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Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Fracture depicts a world split between two warring sides: the Atlantic Alliance and the Republic of Pacifica. As a game, Fracture is also split two ways: it's simultaneously a very conventional third-person perspective shooter and an energetic action-puzzle game. It's a very awkward pairing, unfortunately.
Players control Jet Brody, a soldier in the Atlantic Alliance. The Alliance pursues cybernetic technologies to survive in a world torn apart by the rising sea level and climate change caused by global warming while Pacifica believes that manipulation of human genetics is the way to save mankind. The Pacificans are now nearly a different species due to their genome experiments. As I understand it, these differing scientific paths are what cause the schism between the Earth's population. It's not an unoriginal story but it amounts to a very familiar set-up: you're a soldier with cybernetics and power armor fighting a near-human hostile species. The graphics do look good - particularly the last level on the snowy streets of Washington, D.C. - but you might have trouble distinguishing it from many other shooters.
Individual soldiers on both sides - including the player - are armed with portable tectonic weapons allowing them to twist the earth's surface at will. I expected the fact that armies are running around making mini-earthquakes to be another reason for the Earth's mangled state, or for the weapons to factor into the plot in some manner. However, these tectonic weapons are treated as pretty mundane inventions, which is peculiar considering they're the most interesting and peculiar aspect of the game to the player.
Your tectonic gun, "The Entrencher," allows you to raise and lower terrain with a push of the button. It's used to create cover from enemy fire and also to allow you to pass obstacles. For example, you can clear earth out of pipes so you can pass through them or create a platform to jump over walls. Using the Entrencher for travel isn't all that exciting but occasionally you'll have to utilize terrain deformation to solve puzzles. For example, in one segment Jet finds himself inside the belly of an explosives factory, and must destroy it by molding the earth so the explosive spheres dropping out of an assembly tube roll into the generators. Unfortunately, the best puzzle in the game is in the Weapons Testing tutorial level, where you load crates and barrels into a giant cannon and, using the Entrencher to tilt the cannon, fire those objects at generators on the other side of a field to open an electronic gate. Though one might complain that puzzles distract from the game's action itself, I think if puzzles were complex enough they would've served as a worthy complement.
So what about the action? Well, if I were an Alaska governor wanting to portray myself as folksy, I'd say, "Boy, this here game sure does blow up good." There's about four or five different weapons that fire grenades or rockets, as well as four different grenades (though one of these is used solely to create platforms for jumping). The game's explosions are satisfyingly big, creating massive craters and flying hapless enemies all over the place. The vortex grenade, which pulls everything in the immediate vicinity into a giant, explosive whirlwind, is one of the most visually impressive weapons I've seen in awhile.
You end up wishing all of the weapons were explosive, though that's partly a complaint about the normal firearms you'll use during the game. The standard shooter staples are here: machine guns, sniper rifles, and shotguns. The machine guns feel really underpowered on the medium and high difficulty levels. Part of the problem is that there's no blood or gore and the enemies don't react as though they're being hit. They just stand there puzzled when shot, maybe side-stepping a bit. They don't act like you're hurting them and you end up feeling like you're just aggravating them until they abruptly topple over.
The A.I. feels very smart and very stupid at the same time. On the one hand, they're master marksman who rarely miss you when you leave cover. On the other hand, they'll easily become hung up on obstacles, especially once the ground is littered with bumps and ditches from your Entrencher or explosives. Unlike some games, the enemies will occasionally go on offense rather than just sitting behind cover so you'll have a few good back-against-the-wall moments. Some of them are a bit too much, though. For example, the first time they introduce a particular type of foot soldier, one that's impervious to any damage except for shots to their glowing green heads, you encounter four of them in a narrow hallway.
There's a couple special types of mobs that move really fast and a couple with green, glowing vulnerable parts but all too often the game has to resort to throwing a lot of enemies at you to keep you challenged. While it is challenging at times, but it's an "Oh God, again?" sort of challenge. It's just repetitive.
For variety's sake, Day 1 did include a vehicle segment in the game. The only thing that makes it different from the assault vehicle joyrides of other games is that in this game, your ride can raise and lower terrain. Creating a ramp while driving at full speed so you can jump across a gap is a neat idea but, alternately, digging through big bumps in the road didn't do anything for me. The controls are a bit awkward, too. You use the right analog to steer and, oddly enough, the left analog for the throttle. You'll spend half the time trying to steer with the left analog. Separate buttons to accelerate/reverse would've worked a lot better.
Preview videos of the game gave the impression that the Entrencher would be a weapon, but it's not - shooting it at the opponent's feet will merely cause them to hop a little. Halfway through the game you'll gain the ability to do a double-jump with the Entrencher and land with an AOE stomp but neither is enough to really integrate the terrain-deformation puzzle side of the game with the shooter side - which is what would've made this a complete game. The raw elements of a good game might exist but the design just doesn't take advantage of them.
As the game hasn't hit stores yet, I've only had a few chances to try out the multiplayer. There's eight modes in total - Free For All, Team Free For All, Capture the Flag, Kingmaker (King of the Hill), Team Kingmaker, Break-In (an assault-and-defend type), and Excavation. In Excavation, teams must compete to control certain points on the map. When you reach the designated point, you have to dig with your Entrencher to get to a beacon below ground. At that point, a long narrow platform (similar to the one created by spike grenades) juts out of the ground and your team will get points until the other team shoots it apart. It focuses all of the action into a very narrow spot and given the variety of explosive weapons in the game, it works. I can't say whether multiplayer, and that game mode in particular, will be enough to keep me playing. Still, human opponents offer the best chance of a fast-paced challenge that adequately utilizes Fracture's terrain deformation and the raw fun of its many explosions.