Published on July 14th, 2023 | by Chris O'Connor
American Hero PC Review
Summary: A missed opportunity given a second chance or something that should have stayed dead? American Hero is FMV choose your own adventure with bad acting and horrible writing. It's either so bad it's good or it's just bad.
I’ll be honest… I actually had to double check that the whole “we’ve restored and remastered a game lost to time” was legit. There have been too many productions cashing in on the “pretend real past” story that I thought this might be one of them. What convinced me it was legit? Seeing the IMDB profile of the lead actor who is looking suitably aged from how he looks in American Hero.
So what is American Hero? Well it’s a FMV game from the 90’s that had it’s production cancelled when the system they were designed for, the Atari Jaguar CD, didn’t sell as well as hoped. (Un)Fortunately the game was nearly complete so with a bit of restoration and remastering the game finally sees the light of day… for better or worse.
Things start off with some warnings, basically explaining how the game has been put together from what was available… dialog has been added where it can but some elements (transition scenes) were not available so some tricks have been used to help things flow better, there’s a little disclaimer about some of the themes… then it’s basically on to the game. The initial presentation has the game playing on an old CRT screen in the middle of the screen, surrounded by VHS tapes… it’s a clever little design choice that certainly helps put those of us old enough to recognise the props, in the mind set of that time period. It also excuses the original 4:3 aspect ratio and helps the video look a little better… if you prefer though, you can go into the settings and engage a zoom so that the video fills the screen… I prefer this though it does make some of the artefacting a lot more obvious.
To be fair the video does look quite good for something this old and credit is due for putting it together… but what’s presented in that video is… well, you either like things that are really bad because of a sense of “it’s so bad it’s good”… or like me you just end up cringing a lot and feeling very fortunate that scripts and production values have come a long way since the 90’s. From the very opening, our “hero” in a strip club, ogling his favourite dancer… a goofy military guy then informs him of the latest threat and he has to decide if he’s going to stay and “have fun” or get to work (what an important choice to have to make for us gamers).
This would be a good point to talk about the “interaction”. Now I was never under any illusions that this was going to be a massively involved process… the fact that it’s not simply “hit the spacebar when the screen flashes” (ala Space Ace etc) is somewhat impressive (at least would have been for a game released when this was originally supposed to be). The result is very similar to a “choose your own adventure” book… you can go with option A, option B… sometimes option C or you can do nothing, each has a consequence and some lead to results that you can’t get without choosing them (continuity of sorts). But the problem I had was that it defaulted to mouse for selection yet I couldn’t get it to register my mouse click when I was trying to choose. My mouse worked fine in the menus so I don’t know where the problem lies. Fortunately I was able to switch to just tapping the aforementioned spacebar and continued that way.
If you make the wrong choice… you can end up dead (also similar to choose your own adventures, there are a few different deaths you can experience which gives you a few video segments that can be a bit funny in their poor quality, such as the very obvious dummy bouncing off the ground after being hit by a truck or falling off a ledge).
But the problem here is that though there are checkpoints they can be few and far between… that in itself wouldn’t be such an issue if you could at least skip segments of video (something that has certainly been implemented since so should have been possible for a remake/remaster). I ended up finding that tabbing out of the game when the funeral scenes started playing was my best option as it would return you to the menu screen (which I couldn’t seem to access any other way while the game was running)… I could then continue from last checkpoint.
Ultimately I do give credit for the restoration and remastering efforts… but unfortunately though you can polish a turd… at the end of the day, it’s still a turd and bad acting, bad writing and pretty awful staging means this is really only a title for people who can find the humour in things that are really terrible… I’m just not one of those people.