Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Every game needs a hook, something that makes it stand out among other games and gives you a reason to play it instead of another title. This is especially true of first- and third-person shooters, since they seem to be one of the more dominant genres in the recent gaming scene. Gears of War, for example, features a cover system and chainsaw rifles. Resistance: Fall of Man and Frontlines: Fuel of War feature multiplayer matches that go to 40 and above in their player count. TimeShift features time manipulation to hook players into the game. Fracture, the new game from Day 1 Studios and LucasArts, features terrain deformation as its hook. The ability to raise and drop sections of the ground seems like an intriguing idea, and at least on paper, it's an entertaining idea to be able to create cover by raising the ground or protecting yourself from enemy fire by lowering their terrain. The question is whether the idea has enough to propel the game into being a must-play title, or whether the other game elements drop it into mediocrity.
Fracture's story takes place in the far-flung future of the 23rd century. Global warming wasn't curbed in a timely manner, forcing the United States to turn toward terrain deformation in order to build a wall on both of the coasts to prevent oceanic flooding. Unfortunately, that left the area in the middle unprotected, causing it to succumb to the floods. With the division already in place, both sides of the U.S. went down different paths. The East Coast embraced technology and cybernetics while the West Coast went for gene modification. Naturally, this leads to a new civil war where the East tries to stop the West from threatening humanity through genetics.
As Jet Brody, a soldier in the eastern part of the U.S. called the Alliance, your job is to take down the Pacifican dictator Sheridan before he completely obliterates the eastern U.S. Along the way, Fracture provides you with a bit of backstory on all of the major players in the game, including the reason why Sheridan turned his back on the Alliance and joined with the Pacificans. The story isn't bad, and in a gaming space where the plots of stopping the world from outside threats, both human and alien, is present, using the backdrop of a future civil war is a bit refreshing. About the only gripe here is the fact that the news reports given between chapters is a bit one-sided, completely boosting up the ideal that the Alliance is the good side while the Pacificans are the enemy. With games like Battlefield 2: Modern Combat making an effort to show both sides of the war via news reports, seeing Fracture do partisan broadcasts like this can seem a bit jarring to some.
For those who are still wondering, terrain deformation is definitely fun to use in Fracture. The best example of this is seen when you toss a grenade and let it explode on the ground. In most games, you simply see charred ground where the grenade was. Here, you can see that the ground around the grenade was transformed into a huge crater that you can step in, and enemies will try to get closer and fire down at you while you're there. Realizing what can be done, you suddenly feel more powerful as you raise pieces of ground to shield yourself from gunfire or lower pieces to guide explosive spheres down a certain path. The ability to experiment with your environment in this manner makes the power fun to have. The fact that the enemy can also alter the terrain through their own grenades and gunfire also reminds you that you didn't suddenly become invincible because you can manipulate the ground, returning a sense of challenge to the game.
Weaponry also plays a factor in determining how fun Fracture is. For the most part, the weapon loadout you get is pretty standard. Though they have different names in keeping with the theme of the game, you get your standard loadout, including machine guns, rifles and rocket launchers. When you get to the second level, however, guns start to take on interesting and inventive flavors. The Lodestone, for example, fires off a projectile that causes objects to gravitate toward the target. While it is used as a tool to get platforms moving to specific spots, using it on enemies creates interesting results. Crushing an enemy by having several crates and rocks collide at him at high speeds is very humorous. Another interesting weapon is a mine launcher that burrows underground and can be detonated remotely. Again, it's humorous to see enemies react to it, since it raises the ground as it travels, creating the illusion that a monster is burrowing toward them, ready to snatch them by the feet.
While you get these inventive weapons later on, your grenades arrive early in the game and come with features of their own. Standard grenades can explode and lower the ground at the same time. The variant of that raises the ground but is non-lethal. While that may seem useless since you can already manipulate terrain, it proves itself to be useful if your manipulating beam can't seem to reach far enough. The spike grenade creates raised platforms and raises other objects by causing a solid rock spike to protrude from the ground. Finally, the vortex grenade creates a tornado that sucks up all objects around it and spins at high velocities before exploding. Overall, the weapons featured in Fracture complement the initial terrain deformation ability and are equally fun to use.
On the default difficulty level, Fracture is actually quite tough, thanks in part to the enemy AI that tries to work most of the time. There are different enemy types, from creatures that burrow underground and can grab you from underneath to the rocketmen with high leaping capability to others with warping capabilities. You'll generally be attacked by the standard soldier, who carries either a high-powered rifle or a machine gun, or the heavily armored soldier, who likes to use exploding slime. It takes several shots to kill each enemy, but they only seem to take advantage of that half of the time. The soldiers try to overwhelm you with numbers, forcing you to create cover and slowly marching at you if you do. Once their numbers thin out, however, their AI begins to kick in as they start finding cover and try to pick you off from there. While you won't experience the smartest AI ever seen in gaming, it's still above average in comparison to some other titles on the market.
Fracture also feels difficult thanks to the level length. It only features three levels, which may seem like a short offering in today's gaming world, but each level is extremely long. Depending on the chosen difficulty, each of the levels can take several hours to complete, and players wouldn't know that they've completed a level until an Achievement pops up. With such long levels, one would expect there to be some load time, and he would be half-right. Every time you start a game, getting into it requires a loading screen that could take upwards of one minute. Once this is done, however, the game streams everything else. Any other instances of loading are hidden through cut scenes, and while some hitching is seen when this happens, it's not enough to become bothersome.
The multiplayer segment of Fracture is much like the single-player experience. You have your standard modes that are seen in multiplayer (death match, capture the flag, king of the hill) as well as team variations of them. The terrain deformation from the single-player portion is also present in the multiplayer, adding a nice little twist. Seeing people constantly raise and lower terrain in order to gain an advantage is always fun to see. To put all of this to good use, a new mode called Excavation was introduced. Here, players have to dig for a spike and hold onto the territory for as long as possible while other players try to destroy it and get spikes of their own. It's a nice little variation, though it might not get that much gameplay thanks to its overly frantic nature. For those who venture into multiplayer territory, the game runs smoothly with the maximum of 12 players. Even the extreme amount of terrain deformation and gunfire couldn't slow down the game, which is always a sign of good network code. Overall, multiplayer is fun for those who want to try and extend the Fracture experience beyond the single-player game.
The controls are nice and smooth, and the controller layout is very similar to other shooting games. The right trigger fires the main weapon, the left trigger throws grenades, the A button controls jumps, B controls punches, Y switches guns, and X reloads. Manipulating terrain elevation is done via the bumper buttons. Clicking the right thumbstick zooms, while the d-pad cycles through the different grenade types. Because the changes to the layout are minor, people will be able to instantly jump into this game without worrying about which button does which action. Movement and aiming feels responsive enough, but what stands out here is the attention paid to the movement on different terrain elevations. Players move faster when going downhill and move much slower when trying to climb hills. It's a small detail, but considering how many other shooters ignore it, it's nice to see it done here.
The graphics in Fracture are better than expected, especially if you saw the early trailers for the title. The character models are well done, especially when you see the facial expressions from the cut scenes. The animation is fluid as well, and the environments look good, but they don't really pop out at you since you've likely seen it all done before on other games. What is done very well are the special effects for the game. It's pretty cool to see the ground pulsate with a light blue or deep orange glow on the cracks as you deform the ground. The same goes for some of the explosions and the glow for some of the weaponry. It's the attention to some of the details that make the graphics stand out a bit when everything else can start to seem average.
As far as sound goes, Fracture almost delivers. The standard sounds you would find in a shooting game, such as gunfire and clanking of boots on metal, are crisp and clear. The problem here, however, is the lack of bass. Explosions should be deep, and the sound of the rumbling ground as it gets lowered or raised is should reflect that as well. Unfortunately, you get little to no deep bass effect when this happens. Voicework from all of the main characters is good, though the soldiers on the field don't raise their work anywhere above average. If there is one thing that stands out as being excellent in this category, it's the music. The orchestrated melodies really bring out the feeling that you're in a big epic adventure, and it never feels out of place. On the contrary, the music actually helps heighten the mood and really drives you to want to go further into the game.
Overall, Fracture is more than solid. The hook of manipulating terrain to your advantage is used a lot in the game, but it is used in a way that it rarely feels out of place. The game length is good, and the enemy AI, while not the best ever seen, is challenging enough to squeeze a good experience out of it. Graphics and sound are above average, and controls are very well done. If you casually enjoy a shooter, you'll try to squeeze every minute of your rental with this one. If you love shooters, make some space in your library for title.
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