difficulty options for the veteran players. One of them activates Conservative Crime Squad - a right-wing counterpart to your organization - while the other starts the game with very conservative laws. In newer versions there are also options that make them game longer by making it impossible to exile the arch-conservatives or endless by preventing the Constitution from being amended by elite liberals.

As Liberal Crime Squad was abandoned by its creator who decided to focus on Dwarf Fortress instead, the development was taken over by members of Bay 12 Games Forum. The community continues to expand the game and fix the bugs, although some of them are still present. Some of the bugs might break the game (under certain circumstances it may crash during the elections) while the other ones allow for cheating. The most well-known ones include the possibility of assigning imprisoned LCS members to squad and ordering them to move out of prison (it's not even counted as escape - the game treats the character as if he served his sentence) and forcefully terminating the game's process if something goes wrong (in a traditional roguelike fashion, the game deletes your save when you lose but its only way of saving are autosaves at the beginning of each day; this way, even if all your characters die you can avoid any consequences if you quit before seeing the game over screen).

The game is developed using pdcurses library so it runs in a terminal. All versions are essentially the same, although the binaries available for Macintosh port are of the old Bay 12 version (the new source codes can probably still be compiled on OS X though). There is an unofficial Android port available and the game can also be run on the MS-DOS system through a DOS Extender.

Despite the bugs, Liberal Crime Squad is a good game and good satire. It's certainly not for everyone - especially not for those who get offended easily - but it's a rewarding experience for those who take time to learn its mechanics and are not put off by the idea of game about terrorism.

Quick Info:

Developer:

  • Bay 12 Games

Designer:

  • Tarn Adams

Genre:

Themes:


Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)

Liberal Crime Squad (Windows)



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