I didn’t know what to make of Fugitive Hunter when I initially saw screenshots of it early last year. A later playable demo revealed it to be a fast-paced, almost arcade-like first-person shooter that switched to a quick, simple timed fighting game at a certain point. It wasn’t technically brilliant, but it was definitely a load of fun, and seeing Osama Bin Laden (!) pop up at one point and escape made me want to play the final to see what the hell was going on. I won’t spill the beans here, but the final version makes it worth picking up as there’s a bit of behind the scenes material to be found on the game disc that should answer any questions you’ll have. The actual game itself reminds me of a great cross between Duke Nukem and Death Before Dishonor, or if you remember them, 80’s action flicks like Commando or Bulletproof (which are enjoying a revival of sorts on cable these days). There’s endless action and a bit of snappy humor to be found here, and the game actually has a moral center that keeps it from going into Soldier of Fortune “kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out” territory. You actually get to subdue and capture the 11 “bosses” in the game, and that makes a lot more satisfying than just shooting them dead. That’s what the hundreds of enemy soldiers coming at you during the regular game are for.
You play as Lt. Jake Seaver, former Navy SEAL and current agent of a government anti-terrorist unit caller CIFR, which was set up to hunt down and bring in fugitives alive. The game opens with a playable prologue that gets you into the controls and some of the weapons you’ll be using. Your chopper is shot down over the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in 1999, and you’re the only survivor of the wreck. After blasting your way to an escape point, Bin Laden sends a bodyguard after you and escapes into a cave. The game switches to the fighting mode and you get to beat down and handcuff the bum to end the short stage. As Seaver, you’ll find yourself in Miami, Utah, the Caribbean, Paris, and finally back in Afghanistan as you trace a trail that leads from drug gangs, kidnappers, survivalist militia types and weapons smugglers.
Gameplay is fast and furious, especially on the hard setting. Controls are easy to pick up and there’s even an auto target button (Square) if you get in a tight spot. Sure, it goes against the more popular stealth action trend, and the game definitely isn’t Halo quality, but again, the fun is definitely there to be had. While you can blow through some stages without using them, tracking down weapon upgrades and special ammo adds a hell of a lot of fun to blowing stuff up. Trust me, there’s nothing like a guided grenade shot or a bit of sniping to make things easier. Fugitive Hunter mixes things up a bit by including stages with different objectives as well as placing the fugitives in different places in the game. It’s not all “kill the enemies, arrest the boss” sometimes you’ll start off a stage with a one on one fight then move onto dispatching swarms of baddies. There are also arms stashes to destroy, a hostage or two to save, and more. One mission has you chasing the guy you’re supposed to apprehend through Paris streets and over rooftops into a building full of guards and a bomb on top. If you rush him too soon, you’ll have to track down bomb parts as a clock quickly ticks down, which is a bit frustrating. I failed the mission a few times before I realized I should track down the bomb parts first, then take on the boss and defuse the bomb- much less stressful. Speaking of less stressful, one cool thing the game does is let you earn continues as you play. This way, you can pick up from where you died last as opposed to getting dumped out to an annoying loading screen. As long as you have enough lives (and save carefully) you won’t be at all frustrated here. Well, the regenerating enemies may tick you off a wee bit…
Fugitive Hunter has a clean, direct style to its visuals, which may put off some of the pickier graphics whores out there. Just because every FPS is now using lighting effects and tricks borrowed from Splinter Cell or other games doesn’t mean we all have to look down our collective noses at “lesser” efforts. The levels are full of nice texture detail and little touches like exploding barrels and some fun motion captured stuntwork (by some of the folks who did stunts for The Matrix). Some night stages are a bit dark (no night vision goggles here, dammit), but you’re always in motion so you really won’t have time to gripe over what you can’t see too well. I have the feeling that waaaay back when the developers enjoyed some of those classic PC shooters like Rise of the Triad, Blood, Terminator: Skynet, and the aforementioned Duke Nukem. The no nonsense visuals here recall those games, and that’s a compliment, by the way- those are some of my favorite FPS titles.
Music and sound effects are a bit too basic for my tastes though. Seaver gets off a few snappy one-liners from time to time, but they tend to repeat, and most of the music sounds a bit too 80’s themed, but strangely, it fits the game. The rap song that shows up late in the game is pretty hysterical though- if someone makes a movie from this game, they definitely should snap up the rights for the title theme. Overall, I sort of wish that the game had more and longer levels, and that the action was a bit more varied. If you’re a skilled player, it’ll take a few hours to blow through the game thanks to the continue system. Some sort of multiplayer co-op mode would have been welcome, but that’s what sequels are for- hopeful improvements. I can see some folks getting a bit heated at the timing of the game what with the current situation overseas, but there’s a definite visceral pleasure to be had with Fugitive Hunter, and that’s part of what makes it so much fun.
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