Gather round children, and sit as I describe to you another lifetime ago. John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, the GST didn’t exist, and The Simpsons was still making us laugh. Meanwhile, a little game called Grand Theft Auto (GTA) made its big debut in 1997 thanks to the work of two men named David Jones and Mike Dailly. While perhaps not the catalyst itself, the GTA series would lay the groundwork for many other games after it and become a pivotal earmark in video game history. For better or worse, American Fugitive by British developer Fallen Tree Games is a title that harkens back to the early days of the GTA series. In doing so, it does its best to remind you exactly how fun those games could be back in their day.
American Fugitive drops you in the driver’s seat of cavalier bad-but-good guy Will Riley, who witnesses the murder of his father and the elaborate framing job that sees him taking an extended vacation in the big house. After breaking out of prison, Will gathers past friends and associates together in a mission to clear his name and catch the original killer behind his father’s death. While not necessarily spinning literary gold to collect a Pulitzer, the plot is serviceable enough with entertaining moments scattered from start to finish through particular missions/interactions.
LOOK MA, I’M ON COPS!
Sticking to the old-school philosophy from top to bottom, American Fugitive delivers its narrative voicelessly through text boxes and talking heads in place of animated cut-scenes or in-game scripted sequences. While this isn’t generally common practice anymore, it suits both the aesthetic and atmosphere of the game quite well in its homage to the GTA games of yesteryear. Likewise, the mission structure is very much in the vein of original GTA titles. Your missions are collected from NPCs represented by single letters in the UI, which are along the lines of running cars off the road, killing enemies or respraying a car.
Unfortunately, the mission offering opens negligibly after that when you unlock the other two islands in the game. However, the relatively limited scope of missions becomes offset by the various activities you can indulge in across the map such as time trials and ramp jumps. These activities provide you with money and points which you use on American Fugitive’s unique skill tree, where you can do things such as by health increases and vehicle damage reduction.
I feel at home in dive bars…
Another avenue which provides you with money is the robbery/home invasion system which American Fugitive does a little differently to its predecessors. While almost any house or building is ripe for the picking, you need to case the target to ascertain whether there are people inside and in what rooms they reside. You do this by looking through the windows, and it also assists you in
finding a suitable point to break-and-enter for CRIME. Once you’re inside, it’s a race against the clock to move from room to room and loot as much as possible before the police show up. While this sounds simple enough, the presence of occupants adds a real curveball to the game plan. You’re then able to either flee and save your skin or choose to restrain them. Restraining your hostages and odds of success is governed mainly by the quality of the restraints you have on you at the time.
American Fugitive sadly struggles with a pretty full breadth of poor design decisions and other issues
The game also adds another new wrinkle to the traditional star system which they’ve borrowed from GTA, where you’re not only able to spray your car but also change your clothes as police will identify you by what car you’re driving and what you were last wearing. It allows you to get a little more creative with how you lose a police tail and adds a new dynamic to the traditional formula it generally follows otherwise.
GET AWAY FROM DE CHOPPAH!
However, American Fugitive sadly struggles with a pretty full breadth of poor design decisions and other issues. For example, there were many times where I was able to ram into a cop car straight on without suffering any repercussions, and they would drive off. This isn’t the only instance of inconsistent design, but one that particularly stood out to me as bizarre from my time playing it. Segueing to driving as well, it’s challenging to have any high octane fun due to the limited range of the camera and its zooming capabilities. This means you’re unable to see what’s ahead of you, with the tightly cropped upshot meaning you’re likely to hit other cars, pedestrians or walls if you build up any speed. It’s a particularly frustrating issue, especially in the moments that you’re playing the game seriously and trying to complete missions without any hassle.
Another problem which plagued the game was its save system. After saving your game, the next time you returned to the game, you don’t leave off exactly from where you were. Instead, you’re placed randomly somewhere and have to hijack another car before starting the mission all over again. American Fugitive also struggles with way pointing issues, with some missions delivering you exactly where you need to go while others would land you in roughly the right area and let you figure out the rest from there. Though not particularly significant, it’s still a sticking point which is aggravating with any extended play where you’re trying to complete missions.
While I did get an adrenaline shot of nostalgia from playing American Fugitive, the comedown was pretty rough. While certain elements reinvigorate the old formula, the game is too marred by design and systemic issues to take things to the next level as an ode to the epic GTA series. Save yourself some money, and grab this puppy when it’s on sale if you’re REALLY interested.