by Joel France
reviewed on PC
‘Haunted by the mistakes of the past’
In American Fugitive, you play as Will, a family man with a criminal past. Called to your father’s house on the night of his death, you’re promptly framed (by an unknown party) for the murder. After a brief incarceration, Will decides he’s had enough and breaks out of prison to hunt down the people responsible. But, of course, without knowing who to look for, Will has to first hunt down evidence that will lead him to his father’s killer.
No Country For Bold Men
Will’s escape leads him to Redrock County, a once sleepy town currently teeming with police on high alert. As you search for clues to help you hunt down those who have wronged you, you’ll be pilfering valuables, commandeering vehicles, and swerving around police patrols as you follow the story missions assigned to you by the only residents of the town with any hint of character depth. The lack of life within the town is made more apparent by the way the story is told exclusively through stylised cartoon overlays. This creates a strange disconnect between gameplay and narrative, where Will’s actions seem only vaguely connected to the discussion at hand. Where the story suggests intrigue and tension, the gameplay does nothing to follow suit.
Take a moment early on, where Will is coming back to meet his old friend Dwayne, your somewhat seedy contact who works at the salvage yard. Upon entering his office, you catch a thief red-handed going through Dwayne’s paperwork. She flees before Will has a good chance to react, and you’re ungraciously plonked outside after the narrative finishes playing out. You can then turn straight on your heels and head back inside, where Dwayne is now waiting patiently with your next mission - and neither he or Will makes any mention of the trespasser who fled mere seconds before.
Felony By Numbers
The missions themselves are pretty standard fare, mostly consisting of ‘drive here, do this, get that, come back’. However, most of these activities are geared to make you complicit in various unsavoury actions - and it’s rare that you’ll complete a mission without something going awry. Get caught red-handed, say, whilst relieving a property of its possessions, or stealing a car, and you’ll quickly draw the attention of the long arm of the law. In situations like this, it’s always best to flee - trying to fight your way out will most likely swiftly lead to your demise, as Will ends up peppered full of holes from the trigger-happy officers.
But dying as a result of this is not the end of the punishment. When you end up sprawled on the floor after being inevitably outmatched by the swarms of police come to join the fray (often after barely clipping a wing mirror of a car whilst wrestling with the vehicle controls), American Fugitive takes the bold move of wiping out your inventory - every weapon bought or stolen, every outfit snatched from a poorly guarded washing line, every morsel of food set aside for a rainy day. You’re brought back outside a sewer pipe somewhere in the town, with nothing but the prisoner’s jumpsuit on your back (though, oddly, you’re also allowed to keep whatever cash you had earned up to this point). This stripping of your resources adds an unnecessary extra penalty to a state players should already be keen to avoid, forcing you to first go through the laborious process of hunting down a washing line in the nearby area without being spotted in your now ever-so-conspicuous outfit, before needing to track down or repurchase any weapons or other key items. Whilst not difficult, it is tedious - not a adjective you want players to be reaching for when already inconvenienced by a failed mission.
One saving grace for American Fugitive is the music - a bluesy soundtrack reminiscent of Darren Korb’s fantastic work for Bastion, which sets a similarly gritty western tone. How the twangy guitars and plodding drum grooves react to the antics you’re getting up to creates a consistent ebb and flow, building up and layering instrumentation in tense situations before dropping out to an ambient noise floor of bird calls to signify moments of calm. Unfortunately, the sound effects more closely related to the actions of your character are a little less consistent. Gunshots sound limp and unenthused, providing little in the way of punchy feedback when attempting to line up a shot. Conversely, the whoosh sound effect that accompanies the action of crouching is almost comically overdone - seemingly borrowed from the alert for a mission update in the UI. This creates a bit of a tonal whiplash, as it’s hard to take seriously the actions of a criminal whose foley work has seemingly been outsourced to Looney Tunes.
Ultimately, it’s clear that the design of American Fugitive has taken great inspiration from the likes of Grand Theft Auto, and this offers a nostalgic recreation, for those who want it, of a sandbox series that has had incredible influence on gaming as a whole. However, by focusing too much on the old-school installments, it misses out on the lessons learned in future iterations, and so comes up a little lacking when compared with what modern experiences have to offer.
clunky controls, gameplay/narrative disconnect