I’ve seen a fair few outlets discuss American Fugitive like it’s really attempting to capture the magic of Rockstar’s top-down GTA classics with a sprinkling of modern day storytelling and mechanics. From the outset, I have to disagree. Whilst the game obviously embodies some GTA DNA, it’s far from a straight up copy, to the point that I’m genuinely convinced it stands on its own and the more comparisons we force upon it the less it has a chance to succeed. American Fugitive didn’t remind me of GTA 1 or 2, or even III – despite doing its best impression in certain segments, I’ll get into that later. It’s very much its own beast and tells a story that isn’t about a criminal, but rather a man who is placed into an impossible situation.
The story is rather straightforward and it’s just about enough to get its hooks in you. Set in rural America in the 1980’s, the opening scene sets the stage for everything to come, with your protagonist Will Riley in the wrong place at the wrong time, framed for a murder he didn’t commit (we know this from the beginning). He’s locked up with little to no hope of getting out anytime soon, unless of course he breaks out. Which he does. In a very Shawshank kind of way. The top-down angle allows you to aid Will in his escape, keeping an eye on your surroundings as you tear through sewers and change your clothes in order to get to a safe house.
Seemingly the obvious GTA comparisons begin here, with Will catching up with an old friend and having to pull of devious jobs for seedy friends in order to piece together the puzzle that will prove his innocence (the fact he’s escaped prison seems rather by-the-by, but never mind). You’re persistently on the run throughout the game, so you need to keep yourself hidden under guises and without causing an awful lot of trouble. The latter being something that becomes increasingly more difficult as the game progresses.
The deeper Will has to go to clear his name, the more he has to take on criminal deeds, so you’ll find yourself stealing cars, breaking into houses, in the middle of a gang war and helping out corrupt politicians. As the story unfolds I found myself questioning why he’s taking on as much as he is, and why he’s becoming a criminal in order to prove that he isn’t one. Obviously it’s a common thread in fugitive stories, perhaps I was hoping the game would circumvent the traditional routes and clear his name without having to resort to killing people, whilst trying to prove he didn’t kill someone? I found it strange, in a similar way that tech-savvy freedom fighters in Watch Dogs 2 are packing machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers to win the day. AF feels a little backwards, despite the narrative being sort of able to bend to your will.
Exploring the town in order to follow leads and partake in your missions is fun, with an entertaining cast of characters on hand to offer advice or help you out in various ways. The use of dialogue options is welcome, though a second playthrough may be needed to see just how different the story bends. Will is a likable character with a just cause, and people seem to warm to him very quickly. I felt throughout that Will wasn’t a bad person at heart and the NPC’s you interact with seem to know this, some of which are hilarious and written well. Except of course the cops, who have closed off every bridge in the town in order to track down their fugitive.
And that’s one aspect of the game I found a little difficult to wrap my head around. After the first opening hours which are primarily focused on Will becoming a free man and proving his innocence, there’s a huge chunk of the game where this backstory is just straight up forgotten about. As Will spirals further into the criminal underworld, you’ll find yourself with a high wanted meter pretty much all the time, regardless of the fact that you’re the guy who every cop in town is trying to find. As you shoot your way through missions, get involved in a car chase with helicopters and causing so much unruly carnage you imagine if the cops had the brains to bring the army in it would be rather simple to bring you down. It’s entertaining to be sure, but you have to wonder why Will is letting himself get stuck into this? There’s around about an hour or two in the middle of this story which is completely and utterly unnecessary, and if anything seems to work as a way to try and tie this game back to those its attempting to emulate. The combat is strong and works well enough, the weapons feel weighty and powerful and the twin-stick directional mechanic is terrific.
The story thread of redemption was interesting and had its claws in me, so why has it been disregarded? I’m aware that sometimes you want to switch your brain off and blow up helicopters, throughout my playthrough though I could never work out what American Fugitive wanted to be. Is it telling a compelling crime narrative with a selection of interesting characters, or was that all inconsequential to get me to a point where I just shoot everything? There’s very little balance here between the two and I’m not sure which one had more attention.
Should you need to, you’re able to break into absolutely anywhere. Whether it be residential homes or shops to find supplies, rummaging through each individual room (played out on the screen like a 2D grid, which is pretty cool). Again, if you run into someone in one of these places you can either kill them or let them be. I’ve no idea if Will if meant to be a criminal or not. By the time I rolled the credits, I wasn’t sure if the ending was particularly earned.
You’re required a fair bit to drive around the relatively large open world and the handling of the cars can be either great or awful, depending on your skill level of top-down driving. From trucks to supercars you’ll cover the whole spectrum and they’re all as fast or as slow as you would expect, so don’t go tearing around corners lest you ram your ride into the side of a cop car. Something I did on various occasions whilst struggling to keep certain models under control. Fortunately you won’t have to wait long to try it out as you’re in and out of cars a fair bit in the early missions. I found myself sticking to the truck a fair bit, it was reliable enough to handle my rather reckless driving. People can report you to the police if you’re driving too erratically so make sure you do your best to navigate around without causing too much of a ruckus. Fortunately, it’s so insanely simple to evade the police – just jump some fences and change your clothes and they’ll have no clue who you are. No, seriously.
It’s also far too long, and could have quite easily been chopped down to a cracking six or seven hour experience. Your quests are primarily ‘go there, get this’, ‘go there, find that’, ‘go there, kill x/y/z’ and it felt repetitive at times without having the progression of the main story to fall back on until it came back around again. Not forgetting of course that if you die in the open world (outside of a mission) you lose all your gear. All of it. You keep your cash and skill points, but everything you’ve scavenged is gone, which is nice and infuriating. That seems to be a popular issue amongst the players, so hopefully we may see this nerfed in the future.
American Fugitive is solid, it does what it does well without really picking a lane and allowing the character of Will Riley to shine through. What feels like a story arc that is justifiable (you see Will not commit the crime he’s in prison for, after all), it’s soon forgotten for murderous mayhem and whilst I’ve complained about it somewhat, what’s on offer is really good fun. It’s an easy game to recommend, but I think more so than usual it’s important to know what the game is before you jump in. It’s fun and frantic and a nice love letter to that which its inspired by.
I was just hoping it would let itself go a little deeper.
American Fugitive is out now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
Developer: Fallen Tree Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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