Genre: Third person shooter
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 (Reviewed on 360)
Inevitably this is the time of year when the major game developers release their biggest titles, all in the hope of capturing a share of the lucrative holiday market. From RPG, to survival horror, to rhythm games, every gaming genre breaks out their big guns. This year no genre seems more heavily represented than the shooter. With Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War, and Left 4 Dead all expected to take home a large chunk of change, there is going to be a little room left over for the smaller, lesser known IPs to stand out. One of the early entries into that variety is Fracture.
Set several centuries in the future, the story of Fracture takes place in a United States that has become politically, geographically, and genetically divided in two. Global warming has caused major flooding in the Mississippi River, separating the nation into the Atlanticans and the Pacificans. While the Atlanticans (or: good guys) are dedicated to advancing humanity’s technological prowess, the Pacificans (or: bad guys) are more interested in strengthening humanity’s genetic code. The xenophobia created by this split eventually leads to war, and as Jet Brody, a soldier fighting for the Atlanticans, players must make their way from behind enemy lines, and defeat the Pacificans.
With Fracture, Lucasarts has banked heavily on gamers falling in love with “deformable terrain”, or the ability to reshape the very landscape on which the game takes place. This gimmick is primarily accomplished through the use of the Entrencher, a gun that has the ability to both raise and lower mounds of rock. The Entrencher is introduced as the second user-controlled action in the tutorial (the first being “look up, look down”) and does not change much in its implementation throughout the game’s levels. Generally speaking, if the way forward is above you, you’ll need to build a pile to allow you access. If you can only progress by getting behind a solid wall, chances are you’ll need to find the one spot in that wall can be tunneled through. If this sounds annoyingly repetitive, that’s because it is. The idea of deformable terrain is much more interesting than its actual use. For example, Jet should be able to create piles of rock in order to give himself cover from his adversaries. However this only works in certain areas of levels, since the Entrencher only works on “ground”, not concrete, marble, or any other surfaces. Sadly though, the Entrencher cannot kill enemies, and does not need ammunition in order to keep operating, which is why it is more apt to refer to it as a “gimmick” rather than a “weapon”.
In its presentation, Fracture borrows very heavily from other, better games. Visually speaking, Jet Brody and the rest of the Pacificans look like a Technicolor version of Marcus Fenix and the COG, while the Pacifican swarms look like a race created by combining the uniforms of the Mantel from Haze and the glowing effects seen on the Covenant in the Halo games. The ships, weapons and backgrounds also seem to be little more than “Copy + Paste” jobs from other games in the genre. There is nothing visually wrong with Fracture, but neither is the action ever engaging enough to give players a sense of experiencing something new. In a similar vein, Fracture’s sound design is also rather repetitive, which can be seen in the firing of guns, explosions, and the game's score. The game’s score, while not terrible, is not memorable enough to warrant repeated listens.
Fracture’s gameplay. although flawed, is one of its brighter areas. While there is seemingly a large variety of weapons to be found throughout the levels, one never gets the impression that any one gun is superior to another- every Pacifican machine gun fires at approximately the same rate, and with the same damage, as the rest of the Atlantican or Pacfican machine guns. Finding a rocket launcher is normally a high moment in most shooters, but a poor aim system and the lack of a lock-on mechanism robs Fracture of that joy. Enemy AI is weak, but very much inconsistently so. For example, almost every Pacifican soldier instinctively knows to run from a live grenade, however, they don’t seem to be able to figure out that they shouldn’t run directly into Jet’s line of fire. In fact, the overall strategy of the Pacificans seems to be to run directly at Jet, no matter what guns, gorges, or other obstacles get in the way. Poor AI and linear level layout combine for a gameplay experience that is, again, very repetitive. All that aside, there are moments when Fracture actually rises above itself and becomes quite enjoyable. In certain outdoor areas, making and re-making hills for cover can become a good time. But when it becomes necessary to do this on four straight levels, the amount of fun diminishes with each iteration.
There are several on-line game modes, again, seemingly copied from other, more successful games. With standard deathmatch, capture the flag, and timed base protection, the on-line game once again relies heavily on gamers’ acceptance of the Entrencher. It can be fun to deform a map’s terrain to build a little cover area, complete with hills and valleys; but after a few matches of this, the complete on-line experience has been had. Couple it with the fact that every player in the room has an Entrencher of his own, and one quickly realizes that after a few matches, there is nothing new or novel in the on-line mode. It’s rare that a game’s on-line mode is as repetitive as the single-player, but Fracture manages to pull that feat off.
All in all, Fracture is a mediocre title released at a time of year when that simply is not good enough. It is repetitive, derivative, and often times boring. In no way is it fair to call it a broken or a flawed game, but it simply does not provide the kind of fun to merit a full-price purchase.