Reviewed: December 6, 2003
Released: November 18, 2003
Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror is quickly becoming famous for being one of the worst games ever released. Seriously. I follow the gaming press with a passion, and in a mere matter of days, Fugitive Hunter has garnered more scores below 3/10 than any game I can remember, save for Drake of the 99 Dragons. Even the infamous BMX XXX outscores Fugitive Hunter in most cases. I mean, 3/10, that is worse than getting a F- on a report card. That can’t be possible…can it? Kids, as my father always used to say, anything’s possible…
So, does Fugitive Hunter deserve the bad reviews it’s getting? To be honest, I’d have to say that the press’ scoring might be a bit overly harsh, but have no doubt about it – Fugitive Hunter is one of the lamest FPS titles I’ve played in a long, long time and I’m just thankful that the shallow gameplay was over quickly so I could get on with my life. Fugitive Hunter left me feeling soiled (not in a good way – if there is a good way to be soiled, that is), exhausted, broken, and slightly disturbed; partially because of the glaring technical problems, mostly because of the premise of the game which, given the current state of world affairs seems to be a heartless attempt to capitalize on the widespread fear and resulting vigilante-heroism which has been taking over our nation for the years since 9/11.
You see, in Fugitive Hunter, you play as Jake Seaver, a Fugitive Hunter for the Criminal Interdiction and Fugitive Recovery (CIRF) task force. It is Jake’s duty to rid the USA (and eventually the world) of the evildoers who have made their way onto the FBI’s notorious Most Wanted List. Jake is the poster boy for American Patriotism, with the kind of badass appeal tailor-made for the likes of hotheaded WASPy couch-potato heroes who fantasize about kicking butt in the name of the American flag. And this is where the game really makes me uncomfortable.
I try to keep my political views out of my reviews, but I think that Fugitive Hunter treads on some dangerous ground for the current times. I may be a blonde-haired-blue-eyed American myself, but I don’t like the fact that Fugitive Hunter seems to go out of its way to fuel existing negative racial/ethnic stereotypes (Blacks are drug dealers, Muslims are terrorists, etc..) and makes it appear that it’s just fine to mow down hundreds of these characters all in the name of the flag.
I know, I know…it’s just a game. And we’ve been stereotyping in games for years, so why is it suddenly a touchy subject? Because we are currently neck-deep in a real war, and real people with families are being killed by other real people with families and along comes this game, attempting to ride on the wave with no regard for who gets hurt along the way. That scares me. Sure, I loved GTA, Max Payne and True Crime, all of which are deep with senseless killing and racial stereotyping – but all have a tongue-in-cheek Hollywood movie quality about them and for the most part, people of all races and colors can see through the fluff and enjoy them equally.
Fugitive Hunter’s premise is to approach reality, using “real” criminals from the Most Wanted List, including supreme evildoer Osama Bin Ladin as the final boss, and that realism gives the game a disturbing vibe when the killing suddenly becomes too real – especially given the target audience.
Enough with the politics, on with the game…
At first glance, Fugitive Hunter appears to be a fairly ordinary run-and-gun FPS. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes to fall apart – saving you from the agony of getting emotionally attached before breaking your heart. Within minutes, you’ll see nearly every bad mark this game has against it. Let me begin:
First and foremost, there’s the inconsistency with the weapons. Within the first few moments of gameplay, you find yourself facing a wall of enemies near a downed chopper. Quick strafing will afford you a grenade launcher – perfect for clearing out a party, right? Nope. You see, although the launched grenades seems to bounce off walls with surprisingly realistic physics, don’t expect the grenades to be effective. I don’t know how many times I launched a grenade square in the middle of a closely aligned group of three or four enemies and watched as its blast did absolutely nothing. Then again, there were a few times a grenade blew up a hapless foe wandering halfway across the screen from the blast center, but usually the grenades do nothing. This inconsistency is indicative of all the weapons – sometimes they allow you to be Deadeye Dick, sometimes you’ll be shooting air. Hmmm….
So, scrambling for a gun to dispatch the enemies who magically survived the grenade you just tossed at their feet, you notice an alcove behind you. You enter the cave and find it leads down into an underground bunker. You’ll encounter a few enemies on the way down, where you find some power-ups – health, ammunition, a continue token (much like Serious Sam, you have continues in this game), etc.
You turn around in the sealed bunker and begin to head back up the stairs and out. Wait! Who’s shooting? Oh, must be that fellow behind you. BEHIND YOU? Yes, that’s right folks…Fugitive Hunter is an enemy spawner. Sealed bunker, cleared room, enclosed space, it doesn’t matter – you may have totally eliminated all the foes, but if you hit the right trigger point an enemy magically appears behind you. This is especially wonderful when “behind you” places a spawned enemy inside a wall – allowing him to blast away at you while you cannot retaliate.
So, after a few minutes of constant blasting, turning, blasting, turning – trying to clear the path in front, while maintaining the clarity behind, you’ll spot a group of Taliban ahead. What’s that? Osama’s in the middle? Sweet, sniper rifle right? Nope. Because, you see, the whole point of being the Fugitive Hunter is to bring the offenders in alive. Yep – you are required to kill dozens of supporters along the way, but the boss gets special treatment; so when approaching said boss, he (and his surrounding posse) are immune to weapon fire. Aim as you may, and fire away (I’m a poet) but nothing’s going to happen – except you’ll waste your ammo. And even though Osama makes his big debut in the opening scene and you have plenty of opportunity to end it right there, you aren’t allowed. Nope, bosses can only be dealt with mono-a-mono.
Not to be a spoiler, but this opening brush with Osama is only a preview of things to come. Bin Ladin cruises with his posse, leaving one follower behind. It’s now your job to punch and kick him into submission. Prepare to button mash…and mash…and mash. Because although the game boasts a deep fighting engine with motion capture from the Matrix “Smashcut” team (ho-hum), the fighting engine is about as impressive as watching a pair of Rock-‘em Sock-‘em robots go at it. (For all you kids out– that means it’s not very exciting.).
After you’ve worn the opponent down with basic mashing and lame two-button combos, it’s time to choke-hold him into submission with a button tapping frenzy reminiscent of the Track and Field games. It’s lame, it’s tiresome, and it’s unnecessary.
There isn’t a whole lot of variety to the gameplay – shoot, pummel, subdue, repeat – through “eleven of the world’s most wanted fugitives”. Thankfully, given the forgiving save system, you’ll whiz through the criminals in an evening or two – minimizing the pain.
In passing, Fugitive Hunter’s graphics appear to be fairly consistent with other Playstation 2 FPS games; a bit grainy, but passable. Upon closer inspection, it is easy to spot major graphical glitches – many of which adversely affect gameplay. Not the least of which is the aforementioned clipping which allows some objects, including people, to get stuck to or inside walls, while other objects, including the enemies’ bullets, get to pass through walls unfettered. It cracks me up to think that a developer would even consider adding little graphical enhancements, i.e. Deus Ex inspired rats and newspaper debris fluttering about, yet somehow forget to include these in whatever clipping algorithm he uses. The most fun I had with Fugitive Hunter was strafing alongside a mysterious sheet of newspaper, watching it float through fences and walls unrestrained.
There is very little – if any – shadowing used on the weapons, and your enemies follow one or two character models per level. This isn’t too out of the ordinary for an FPS on the Playstation 2, and fortunately the framerate remained consistent, but the character movement was fairly robotic for a game boasting Matrix-quality motion capture.
The one surprise with Fugitive Hunter was the quality of the sound. The background music did a great job of setting the appropriate mood for each environment, and the voice acting was quite authentic sounding (and further fuels the stereotyping). However, the rhythmic and unyielding pop-pop-pop of the guns quickly gets under your skin.
Even at the MSRP of $30, Fugitive Hunter isn’t worth your money. Unless you are extremely hard-up for an FPS on the PS2 and you’ve already played every single one currently available, I wouldn’t recommend any more than a rent for this one. It’s shallow, it’s weak, and it’s not much fun.
As you can tell, I didn’t like Fugitive Hunter very much, and a lot of that had to do with the premise and the timing. I know that there are thousands of great games that deal with killing people, and just as many that feature racial stereotyping, and I enjoy playing many of them. But, for some reason Fugitive Hunter gave me a negative vibe with the way it portrayed people of minority races and foreign cultures and the condescending manner in which the badass cop goes about his business. We have enough fear and hatred in this world already, we don’t need to breed more.