American Fugitive is a modern take on classic sandbox action offering a new 3D top-down open-world single-player experience. Welcome to Redrock County, a sleepy American town with a booming criminal underbelly. You take the role of Will Riley.
Will Riley has made some bad choices. Friend to lowlifes of various persuasions and no stranger to the odd legal and moral transgression of his own, he winds up in a tight spot when police find him standing over the body of his recently deceased father. He acts to preserve himself by making yet more bad choices, such as escaping prison and diving right back into a life of crime while on the run.
Often when we occupy a criminal’s shoes in games, film or TV, we’re shown a few glimpses of their underlying kindness to endear them to us. This top-down action-game-meets-heist-drama has different ideas. As soon as he busts out of Redrock County jail in this fictionalised 1980s US deep south, Riley goes back to the only way of life he knows. For the player, that means two-bit burglaries, acts of wanton vandalism and appropriately – given the developer Fallen Tree Games’ obvious affection for old-school Grand Theft Auto – a serious body count.
American Fugitive isn’t content to milk a wave of nostalgia for tabloid-baiting classic games. It dives deeper into the nitty-gritty of your crimes than video games of the 1990s did. When you break into a home, the bread and butter of Riley’s exploits for many missions, you’re given a top-down floorplan to hurriedly loot for valuables while a timer ticks away at the top of the screen, counting down until the police arrive. Rummaging around in houses or abandoned vehicles lets you fill your inventory with weapons, food and items that make you think about how you’re going to pull off a job. To that end, there’s a nefarious thrill to jimmying a window open with a crowbar you found under a burned-out car.
Otherwise, the action that comprises Riley’s career – throwing drivers out of their cars before careening the wrong way down highways, running and gunning, police shootouts – is fun, if a little functional. Although the physics effects attempt to sell the drama of every car chase, each encounter with the law feels much the same.
Less entertaining are the drawn-out exchanges between Riley and his friends (or, more accurately, mission dispensers). From scrapyard owners to femme fatales and fat-necked crime lords, the characters feel as if they’ve been picked at random from a stockroom of American stereotypes, and the writing fails to enliven them. This wouldn’t be such a problem if you didn’t have to spend so long jawing with them.
You’re unlikely to think back to Redrock County in spare moments and wonder how the scrapyard guy or that nice family whose house you ransacked are getting on. American Fugitive’s characterisation and sense of place is sketched a bit too roughly for that, referencing the 80s deep south visually without really summoning it atmospherically. But it successfully pays homage to a fondly remembered old game while adding something meaningful, making you think like a con, plan your crimes and improvise escapes when those plans go awry.