Genre : Action
Developer: Black Ops
Release Date: November 18, 2003
Buy 'FUGITIVE HUNTER': PlayStation 2
This, of course, would be the Osama bin Laden game.
It's almost counterproductive to try to ascribe any other qualities to it. This is the game where you, as a military bounty hunter, track down Osama bin Laden and beard him, no pun intended (…okay, I lied), in his Afghanistan cliff-dwelling lair. After blasting your way through approximately fifty thousand members of Al-Qaida, the terrorist organization that deliberately named itself something that no Westerner can spell (those fiends!), you will kick your way into bin Laden's room and kung-fu his face off his head.
That isn't really the point of the game, but it might as well be. My media sense is tingling.
Fugitive Hunter is a new kind of simulator game: the completely-unrealistic-in-every-way-and-isn't-really-a-sim sim. You're Jake Seaver, a member of an unsufficiently detailed military organization, and the lone survivor of a skirmish with Al-Qaida in 1999 Afghanistan. For his heroism during that incident, and because he captured a major Al-Qaida member during his escape, Seaver gets the Medal of Honor.
He also gets a shiny new job. Seaver's new task is as a sort of official bounty hunter. Via the creative utilization of horrible amounts of deadly force, Seaver is to track down the next nine people on the FBI's Most Wanted list, a motley assortment of drug runners, arms salesmen, crazed separationists, and suitcase-nuke-building fanatics. Number one on that list, with a bullet, is Osama bin Laden, everyone's favorite multimillionaire and the Daddy Warbucks of the terrorist set.
That forms the background and framework of the game. As Seaver, you get to hunt down and beat up each of these fugitives in numerical order, starting at the bottom of the list and working your way up. There are no guidelines or mission parameters to get in your way; you are handed a gun, a list of objectives, and a license to kill. Fire off a grenade launcher in the middle of Miami, cut down every single terrorist in Guatemala, and use high explosives without regret or foresight. Go ahead. It's okay.
That may form the first of my many, many thoughts on Fugitive Hunter. From the description and the character background, you might be expecting a somewhat-realistic sim on the order of Rainbow Six. Instead, you get the closest any FPS in this console generation has come to Doom, with simple, action-packed twitch gameplay.
Seriously, while playing Fugitive Hunter, I became keenly aware of just how occasionally complex FPSes have become in the last few years. They're packed with realistic physics, friendly soldiers, escort missions, vehicles, and mission limitations. Don't let this guy get killed, or you fail. Don't blow this thing up, or you fail, and so on, and so forth.
Here, your only real requirement is that you not get shot to death. You usually have a few objectives to accomplish before you're allowed to move on, but they mostly involve finding something or blowing something up. There are exceptions, like torching bioweapon canisters below Paris or chasing a terrorist through the city streets, but for the most part, just don't die and you'll be fine.
In a weird way, I find myself thinking of Fugitive Hunter's simplicity as a serious asset. It takes clear, colorful graphics; simple gameplay objectives; and about a metric ton of firepower, and blends them together into the kind of shooter that made this genre what it is.
That's not to say that it's completely without nuance or subtlety. Far from it. Seaver can jump and duck with the best of them, carefully lean out from behind cover with the D-pad, and all of his weapons come preequipped with a secondary-fire mode. Granted, most of those secondary fire modes are, in fact, cracking somebody with the butt of the gun, and as such aren't really "fire" modes, but the point is, they're there. You can upgrade almost all of your weapons by finding parts for them in the field, such as scopes or silencers.
The weapons in question are a fairly pedestrian lot. You have your semiautomatic pistol, your tactical shotgun, a confiscated sawed-off double-barreled shotgun, tranquilizer fletchette darts, a flamethrower, the ubiquitous sniper rifle (which you don't seem to be able to find a silencer for; I find this offensive), a Stinger missile launcher, and, well, the single greatest grenade launcher in video game history. It throws its shells a very long distance in a graceful arc, where the grenades bounce around relatively realistically before exploding into clouds of glorious fire, throwing enemies into the air like broken toys. You can even detonate them early with the X button; load homing grenades to shoot that guy around the corner; or arm TV-guided shells and pilot them manually to wherever you want them.
There is the small matter, however, of the terrorists shooting back. Virtually all of the Most Wanted have surrounded themselves with a small army of mooks, if not a carefully constructed fortress somewhere, and you're on your own. The environments in Fugitive Hunter are a bizarre blend of mazes with detailed level design, winding up as labyrinthine without that Resident Evil sort of artificial difficulty.
They do, however, seethe with thugs. Progressing through a level is as much skill and reflexes as pure dumb luck, as opponents can spawn from almost anywhere, at any time. They'll hop out of dumpsters, kick open distant windows, appear on rooftops, or just pop out of a room further down the hallway, armed with machine guns and grenades and ready to kick your ass. We're not talking about brain surgeons here, who'll use suppressive fire or what-have-you (as a matter of fact, they have a bad habit of shooting each other), but they're very good at showing up right where you really don't want them to be. That goes double for their automated turrets.
The most impressive part of the game's graphics may, in fact, be the mooks. Sure, the environments look good-for the most part, they avoid using the "Sixty Different Shades of Mud" color palette that most console FPSes thrive upon; admittedly, it's often sparse on detail and has a lot of invisible walls, but neither is a big deal-but the character animation is where the game shines. As you fire upon a group of opponents, they'll often duck behind cover, dive frantically out of the way, or weave between positions, confusing your aim and confounding headshots. If you blow one up, he'll go flying into the air before landing in a boneshaking heap; the double-barreled shotgun will knock them backward like they've been skyhooked. Apparently, the development team used professional stuntmen to do the motion capture work on Fugitive Hunter, and it shows. These people die like people who've died before.
When you're done with the thugs, and you've caught up with their bosses, Seaver usually ditches the guns in favor of a one-on-one slugfest with the head terrorist-and here's where the game's problems start. You see, Seaver's a great shooter, but as a kung-fu expert, he's somewhere up there with Jean-Claude van Damme.
The hand-to-hand combat goes like this. You have a left punch, a right punch, a block, and a kick. Pressing various directions on L1 along with a button will mutate the punches and kicks into uppercuts, shin kicks, roundhouses, or whatever. If you land enough hits in a row, you'll be entitled to a powerful Super Combo that'll knock the other guy stupid.
Now, I have some small objections to this based upon somewhat mundane concerns. For example, I can buy it when Kasey Weber, a gangbanger and more or less professional badass, can feed me my lunch. Maybe it's a little wacky when he busts a kick combo that'd make Bruce Lee overbalance and fall on his ass, but sure, okay. You learn stuff on… the streets. When Armando Rojas, a middle-aged drug dealer who hasn't even bothered to take the cigar out of his mouth, is capable of the same moveset, I start to call shenanigans.
Into the bargain, the hand-to-hand fighting is freakin' Rock-'Em Sock-'Em Robots, where pressing the buttons real fast gets you the win. It's not very well done, and it really clashes with the rest of the game.
As long as I'm complaining, Fugitive Hunter could've used a little bit longer in bug-testing. I've had a lot of problems with disappearing enemies, invisible walls, hit detection, and objectives I simply couldn't complete. A few of the snipers, for example, can shoot blithely through walls with complete impunity, and once in Utah, a guy ran right through a chain-link fence. The collisions aren't great either, as in some situations, Seaver has what looks like an epileptic seizure when you try to lean over a wall or ledge.
A couple of glowing arrows wouldn't've gone amiss either. Many of the search-and-destroy objectives depend upon your realizing that something that looks like a mechanic's toolchest is, in fact, a Stinger missile shipment. Some kind of visible indication that you're looking at one of your objectives would be nice, as would a much larger icon for the keys.
(Oh, and why is it that silenced weapons still alert everyone within a hundred yards that you're there? How come the tranquilizer darts only knock a guy out for a few seconds? Have you been tampering in God's domain again? Dammit, Black Ops, we had this talk…)
These are really sort of petty concerns. The biggest problems might be that Fugitive Hunter lacks any sort of multiplayer mode, and that it's extraordinarily short. It's a good rental for its play time, as you'll get a couple of good days out of it, but you'll be doing so alone. There isn't even a token stab at the usual uninspired split-screen mode.
I don't really care about that, though. Fugitive Hunter is a throwback of a game, to the days when shooting people, and shooting more people, with minigames that involve shooting people were really all you needed. The decision to throw in what's essentially a lousy boxing minigame is pretty questionable, and I'm not really down with the idea of living vicariously through Seaver as he throat-kicks Osama bin Laden for justice. Its excesses aside, Fugitive Hunter's a good cheap shooter, made for action fans.
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