Liberal Crime Squad is a game that makes us nostalgic for a period in American history when hippies were looking for new direction in their lives, and were ripe to be snatched up by any cult or extremist group that needed the manpower. It simulates the answers to some interesting questions: What if someone could succeed today where the Symbionese Liberation Army failed? What if instead of causing a media storm with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, they had simply “enlightened” her and returned her to her normal life as a newspaper heiress? What if they had managed to use their crimes to sway public opinion to the Liberal end of the spectrum instead of alienating everyone? Of course, reasonable discourse never enters the equation. The future of the nation is far too important for one to even bother with such naïve measures.
The game was designed and developed by Tarn Adams, more famous for his current project Dwarf Fortress, and it shows in the complexity and meticulous detail that makes Adams's games so engrossing. In Dwarf Fortress, there can’t be bees without there also being code allowing for a beekeeping industry, and in LCS, there can’t be a Conservative sweatshop without immigrant workers that may join you if you "liberate" them, but if you get caught, it will land you with a charge of employing illegal aliens and will get your Mexican friends a swift deportation from the INS.
You play as the manager of a group of renegades who have had quite enough with the oppressive Arch-Conservative government, and you will not rest until public policy and everyone who makes, enforces or interprets it has reached the status of Elite Liberal. Half the game is played from menus where you assign tasks and squad designations to your Liberals, and the other half is a Rogue-like, where your squad will try to rally support at Liberal-friendly locations like latte stands and vegan co-ops, or infiltrate filthy hotbeds of Conservative power such as police stations and factories.
Each Liberal in your employ has a set of stats and skills that determine everything from how good your Liberal is at running from police to how likely he is to rat you out if arrested. Your most valuable and loyal Liberals will have high Heart, which measures their dedication to the Liberal cause, and low Wisdom, which measures how corrupted they are by Conservative thinking.
You will quickly find that the life of a Liberal vanguard is filled with hardship and compromise. Sometimes a Liberal must take up the burden of gun ownership and do battle with the Conservative oppressors so that others may live safe, gun-free lives. Sometimes a fair dose of Liberal torture is necessary to ensure your captive Conservative automatons get the message. Although these activities are most assuredly Liberal (or else you wouldn’t be doing them, right?), just how criminal they are depends on the current state of the relevant issues. With Arch-Conservative gun laws, it’s far easier and more legal to buy dangerous weapons, but then again, the same goes for your enemies. While Elite Liberal gun laws can get you charged for even owning firearms, which I suppose isn’t that big of a deal next to a murder charge.
As a group of outlaws, you can’t actually change the government yourself. The best you can do is to manipulate public opinion so the nation makes the right choice when it comes to elections and Constitutional amendments. While you have peaceful methods at your disposal such as civil disobedience and writing newspapers (which may be a crime depending on how Conservative free speech is), the quickest and most effective way to sway the public is with real action. Are the masses unworried about nuclear power? Break into the power plant and press the Big Red Button. Is there not enough opposition to the death penalty? Shoot up a courthouse, and free your Liberal comrades awaiting trial while you’re at it. Just be careful not to let any Moderates or unaffiliated Liberals witness your crimes or they might get the wrong idea. A normal person (read: non-Conservative) witnessing you stealing some equipment, for instance, might tell the press that you were engaging in robbery when you were obviously just liberating Conservative resources. This is perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of this game. In real life, the media would spin the story however they wanted no matter what the witnesses said.
The last update by Tarn Adams was in 2004, but fortunately for us, a community of fans led by Johnathan S. Fox has adopted the game and they are continually providing improvements over the original. The interface has been streamlined, the balance tuned and several new features added. Among those new features are a Conservative Crime Squad that will try to copy your tactics by attacking beacons of Liberal virtue such as ACLU offices, and a Nightmare Mode where the Conservatives have already won. These updates do a lot for playability, but even without them, the game is just as relevant today as when it was first released in 2002 when it comes to satirizing the “us vs. them” mentality in American politics.