Inspired by the pre-3D Grand Theft Auto games, this new indie title has you trying to clear your name by fair means or foul.
In video games you almost always play the good guy, working tirelessly for the forces of law and order. When you kill it’s in the name of peace, and those on the business end of your assault rifle, sword, or fire punch are unequivocally evil. It’s an easy way of justifying what might in the real world be a catalogue of violence so horrific that just reading about it would leave you with post-traumatic stress disorder.
American Fugitive does things a bit differently. You play Will Riley, a man who’s framed for his father’s murder in the opening prologue and thrown into jail. Naturally, he soon manages to escape and begins the game proper, in which he fights to clear his name, track down his father’s real killers, and tear down the web of deceit that surrounds the events of the night of his arrest.
What swiftly becomes apparent is that even though Will’s innocent of patricide, he’s no angel, and is himself a prolific petty criminal well known to the city’s law enforcement community. With this in mind his approach to seeking justice involves a massive crime spree ranging from vehicle theft and burglary through to murder, kidnapping, and a wide range of dodginess in-between. His motivations are reasonably pure, but his actions are anything but.
Viewed from a top down perspective, American Fugitive owes more than a small debt to the original Grand Theft Auto. It has paint spray shops that let you shed your wanted level, car jumps and secret stashes to collect, race-based time trials, and 20 paintings to steal. Its mission-orientated gameplay is also a dead ringer, with quests given to you by a succession of crime world figures, sending you all over town to fulfil their nefarious briefs.
A typical job involves driving somewhere, burgling a building, holding up a store, or beating up a specified target, before making good your escape. Robberies have you casing the joint by peering through windows to check whether rooms are occupied, then using a lead pipe, tyre iron, or crowbar to let yourself in. Once inside you’ll see a plan view of the house, with a countdown timer showing how long you’ve got before the police turn up, letting you balance the risk of searching more rooms with the potential reward of extra loot.
Once you’ve lifted any valuables you find, it’s straight to the pawn shop (Reese Pawn – geddit?) to fence them; the dollars you earn can then be spent to upgrade Will’s skills. These let you increase inventory size, health, your ability to hold up shops, stealth, and a range of other helpful factors in support of Will’s life of crime.
When you commit an illegal act or accidentally hit stuff with your car, your wanted level goes up and, like Grand Theft Auto, that’s represented by between one and five stars depending on the severity of your transgression. On one star you’ll often still be able to drive past police cars without them bothering to give chase, whereas at five you can expect armoured cars and helicopters.
Losing the heat is a doddle however, and most of the time you can ditch even a five-star wanted level by abandoning your car, running a short distance and crouching in bushes to remain undetected, a technique that only becomes easier as you upgrade. It does mean waiting around for a minute or so, and police get a little more persistent as you tour the city’s three discrete islands, but even at their worst the police are little more than a mild inconvenience.
It’s just as well, because even with the best of intentions it’s hard to stay on the right side of the law, as your car is prone to clipping other motorists and accidentally demolishing swathes of scenery. It’s enormously satisfying watching your trail of destruction though, the colourful fireballs from exploding vehicles and the scatter of fence posts as you burst through yet another back garden making for a jolly spectacle in the game’s pretty 3D overhead perspective.
Set in the 1980s, complete with Gordon Gecko-style brick mobiles, its cars have delightfully spongey handling making for tail happy car chases that always result in mayhem, whether you’re running away or pursuing a fellow criminal. It’s also got a pleasantly dark sense of humour evident in all its characters, from corrupt cops to feuding yokels, to the serial-killing undertaker you work for briefly. It revels in its cartoon criminality, and there’s nary a do-gooder in sight.
The endless parade of fetch quests, with no ability to fast travel does eventually start to pall, and however nice it is to be bad, there’s not all that much variety in the larceny, but American Fugitive is still a pleasant 10 or so hours of lo-fi chaos set in a hugely likeable and destructible miniature landscape. The fact that it can feel a bit bland at times is okay. It’s not a triple-A game, isn’t priced as one and it would be unfair to hold it to the same standards.
In Short: A likeable, car chase-riddled sandbox crime spree that updates the original pre-3D Grand Theft Auto games into a more modern play experience.
Pros: Good looking destructible scenery, black humour, and chaotic vehicular demolition with a central character who’s far from the usual goodie two-shoes.
Cons: The action lacks variety and if you’re allergic to fetch quests this will send you into anaphylactic shock.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Fallen Tree Games
Release Date: 21st May 2019 (Switch 23/5, Xbox 24/5)
Age Rating: 16
By Nick Gillett
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