Just one look at American Fugitive on Xbox One is enough to bring back memories of the classic top-down Grand Theft Auto games. Thankfully, with the advancement of modern consoles, American Fugitive manages to pack in a lot more than simple driving from point A to point B, wasting a few enemies and then driving back for a reward; though the first few hours of the game would leave you thinking otherwise.
In American Fugitive – the latest game from Fallen Tree Games whose staff can boast credits such as TimeSplitters, Crysis and Goldeneye 007: Reloaded – you play as Will Riley. Will has just escaped from prison after being charged for the murder of his own father, a crime he didn’t commit. Armed with only a memory of a strange car parked outside his father’s house just before the murder, he escapes prison to clear his name and exact his revenge. He is by no means a ‘good’ person, but he is certainly no killer.
Will calls upon his ex-brother-in-law Dwayne, to help him get his feet back on the ground but also to help him find out who is responsible for his father’s death.
After this initial meeting, the game opens up in typical old-school GTA style. You are confined to a small section of the map – bridges between islands are blocked off whilst the police search for the fugitive – and must undertake petty crimes, earning cash and hoping for a lead on your father’s killer.
The opening hours of the game feel very dragged out; after several missions for Dwayne you meet a cat-burglar named Ana, who claims to have information that you are looking for. But before that, you must find her an outfit for a party her parents are hosting.
In particular this section feels laborious, especially considering some of the missions involving tasks you likely will have dabbled with already: namely robbing houses and holding up stores. In fact, many of the opening missions feel short and repetitive from both Dwayne and Ana.
Later mission arcs follow the same pattern really: the person you are engaging with has something Will needs but to get it you need to complete laborious tasks for them. Some characters offer humour with their bizarre requests, but it does start to become grating before they are willing to part with their info.
This is obviously in keeping with old-school open world games that have come and gone, but the genre has evolved so much that this throwback is now a bit disappointing.
It isn’t all old-school though and American Fugitive features an upgrade board that – whilst not tactical or completely game-changing – is still a nice addition.
Thankfully, there is enough to keep you busy and engaged in the meantime. There are the standard time trials dotted around the map – with some very stringent timings for the gold medal – along with the usual stunt jumps, but there are also plenty of houses to be swept clean of any valuables. If you see a house you like the look of, you can case the joint before sneaking in. This doesn’t necessarily let you know what its contents are, but it will let you see which rooms are currently occupied, by peeking in through the windows.
These are all backed up with enough gameplay mechanics that would make even Hideo Kojima proud. You can move around stealthily to avoid detection or grab a change of clothes on a washing line to change your appearance, but more importantly, get the cops off your tail. You can even swap the car you are driving to confuse them altogether. The cops in American Fugitive will stop at nothing to get you, but you have plenty of options at your disposal to lose them. Failing all that, you could always resort to violence for the ultimate end…
But the cops in American Fugitive will also hunt you down over the slightest of things. Unlike American Fugitive’s obvious inspirations, you will need to drive carefully through Redrock County. Hit an oncoming car or mount the kerb and knock over a lamppost and you run the risk of being reported by an onlooker. Then the game has a nasty habit of spawning a cop car in the same direction you are heading. After that, it is futile to try and stop committing crimes because you will easily rack up additional stars – up to a maximum of 5. Too many times I have ended up being tracked down by a helicopter for simply knocking down a garden fence. The trouble is, it’s so much fun having a full squadron of cops after you that you want to do it again straight after.
When you aren’t destroying everything in sight, American Fugitive does a good job graphically. There is a full day/night cycle in the game – that even extends to the behaviour of the residents as well. you won’t find any clothes left out to dry in the dead of night and trying to burgle a bedroom of a house will almost always result in a showdown between you and the resident. But this backwater town is seemingly peaceful on the outside, and there is enough variation within the smallish world map that you won’t get bored of seeing the same locations time and time again.
For those expecting a full suite of radio stations to flick between when driving around, then American Fugitive’s soundtrack may disappoint. There is no radio in the car, and instead a random musical piece from composer Gavin Harrison will start up, depending on the situation; if you are heading out on foot or a gentle drive the blues-y music is calming and relaxing. Head out like a wrecking ball then the music quickly ratchets up in keeping with your heart rate. Sadly, there is no fade in/out with the music tracks, they just tend to cut out completely and be replaced by a new one.
American Fugitive on Xbox One has 43 achievements in total, with a very good balance between story-related, collectibles and some ‘fun’ ones thrown in. For example, one achievement has you knocking out five people with a toilet brush in 60 seconds, whilst another has you literally disposing of a garbage bag at the dump. That isn’t a euphemism for a body, but conversely there is also an achievement for getting rid of someone in the lake. Many of these achievements will come naturally as you explore this open-world, while any that are left outstanding will be a lot of fun to mop up after you complete the story.
All things considered and the team at Fallen Tree Games have created a brilliant playground for us to explore, destroy and burgle. It is a great love letter to the humble origins of the open-world game that we know and love now, but that does mean it comes with the restrictions associated with that; mainly, the overly long mission arcs that unfortunately become a bit of a grind, especially in the opening hours where the map is more restricted. Once it opens up, the mission structure stays the same, but you have the opportunity to cause more mayhem and destruction, and this is where American Fugitive is at its best and most pure.