Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror Review

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Publisher: Encore
Developer: Black Ops


Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Fugitive Hunter is a first-person shooter that lets you lay the smackdown on none other than Osama bin Laden. As Jake Seaver, former Special Forces operative turned super bounty hunter, you trot the globe putting the kibosh on a variety of international baddies all the way up to Osama himself and, in the process, make the world safe for Mom and apple pie.

Rating:
Dave Harlan


Plainly, escapism is the purpose of most blockbuster entertainment. Quite often said escapism is served up with a heaping helping of virtual empowerment – comics and cartoons of the thirties and forties, where Superman or Daffy Duck could be seen bringing Hitler and Stalin to justice, were great examples of this. Soldier of Fortune sent the player into Saddam Hussein's Iraq for a series of missions, and even teased gamers by showing Saddam in a sniper rifle's crosshairs – but in a cut-scene, with the player paralyzed while pulling the trigger. Fugitive Hunter has no such subconscious hesitancy – not only does the player get to bound blissfully about the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, blasting Al-Qaeda soldiers like carnival ducks, but when you get to the big bad man himself, you'll get to dole out some old-fashioned knuckle justice.

Like many console shooters, Fugitive Hunter is hobbled by control issues – PC first-person shooter (FPS) players comfortable with a mouse-aiming control scheme are usually frustrated when forced to use a console controller. After all, when you're used to being able to turn on a dime, it is maddening to be inflicted with the virtual stiff neck of an analog-stick turn. Several PS2 FPSs offer a mouse control option – Fugitive Hunter is not one of them. Some concessions have been made in games of the recent past to ease the use of a console controller, especially when it comes to aiming – the most important and simultaneously most maligned aspect of console FPSs (their comparative degree of success explains why the shotgun is usually your best friend in these games). Red Faction on PS2 offered sensitivity adjustments of the joystick axes, which almost allowed true mouse turn speed. The PS2 port of Half Life presented a "lock-on" feature, where with a button press the nearest enemy would be targeted and held. Fugitive Hunter offers a version of the latter option, where a held button-press swiftly moves the crosshairs to the nearest enemy, and for as long as the button is held, the enemy is targeted. But this method saps the life from the gameplay rather swiftly. In no time at all, the right analog stick is practically abandoned, save for turning corners and adjusting the view. A pattern of "see enemy, hold triangle, press R2 to fire" quickly materializes, and this single control sequence is all that is needed to get through most of the game.

Black Hawk Down


Fugitive Hunter starts off promisingly enough – the mission briefings and opening cut-scene are narrated by Will Lyman, who provides the voice work for both Nova and the newsmagazine Frontline on PBS, and his voice lends an air of authenticity and gravity to the game. The game itself begins with the player character's helicopter crashing in the mountains of Afghanistan in 1999 while on a secret mission. It's the fun and fancy-free days of unhindered Al-Qaeda training camps, and the little buggers are everywhere. Fortunately, so are weapons – at least five types of armament are strewn about the helicopter crash, so no time is wasted in getting a fix of rocket launchers, flamethrowers, shotguns, sniper rifles and submachine guns. However, the auto-aim function quickly muscles its way in and removes what excitement there is in the variety. Of course, you can eschew the auto-aim option and just use the stick to aim manually, but even then you're left only with a choice between "way too easy" or "I just broke another frickin' controller throwin' it against the wall".

Besides Afghanistan, other locales include the streets of Paris and Miami where you pursue terrorists and gang kingpins; a white supremacist hideout in Utah with an Old West feel; and even some jungle levels. The final levels return to Afghanistan post 9-11. Unfortunately, all the levels have two things in common: they're way too short, and they have a very low level of interactivity. There simply isn't much to do beyond walk the too-frequently obvious path before you and shoot what pops up, and to someone who has gone balcony-hopping over the streets of the Hong Kong of Deus Ex, it isn't anywhere near enough. Add to that the mostly uninspired graphical renderings of the locations and you have a recipe for boredom.

An initially interesting attempt to break that pattern is the "Capture Mode" – when you get to the "level boss", after a couple of shots to stun him, you press X to Capture. This activates a standard 3D fighting game, with simple kicks and punches available (stress on simple), and a single devastating combo. When your opponent's life bar is depleted, rapid button pressing enforces a chokehold and your enemy is captured. The fighters mouth off to each other during the fight, which is amusing, but the gimmick as a whole gets old quickly. Also, it doesn't matter if you stand in front of the stunned boss and empty several clips into him – if you want to complete the level, you've got to take the gloves off and pound him into submission. "Bullet-proof vest, eh? But can you take a punch!"

Fugitive Hunter Explains It All for You


It's not clear whether the humor in Fugitive Hunter is intentional, but sometimes it's hard not to chuckle at the way the game plays out. What other reaction could you have upon discovering that Osama bin Laden's second-in-command is not only the chief scientist of Al-Qaeda's biological weapons program but also a bad-ass kung fu master the likes of Jet Li?

Amusing in a head-shaking sort of way is Fugitive Hunter's lack of in-level saves (how did this get to be the acceptable standard?). At the outset of the game you are allotted a number of continues, and are granted more pursuant to your success in the game. If a baddie blows your head off and you fall down dead, just use one of your continues, and you pop right back up again (too bad Fugitive Hunter doesn't simulate the actual reaction your opponent would have to this startling sight of instant resurrection!). While the regular lack of in-level-saves is a common complaint regarding most console FPSs, Fugitive Hunter's attempt at compensation via continues only adds to the stack of "it's too easy because" reasons started by the auto-aim function. In most games offering extra continues, the common method is to save up as many as possible toward the beginning of the game for use in those harder final levels. But at the end of my first play-through, 23 continues were still unused.

The World Is (Quickly) Safe; Return to Your Homes


Most of the issues mentioned so far would become positively insufferable in the span of 20-30 hours of gameplay. But Fugitive Hunter never rises to that pain threshold, as the entire game is easily completed in the space of four hours. That's not a misprint. In a span just an hour longer than the movie Lawrence of Arabia, the world is safe from the evils of international terrorism, Public Enemy Number One is beaten, bruised, cuffed and in custody, and one can only hope that Hannibal Lecter is in the next cell talking Osama into swallowing his tongue. There's just no way around this fact. If you're peddling a four-hour game, it had better be the game of a lifetime or super-cheap to buy. This game is neither.

In the end, Fugitive Hunter is not much more than a short-lived amusing diversion. With as little as is offered in the way of choices and situation solutions, there's simply no replay value to speak of (unless one is consumed with the need to punch Osama again and again; in which case it is at least cheaper than therapy). As a curiosity, it is perhaps worth a rental to see some of its weirdness and frenetic pacing, but even at the comparative discount price of $30, there's just not enough game here to justify a purchase.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 12, 2003 6:10 PM.

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