I was driving fast in a ugly sedan. The police were chasing me and I was trying to lose them. I had robbed a home and got caught in the process. Now the cops were hot on my trail. I flipped a corner and they lost me. I quickly jumped out of my car, hopped a fence and found some clothes drying in a backyard. Jackpot! I grabbed a new outfit and quickly put it on then hopped another fence and watched police whiz by, still looking for some dude in a black shirt.

This kind of stuff happens often while playing American Fugitive, a game heavily inspired by top-down Grand Theft Auto games but set in the Midwest.

And unlike the bigger and newer GTA titles, American Fugitive is more focused on small-town crimes and hijinks. You won’t be robbing multimillion-dollar government superjets or selling jetpacks to domestic terrorists. Instead, American Fugitive is all about breaking into homes, knocking over convenience stores, ditching cops in dirt road pursuits and small-town politics. Like, for example, how the Sheriff is corrupt and a member of a rival family.

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The mission design in the first few hours reflects this smaller and more grounded world of rural crime. Most missions take only a few minutes to finish and are fairly simple. Maybe too simple? I really felt the missions, like stealing a police car or blowing up some rivals, never felt very involved in the first hours of the game. Maybe later missions add more depth? I really hope so.

Even still, the main draw of American Fugitive is the open world and all the different ways players can interact with it and the citizens living there.

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Nearly every building can be broken into or entered. This is done via a mini-game using a blueprint of the building. It may not be as impressive as creating and rendering hundreds of individual homes, but it works well enough and casing a joint before hitting it is tense. You need to be patient to commit a perfect robbery. Check each window, make sure nobody is home, bring a rock or crowbar to break the window or lock, then quickly search around for loot. Get too lazy and check only a few windows and you might climb into a house and right into the eyes of its owner, who is now calling the cops.

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Unlike Grand Theft Auto games, the world reacts more to you and your crimes. Walk around with a gun? People will call the cops. Crash into some street lights or parked cars? Cops get called. Trespass onto someone’s lawn? Cops are coming, buddy. This might sound annoying, but it actually makes the world feel more intense and every mission and activity can be screwed up by breaking a small law.

At one point I participated in the mandatory open world video game activity of “racing around the map in a short amount of time.” But unlike most open world games that don’t let police chase you during these side activities, American Fugitive does. I was about to get a fast completion time, slammed through a fence and someone called the cops on me for dangerous driving. Suddenly my race became a high-speed pursuit.

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After playing games like GTA and Saint’s Row for years, American Fugitive feels very different. Having to worry about traffic laws, keeping my guns hidden, etc. made nearly every mission and moment a bit more exciting.

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Sadly, American Fugitive feels unfinished and cheap in some spots. This is a smaller game from a smaller studio, so I understand there are limits. But I really wish the game ran better. On my PS4 Pro I found the framerate to be all over the place and ran into some audio bugs. The menus and cutscenes also feel like the fell out of a mobile game from a few years ago. Camera controls are also messy and I would love to see a patch to improve them.

But I still enjoy playing American Fugitive. I like an open world crime game that actually makes committing crimes feel exciting and even like a small puzzle. Should I cut this corner and risk getting cops called on me? Should
I use guns in this mission and get police sent to my location? These are questions I never really asked myself while playing GTA and I like having to worry about these smaller details of committing crimes.

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I just wish the game had more interesting missions, felt a bit more finished and had better performance on consoles.