Now before I even get into the main details of American Hero, there is some backstory to its development that needs to be acknowledged; a bit of scene-setting.
In the 1990s the FMV gaming scene was fast becoming something of a trend. Developers were creating adult entertainment stories that were causing controversy, games like Night Trap. But they were also making big sales. Atari Corp had an idea to make a series of high-profile games like this, planning to release on their Jaguar console. That was until that console died, taking American Hero – which was nearly completed – with it. A year later they tried to revive things as a motion picture but some of the negatives were destroyed so it was abandoned. Until now as American Hero releases in 2021, accompanied by many warnings.
Having first been created in 1995, where the developers were attempting to cater for 14-year old boys who wanted action, half-naked women, and even more action, American Hero now loads up on Xbox to talk about how different that time was and how the values it promotes are not particularly fit for today’s society. This point brings up the complexity of reviewing this game. It’s like we are reviewing a museum piece, an antiquity that has been found in an archaeological dig. But even though it doesn’t fit into our now, maybe there is still some value.
As an FMV, it’s fascinating to see the size of the budget that they had back then; it’s a game made with big LA locations, huge casts, and quite a famous actor with action sequences and high production values. From the beginning though, American Hero was filmed on a ratio that doesn’t stand up to modern-day games, so the developers worked a neat trick of presenting the game like you are watching it on a TV-Video combo, one set in your bedroom. You see the TV and video cassettes by the side, with pen-drawn titles referencing the game. It’s a nice touch that helps get over the format problems.
The story is a cheesy one at best, but everyone knows that and are almost seen winking at the camera throughout. It follows a former intelligence operative – Jack Devon – who at the start of the game is found in his local strip joint, watching the show. A former army colleague called Hoover asks him to go on another mission for his country. You see, a mad Nazi scientist – Jack’s nemesis – is threatening to poison the LA water supply with a virus. Jack’s ex Laura is a microbiologist who has gone missing and she was working on the antidote. Do you accept the mission?
American Hero works like all other FMV games that have ever been released, leaving you with a choice about what to do next; and how those choices have a direct outcome on the story. It is no different here – from the beginning you can choose to either listen to Hoover about the mission or have a private lap dance. If you choose one of these outcomes the game could pretty much be over within minutes, resulting in the funeral of Jack. I was quite impressed with the number of choices that are available to affect the outcome of many sections and how the different narrative branches reach out from there.
There is a decent technique used where the choices flick between the options quickly; it is this which gives a real-time urgency to the decision making as well. The main focus, if you can stand it, is to try and unlock all possible scenes and endings in the game. This means having to repeat sections again and again, which can occasionally get wearisome.
The story and writing are cheesy, with some elements of misogyny and old-fashioned macho action bravado. It’s very tongue-in-cheek though and would most certainly have been originally aimed at a younger audience; one who they knew would be playing an 18+ game. The characters are over the top too, from mad Nazi scientists, to Russian assassins. I have to say, the actors do a good job of keeping a straight face throughout, especially the actresses who have to deal with some very dodgy scenes. But the action sequences, cinematography, and camera work are of a high standard, with some good budget showing here.
American Hero is a strange game to review because it’s very much like watching a museum piece play out. I do, however, think it’s important that this game has been shown the light of day, even if the subject matter and themes don’t hold up at all in today’s world. As a game though, its use of FMV gameplay techniques is interesting and well put together, and so if you’re after a blast from the past, American Hero is out there waiting. Just be warned about what you’re getting yourself into.
You’ll find American Hero on the Xbox Store