Many games have tried to imitate the feel of the Grand Theft Auto series with mixed results – titles like Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row have absolutely nailed it, whilst others have been a bit less successful (hello Driv3r and Mafia III). These titles have all tried to imitate the series’ transition to 3D though, with none ever really returning to its roots and giving a top-down view on a criminal adventure.
American Fugitive, the debut release from developer Fallen Tree Games, looks to change that with its crime-fuelled romp to prove a man’s innocence. It’s a good effort too with the gameplay mechanics proving fun throughout, though some unfortunate technical issues hold it back on the Nintendo Switch.
American Fugitive puts you in the shoes of Will Riley, a young man who is wrongly accused of murdering his father and incarcerated because of it. With just one piece of evidence to identify the real killer (a sports car at the scene of the crime), Will works with his brother-in-law to try and find justice. He can’t do this from behind bars though so he plots a daring escape and begins his journey to prove his innocence. How, you ask? By killing lots of people (police included) and generally causing mayhem in Redrock County…
As mentioned, American Fugitive feels like an old-school Grand Theft Auto game, so you can expect to be speeding through a decent sized open world, stealing cars, shooting down enemies, and causing havoc from a top down-ish perspective. The driving and the shooting feels good in-game, whilst the missions that the eclectic folk you encounter offer give enough variety to ensure you never start to feel bored. Admittedly, you can expect to do some of the same sorts of tasks more than a few times throughout the roughly twelve-hour adventure, but the short nature of the missions ensure that they never get boring. American Fugitive keeps things simple, but manages to also keep them fun because of it.
There’s a big emphasis placed on your inventory in-game, with the player able to collect plenty of healing items as well as a selection of weapons. You can get a lot of these things out and about in Redrock County’s shops, or alternatively you can embrace your newfound criminal status and find them whilst breaking into all of the buildings around you.
American Fugitive has a neat burglary mechanic where you’ll be tasked with peeking into windows from outside to scope out buildings for inhabitants and then breaking in by smashing a window or ripping a door open with a crowbar. Once inside, the building is presented as a diagram with each room marked out, and you’re tasked with moving between them and searching them for any useful loot. It’s a simple process, but with the risk of the police catching you as well as any potential inhabitants getting in your way you do have to think things through carefully. If you do discover someone you’ll be able to take them hostage or kill them, but the outcome is randomly generated so it won’t always feel fair – it’s better to just try and focus on locations that are empty. All-in-all it’s a neat mechanic which adds something unique to American Fugitive that ensures your inventory and wallet are kept full.
It’s a good job too because you’ll need cash to unlock upgrades, with the player able to level up all sorts of stats including the likes of sprint stamina, inventory size, health, burglary success rates and so on. You’ll also require skill points as well as cash, so completing story and side missions is imperative if you want to become stronger in the game. One piece of advice I’d offer early on though is to get your sprint stamina up – it turns out that Will won’t be running marathons anytime soon and it can prove a little frustrating during the game’s earlier on-foot sections.
It’s not the only area of the game that can cause frustration though, with the most obvious one being just how competent the Police Force are. They’ll be on your back for just about ANYTHING, be it heading onto someone else’s property, destroying an inanimate object, or simply scraping against another vehicle. Admittedly, they’re never too difficult to escape from (you can just grab another vehicle or steal someone’s clothes off their washing line to hide your identity) but it was annoying to see they were on my tail after every minor incident. The problem is, between the speed of vehicles and the sometimes twitchy nature brought on by the Nintendo Switch’s frame rate (more on that in a bit) it could be a little too easy to crash your ride, which meant the Police were after me A LOT.
The worst part is, if they caught or killed you outside of a mission you’d lose your items. Given the focus on building up your inventory, this could prove very frustrating – especially after spending a lot of time breaking into buildings to gather the loot in the first place. This wasn’t such a big problem in the Grand Theft Auto series where you’d only lose your weapons, but in this case it felt like an unnecessary punishment.
The other big problem with American Fugitive is its frame rate issues, though it’s something that I believe is only present on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. It would rarely ever hit 30fps in-game and when it did it would struggle to maintain it, with the gameplay itself and the controls having a somewhat sluggish feel because of it. It never drops so low that American Fugitive feels unplayable, but it did make me wonder whether I’d made a mistake playing the Nintendo Switch version. It’s not always the prettiest game on the handheld mode either, with some jagged edges and sketchy textures making some locales feel ugly.
It has its flaws, but American Fugitive offers a simple and fun take on the open-world criminal experience. Speeding through Redrock County and shooting down enemies is enjoyable, breaking and entering is addictive, whilst the charm of the world and its characters ensures you’ll want to see the tale through to its conclusion – it gets most of the important things right.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch version of the game suffers from a fair few framerate issues, and whilst they never make the game unplayable it did make me wonder if I’d have enjoyed it more on a more powerful console. It’s certainly playable on Nintendo’s console and fun will be had, but if you want to experience American Fugitive at its best you may want to leave this version alone.
Developer: Fallen Tree Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC