It’s fair to assume that American Fugitive serves as an experience that channels that classic Grand Theft Auto vibe, and whilst that’s certainly what it comes across like, there’s more to the game than meets the eye. Sure, it’s got its issues and it suffers from some drawbacks, but for the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer. First and foremost, the story portrays a tale of vengeance, revenge, and corruption; throwing players into the role of Will Riley, a chap that’s been sent down for a murder that he did not commit.
The game wastes little time setting up this plot framework, and no sooner can you blink before you’re busting out of jail to find yourselves on the run. Naturally, Will’s pissed. Not only has his father been killed in cold blood, but he’s been left holding the proverbial bag. What follows suit is hardly a story for the ages, often relying on threads that have been used time and time again before, but, it succeeds at remaining interesting and holding everything together. During the initial stages of play, you’ll get a firm grasp as to how everything works.
The game’s rather hands-on to begin with as it slowly feeds you in, teaching you how to move, how to engage, how to utilize combat. Though before too long, you’ll be left to your own devices. The developer, Fallen Tree Games, clearly knows their craft. American Fugitive is silky smooth, even when there’s a lot of action on-screen, the performance rarely buckles. The game plays out as a 3D top-down (semi) open-world singleplayer action fest, one that sits on the backdrop of a deep south 1980s setting. It’s classic sandbox at its near finest.
It’s always apparent that old-school Grand Theft Auto is the game’s inspirational material, and to a degree, the overall structure is fairly similar, give or take a few mechanics. You’ll move through the game’s story via taking on a range of missions from the game’s various NPCs, all whilst doing whatever you can to keep the heat of the law at bay. Believe me, that’s a lot easier said than done. The law here is notorious, and adopts the same star-level rank as its inspiration; with more forces sent for you as you wreak more havoc throughout.
Nearly everything you do is reported, regardless as to whether there’s a cop nearby or not. Clip someone’s car on the way down the road? Expect repercussions. Accidentally bump into a cop that’s chasing you for said crime? Expect dire repercussions. This sense of severity isn’t at all a negativity, because if anything it almost forces you into playing safely, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, on occasion, it can feel relativity unfair. Still, with that being said, and overall, I did actually rather enjoy the game’s strict nature on this front.
You’re very unlikely to get away with much of anything; from simple criminal damage through to cold-blooded murder, the law clearly wants to make you pay for your troubles, regardless as to how small or large they may be. Of course, you are indeed able to evade the law with some skill and perseverance. Whilst the law will rarely give up a hunt, should you shake them off your tail, they’ll eventually halt their searches. There are other ways to achieve the same result, such as altering your disguise or laying low in a building for a while.
Though, with that in mind, you’ll always need to be careful. What the cops lack in intelligence, they make up for in awareness and perseverance. Get spotted hopping into a new car or changing your clothes mid-chase, and they’ll remember your vehicle model and attire. In American Fugitive, you need to lay low if you’re seeking an easy ride. The aforementioned star-rank system operates in the way that you would expect; a low star-rank is fairly easy to wiggle free from, but get more stars added, and you’re in for hell.
The law tends to respond to low star-ranks via sending out a squad car or two, but wont be shy of sending out the tankier vehicles and choppers should you resist arrest and continue a crime spree. My only issue here is that the AI (not just for the police, but for enemies overall) can be quite stupid. They make ridiculous mistakes that can often break immersion; such as firing at cars that are positioned next to them, and then failing to move as they explode – killing them and raising your star-rank as a result. These instances are annoying.
Several times I found the AI behaving in daft ways like this, which is a shame, because they make up for much of the experience at hand. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but more refinement here would not have gone amiss. Regardless, the game sports a good deal of balance in relation to its law system. There’s plenty of things that you can get up to if you’re looking for carnage, and then several ways to counter your actions when the time comes that you want to shake everything off.
It’s a good job then, because the majority of your assignments throughout the game will see you dancing on either side of the law. The game’s missions, however outlandish they may be, vary quite nicely – from simple fetch quests, right the way through to slaughtering hordes of gang opposition. There’s much more to do on top of that, of course. The game’s world is full of tasks and side jobs, not to mention being able to partake in optional activities such as time trials, stunt jumps, and more. Safe to say, there’s no shortage of content here.
Hell, I lost myself for an hour or two just mindlessly looting houses and stealing cars. The former of which comes with an interesting mechanic. When entering a building of any kind, you’re not shown the interior. Instead, a small map will be presented on-screen, and you’re free to move from room to room with action prompts giving you extra choices; move to another room, steal a room’s goods, and so on. You can even beat home owners if you so see fit, but irrespective of choice, the heat will descend on your location if you’re not fast.
Should you enter a building and be surrounded by cops, you’ll need to act quickly before they cover all of your exit points. Failing to do so usually ends in death or capture. It’s a very straightforward system overall, but it fits in place well. Naturally, spending time being a crook has its pros as well as its cons, as you’ll, if you’re lucky enough, have a chance at scoring valuable goods via rummaging through buildings. That’s an area in which American Fugitive excels. You’re free to do whatever the hell you want at any given time.
There’s an inventory system in place that allows you to carry a wealth of goods on your travels, from food and needless items, through to an arsenal that would make even John Wick proud. Outside of that, a skill-tree is in place to improve Will’s capabilities and resilience. The more you put into American Fugitive, the more you’ll get out of it. You’ll be awarded a skill point for fulfilling specific tasks and requirements, to which you can then spend this point on a wide range of useful skills; stamina, equipment, space, and so forth.
The downside, however, is that you’ll also need some cash to spend on slotting in a skill point. This is especially frustrating early on because money hardly comes in thick and fast. It’s easy enough to overlook, but it does get irritating until the big bucks start rolling in. One other annoyance is that of Will’s general capabilities starting out. I understand the relevance of a skill tree, and it certainly shows its use once you start plugging in some time, but Will is about as useful as a damned chocolate fireguard during the initial stages of the game.
Running, for instance, sees Will merely making it thirty yards before he keels over and starts dragging his feet. This makes evading the law early on a lot more tedious than it needs to be. Without these few poor design choices and drawbacks, American Fugitive would have been all the better for it. However, even with its problems in sight, there’s still a great deal of fun to be had here. American Fugitive, if anything, is a highly polished action game that knows what it wants to be, and achieves pretty much everything that it set out to accomplish.
It helps that the game handles really well too. Whether you’re on foot or in a high-speed chase, or smack bang in the middle of a gun fight, the game’s feedback is brilliant. Granted, there’s a few vehicles that feel a bit too loose, and some camera issues can lead to unwanted kills due to not being able to see too far ahead, but when all is said and done, American Fugitive is well developed. It’s a sandbox that gives you freedom, choice, and variety, and despite its (at time) bonkers framework, it all comes together decently.
If you’re here looking for a modernized version of classic Grand Theft Auto, complete with fairly deep systems and plenty of varying objectives and side content, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The game’s audio and visual design gets a thumbs up too. American Fugitive looks and sounds terrific. The game sports a considerable amount of detail across the board, and thanks to its distinct locations, it rarely grows tiresome to behold. I can say the same about its audio presentation, offering up sharp cues and a great soundtrack throughout.
Whilst I take issue with the game’s pacing and its hit and miss AI, there’s little else to scoff at here. American Fugitive is a love letter to fans of classic Grand Theft Auto. The game’s stunning world is full of varied activities and events, with no shortage of choice to take to throughout each and every aspect within. This is all held together by remarkably fluid gameplay, putting forward a sandbox that’s deep, robust, and constantly action-packed.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.