Grand Theft Auto III was one of the PlayStation 2’s most important early releases -- fully realising the potential of its genre with an interactive 3D open world that took the world by storm upon its launch in late 2001. It was a landmark moment for video games, but it also represented a shift in design away from the top-down perspective. And nearly 20 years later, it’s those earlier titles that developer Fallen Tree Games is trying to replicate with American Fugitive. The attempt isn’t quite as successful as those Rockstar classics, but this blast from the past is sure to provide a decent experience for those in the mood.

The Nottingham-based studio’s first home console release is indeed a rather simple one from the outset, but dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover numerous mechanics and features that’ll have you coming back for more. With the top-down angle in hand, you’ll need to do your best at avoiding the police and drawing any attention to yourself, all the while completing devious jobs and crimes for a handful of undercover crooks.

Locked up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, protagonist Will Riley makes a dash for freedom in order to find out who killed his father. Now on the run from the authorities following a successful breakout, you’ll meet up with a number of seedy people and do their bidding in the hopes of taking a step closer to uncovering the truth.

That is until you find yourself wrapped up in the criminal underbelly of 1980s Redrock County. Riley quickly becomes embroiled in a gang war, assists an undertaker in his deadly studies, and even helps out a government election campaign. He’s quite clearly in over his head, but the narrative works much of the time. Learning of the trials and tribulations the town faces on a daily basis is both comical and entertaining, while engaging in conversation with contacts is a joy. Learning more of your objectives is a breeze, but delve into occasional dialogue options and you have the chance to somewhat shape the plot to your liking.

Perhaps the only complaint we do have is that Will’s simple, redeeming quest to learn of his father’s real killer falls by the wayside all too quickly. It’s the driving force behind the opening couple of hours, but is almost forgotten about by the mid-game. Proceedings do circle back around eventually, but pacing issues make you question the point of some missions and tasks when you could be using that time much more fruitfully.

You’re here for the chaotic action though -- American Fugitive’s most satisfying aspect. With an open world to explore at any time, you’re free to cause anarchy at your will. A large inventory allows you to carry anything from toilet brushes and spades through to shotguns and machine guns for when the going gets tough, especially if the cops are called. Committing crimes builds up a wanted meter, kicking things off with a simple car chase before elevating the situation to S.W.A.T vans and helicopters. You could have half the police force on your tail before you know it, but getting them off your back is hilariously simple. Break line of sight for a second and you’ll have the chance to slip into a neighbour’s back garden and grab the clothing off their washing line, creating an all-new Will Riley the cops aren’t looking for. It all ties into the game’s commitment to fun and entertainment -- one that it absolutely nails whenever the sheriff gets involved.

If you’d rather do things a little more quietly though, the majority of the district’s residential area comes with an open invitation. You can break into almost every house, shop, and establishment you come across, which all come with the possibility of scoring a high-value item. Once you’ve gained entry, an on-screen mini game allows you to explore rooms and steal worthy items before the police arrive. There’s always the possibility that someone will be home while you’re stealing, at which point you’ll need to decide if they get to live to tell the tale.

The title’s open world nature lends itself well to creating mindless disorder, but it’s actually in the more structured missions where the experience disappoints to a degree. As it expands horizons in terms of storylines, level design actually contracts. Far too many assignments amount to nothing more than generic fetch quests or tasks that require you to mow down bad guys. There are a handful of high points scattered throughout the campaign, but they’re few and far between among a sea of mediocrity.

To make matters worse, the game’s length accentuates this flaw. The experience would have worked perfectly at a run time of five to seven hours, but you’ll need to double that at the very least if you want to see things through to their conclusion. Because of this, you’ll drag yourself through numerous tasks that fail to justify their existence. American Fugitive outstays its welcome by a very large margin.

You might be surprised to hear that the game actually comes packaged with some rogue-like elements. If you die during a mission, you’ll be able to simply restart at a checkpoint, but if you meet your doom out in the open world then you’ll have lost your entire inventory upon respawn. Your progress in the story, skill points, and cash all carry over, but you’ll need to start over again when it comes to procuring items and weapons. We don’t understand the point of it honestly -- the mechanic feels like a half step that punishes the player for no real reason more than anything else.

Conclusion

American Fugitive is an exceptional open world playground for dumb fun, but it fails to capitalise on that when tailored mission design is brought into the fold. One too many repetitive objectives drag the experience down to a crawl, but for some, the narrative will be just about enough to make it worthwhile.