Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror (PlayStation 2) Review


Recently, I’ve been strangely fixated on experiencing critically disparaged games firsthand. I went so far as to look up the “worst games on PS2” and used a few of the lists as purchasing guides. I’m not sure if I’m a masochist or what, but there’s something neat to me about picking up a lesser-liked title and enjoying it for what it’s worth.

My latest foray into the wacky world of bad games brought forth Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror, a military shooter with an astounding 35 average on review aggregator Metacritic. Since reviews aren’t the only metric I consider when purchasing a video game, I wasn’t too worried going in, but I can’t admit the number was reassuring either.

Now, I’ve played Fugitive Hunter in its entirety, and I’m ready to give you the lowdown. Are the mechanics as bland and uninspired? Is the theme tasteless and outdated? I’m hoping to provide my own take on some of the qualms raised by journalists and YouTube personalities before me—and maybe sprinkle some positivity into the discussion.

Without further ado, let’s get into the review.


Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror

Developer: Black Ops Entertainment

Publisher: Encore Software

Release date: November 18, 2003


Gameplay

Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror is very much a product of its time in that it doesn’t rely on cover shooting mechanics or even zoomed-in aiming reticles to get the job done. This is a classic-style first-person shooter through and through, and I liked that a lot.

The gunplay felt pretty dang good. While nothing here is going to blow your mind to pieces, nothing’s going to feel bad either. Since I don’t have a ton of experience with the FPS genre, I can’t give you the low-down on how Fugitive Hunter stacks up next to its contemporaries, but I can assuredly say that shooting the tar out of bad guys is a ton of fun.

The levels are fairly simple “point-A to point-B” affairs. You’ll need to complete all the objectives before proceeding, most of which boil down to killing terrorists, destroying enemy goods, collecting evidence, and/or capturing the wanted fugitive. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to do, and I’d say that’s a positive. I like the comfortable simplicity of the core gameplay.

There were some brief platforming sequences that weren’t terrible but definitely could’ve used some work. The main problem is that the level geometry doesn’t always make what is and isn’t a series of platforms very clear. Once I found out where I was actually supposed to go to progress, the act of jumping itself was fine (albeit slightly clunky).

As much as other reviewers rag on it, I actually had a blast with the hand-to-hand combat sequences against wanted fugitives. These up-close and personal melee encounters played out like a rudimentary Virtua Fighter, serving as welcome—and hilarious—diversions from the usual shooting shenanigans.

At first, I had a lot of trouble with the fighting mechanics, but at some point, everything just of…clicked, I guess. I found out that crouching and button-mashing was by far the best technique. (Also, I accidently pulled off a wicked combo once that I was never able to recreate.)

Various pickups are scattered throughout each level, including health boosts, first aid kits, armor, temporary invincibility (represented by an American flag, no less), and extra continues.

What kinda sucks is that there are no hidden collectibles or secrets to speak of whatsoever, meaning there’s also not much reason to reenter levels beyond the base fun factor. It would’ve been nice to have something—anything—to scour for as a completion bonus.

Difficulty-wise, Fugitive Hunter is generally quite reasonable but cranks up the challenge in later levels. Enemy soldiers are very aggressive, so I had to be quick on my feet to make any headway.

This challenge forced me to improve my skills, and I’m grateful for it. Whereas my easy mode playthrough was full of silly mistakes, my hard mode playthrough was a much more deliberate effort. In that sense, hard mode was “easier” for me despite being more punishing with damage.

That being said, the last two levels even more of a pain in the neck on hard than they were on easy. Don’t expect Fugitive Hunter to pull any punches. As a frame of reference, I went from having eight continues saved up to zero on the second-to-last level, so I never ended up beating Bin Laden on hard mode.

The Osama Bin Laden level kicked my rear end even when I had to deal with it on easy mode. With smart planning and quick-witted play, I was able to able to subdue the infamous Al-Qaeda leader eventually. (A true relief after so much struggle.)

All things considered, Fugitive Hunter is a thoroughly enjoyable game, as evidenced by eagerness to play it again. The title isn’t without its fair share of flaws, sure, but I personally feel that the gameplay delivers.

Content

This is the part of the review where I say, “Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror isn’t a long game, but it doesn’t have to be either.” Why? Because it really doesn’t. Despite the short length, I was extremely pleased with the succinct nature of the experience.

By most accounts, you can knock out the entire campaign in two to three hours, no sweat. While I didn’t time my full playthrough, I watched the clock to know that I was able to complete most missions in less than 30 minutes.

As someone who can’t stand being locked into video games for extended periods of time, this brevity was a true gosh-send. The experience felt very “pick-up-and-play” in that I could knock out missions here and there as I had the time.

The campaign itself was satisfying and noncommittal enough for me to actually play through the game again almost immediately after completing it the first time, something I rarely do with any video game.

My enjoyment of easy mode was mode was fairly consistent throughout, but once I got halfway through hard mode, I started to tire of playing. I have a feeling that I’ll have to take a break before my playthrough or risk totally burning out.

The only major letdown in the content department is something I touched on earlier: the lack of collectibles. There’s literally no incentive to play again once you’ve reached the credits besides getting a higher score or satiating your own amusement. Part of me wishes there had been something more, ya know?

Fortunately, there is something “more” as far as extras are concerned. This game is chocked full of juicy behind-the-scenes featurettes, including promos, mocap shoots, freestyling by rapper Mr. Re, 3D model and animation render tests, stunt recording, a director’s commentary track, location scouting, the character creation process, and a developer interview.

There are also “basic” and “advanced” training videos, which are…different, to say the least. It’s not exactly standard for a game to relay its controls through videos as opposed to an interactive tutorial. (I can’t complain, though. I was too cheap to buy a copy with the instruction manual on eBay.)

Say what you want about this buggy, dated, possibly tasteless game, but I couldn’t deny the passion the team clearly had for what they had created. The plethora of revealing extras made this all too clear.

It’s worth mentioning the limited but sufficient options. You can switch between one of three preset control schemes; switch between easy and hard difficulty; toggle vibration, auto save, blood, and auto weapon switch on or off; switch between stereo and mono sound; and adjust the music, sound effects, and speech volume independently of each other.

The Fugitive Hunter package isn’t the perfect. However, I believe that the game didn’t overstay its welcome and that the extras were a pleasant addition. If only there had been collectibles.

Controls

The somewhat unconventional controls in Fugitive Hunter gelled with me almost immediately. The button layout and implementation felt surprisingly capable under all circumstances.

For the shooting segments, there are actually three control schemes to choose from, but I never switched from the default. This layout sees you jumping with L1, crouching with L2, firing your primary weapon with R1, and shooting your secondary weapon with R2. You switch weapons with the triangle button, target lock with the square button, reload with the circle button, and interact with the cross button.

Something fairly unique is the use of directional buttons. You lean right or left with the right or left buttons and zoom the “sniper view” in or out with the up and down buttons. The leaning mechanic was a really neat concept that I loved playing around with during crossfire.

There were a few controls I wasn’t aware of until my second playthrough. Apparently, you can center your view by clicking L3 and R3 simultaneously and perform a “quick 180 degree” turn by double-tapping R3.

What I’ve described is not the usual control setup for a console first-person shooter. But believe it or not, I think the unique controls actually work in the game’s favor. By placing the crouch and jump buttons in easily accessible positions, the controls better facilitate fluid movement during high-intensity shootouts.

The controls for the one-on-one fighting segments were obviously totally different but worked just as well. You left punch with the triangle button, right punch with the circle button, kick with the x button, and block with the square button.

While there are three “Super Combos” utilizing these four controls, they’re such a non-bonus that you’ll more than likely just button-mash like I did. It’s every bit as effective and more fun than fiddling with silly combos.

Playing Fugitive Hunter brought to my attention why FPS fans are so adamant about playing on PC: the accuracy demanded by the genre simply can’t be recreated with dual-analog controls. I coped, of course, but I get it now.

Graphics/Presentation

The presentation is a mixed bag, with delightful highs and yucky lows. Graphically speaking, Fugitive Hunter is decent enough but below average next to its PlayStation 2 contemporaries.

The characters models weren’t horrible—a little blocky at most—but their animations were not up to snuff. While the motion-captured stunt bits were appropriately fluid and exciting, basic gestures during cinematics were stiff and ungainly. Adding to blandness was the lack of mouth movements during speech.

The environments were visually unique and interesting to progress through, but some admittedly felt like blurry hallways. Since I have no problem with linearity myself, I think the issue could’ve been solved with better textures and more “natural” construction.

The game is a bit bug-ridden, too. Sometimes, enemies would simply walk into walls and disappear or shoot me through otherwise impenetrable walls. While the bugs weren’t constant, they were prevalent enough for me to take notice. On the bright side, it was kind of funny to see the game goof out.

I can safely say that the game runs nicely at least. I don’t remember experiencing any stuttering or major slowdown in either of my playthroughs. Good performance is always appreciated in a shooter.

You may notice that the heads-up display is very “down to basics”, something I definitely appreciated. You’ve got the health percentage, armor percentage, ammunition, radar, number of continues, and occasional notifications regarding objectives or pickups. It’s really quite clean and concise.

I’ll also give Fugitive Hunter huge props for its lightning quick load times compared to most PlayStation 2 titles. The speed could be attributed to the short length of levels, yeah, but that fact doesn’t devalue the achievement in my eyes. Jumping from the title screen to gameplay is an absolute breeze.

One touch I absolutely adored on the presentation side was the introductory narration by prolific voice over artist Will Lyman He not only does a good job of, you know, explaining the lore, but he also excels at making the events of the narrative feel grounded in reality.

Beyond Lyman’s opening stints before the title screen and each level, there isn’t much in the way of cutscenes, but this mostly works in the game’s favor. There’s not a lot of waffling or fluff before you’re thrust headfirst into the action.

That being said, I was extremely disappointed by the lack of a proper ending sequence. Sure, watching Osama Bin Laden get the crud beat out of him is neat or whatever, but I wanted more than a “thank you” screen afterward. I didn’t even get the pleasure of viewing a credits scroll.

It’s weird slipups like this that hold Fugitive Hunter back from being the superb presentation experience I know it could’ve been. There was clearly a lot of love poured into this project, making the mistakes especially disappointing.

Sound/Music

While the sound design is similarly plagued by a few small issues, I don’t feel they completely mar the otherwise solid experience.

First off, I wanna say that I totally dig the soundtrack. While I typically strongly dislike the rap genre, its implementation in the game’s main theme is so cheesy that I couldn’t help but enjoy it ironically. Plus, the instrumental tracks do a fantastic job of setting the tone during gameplay. I only wish it were possible to find all the music online.

It bears mentioning that the European version of the game, dubbed America’s 10 Most Wanted, contains a greater quantity of original rap compositions. I’m sure why this change was made, but I didn’t ever feel like I was missing anything with the American version’s soundtrack.

The character dialogue would be great if there were just a bit more of it, as the voice acting isn’t actually that bad. Sure, it’s not professional by any means, but you can tell the folks who brought life to these characters were trying their darnedest. The problem is they repeat the same sprinkling of lines over…and over…and over again.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard protagonist Jake Seaver rattle off such one-liners as “You like that?” or “How’s your ribs?” or “Yeah, take some of that!” The delightfully goofy, Duke Nukem-esque delivery of these quips is truly infectious, but they got kinda stale as the game went on.

I can’t say the sound effects, on the other hand, were all that memorable. Contrasted with, say, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, the sounds of war are decidedly less immersive. But honestly, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I’ll average sound effects over bad ones any day.

All in all, I was satisfied with the sound design. It’s one of the few areas where Fugitive Hunter sort of…halfway shines.

Honestly, I think Fugitive Hunter’s biggest transgression is being unabashedly B-grade. I don’t consider it an outright terrible title like many reviewers do, but I can plainly see that it’s not one of the best. It’s just about as average as average can be, from its graphics to its gameplay and everything in between.

While I was playing, I couldn’t help but feel that Fugitive Hunter would be right at home among the dime-a-dozen Steam Direct first-person shooters of the current era. (The key difference being that Fugitive Hunter is actually kind of interesting.) I highly doubt something of this caliber would’ve gotten a physical console release in today’s day and age.

As always, it’s up to you whether or not you’ll enjoy a brief and perhaps less than stellar PlayStation 2 offering. While I live for offbeat, oft-derided games like this, I’m also a freak who writes about video games, and not everyone is. All in all, I recommend Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror to anyone who can stomach it.

Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds. I hope to see you in my Discord server.

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