STAFF REVIEW of Fracture (Xbox 360)


Saturday, October 4, 2008.
by Edward Webb

Fracture Box art A whole new meaning for the term, shovelware.

SINGLE PLAYER

Imagine if humanitys efforts to curb the global warming trend failed. Water levels rise, and globally, people are forced to higher ground. Unfortunately, there isnt enough high ground for everybody, so a science is developed that is referred to as terrain deformation. TD, as its called, allows humanity to raise or lower the terrain as need sees fit. The needy apparently reside on the East and West coasts of the US, since the Midwest is handed over to the fishies.

For humanity to survive, they must become stronger and stronger, and just as the country is split geographically, it is also split ideologically. The Pacifican States, which is made up of the West Coast along with Asia, has relied on genetic enhancement to improve humanitys chances for survival. The Atlantic Alliance which includes the East Coast and Europe, has opted not to mess with human DNA and instead, rely on mechanical enhancements.

In other words, its mutants vs. cyborgs, people.

Your particular mechanically enhanced person-of-interest is Alliance soldier Jet Brody. His family was killed by Pacificans, but he still sees the battle as one for humanity and not for his own revenge.

Your opponent for this conflict is one General Nathan Sheridan. Sheridan was an Alliance soldier until his two young daughters were born with a genetic disease. The Alliance has forbidden genetic research, so his only hope is to defect to the Pacificans and offer his assistance in exchange for their help finding a cure. His daughters die, a mere few weeks before a cure is found. Sheridan holds the Atlanticans to blame for their loss, and comes up with a plan of attack to eliminate them for good.

Brody and Co. dont know that, of course, and head out to San Francisco to bring Sheridan back to Washington D.C. If youve played the demo, you know that Sheridan resists, and the game is afoot.

Fracture is a third-person shooter with the main feature being your ability to deform the environment. I have been vocal about this before, but upon first hearing of this game, it seemed to me to be simply a programming tool environmental sculpting with a shooter attached to it. Yeah, it probably had some basic storyline to explain it all, but Im a story guy. I like games that have a story to tell, and decide how to do the game to best tell that story. Games where there is some game mechanic in place, and a story is created to explain it always seem to fall short.

A visit to Lucasarts confirms that I wasnt that far off in my presumptions. The game was apparently not based on existing tools, though. The motivation behind TD was that games were stagnant when you played in the same environments every single time. But what if you could alter the environments to give yourself a fighting advantage? That was the motive behind TD, and THEN the story came about. The story, by the way, is a collaboration between dev Day One Studios and Lucasarts, along with some writing assistance by people from the television show, Jericho. Still, it seems like the story is there because it has to be. We need a reason to deform the earth and we need a reason to have an enemy to fight sound like pretty shaky ground for launching a game of this magnitude. Hey, two earthquake jokes in one sentence. Can you dig it?


WEAPONS

You are armed with an ENTRENCHER (in the Army, shovel = entrenching tool). This tool allows you to raise or lower the ground by using your right or left bumpers, accordingly. Ground can be altered, rock and structures can not. You will be able to tell the difference between rock and ground when you see it. Deformation will raise or lower items resting on the ground, and even in some cases, destroy them. You can use TD to provide a low point or a barricade for cover, a high point for sniping, or for access to unreachable areas. Later on, you receive a vehicle, and your TD can create ramps that the vehicle can jump.

While your entrencher is on you at all times, it does have a charge meter. After about four uses in rapid succession, it takes a delay of about a second to recharge enough to use an additional time.

Fracture comes with a large number of weapons, including both Alliance and Pacifican types:

Bulldog Rifle is a typical rifle.

Torpedo Launcher is almost like the Land Shark Gun, another Lucasarts invention. You fire the torpedo that goes out from you in a straight line, but under the ground. You can detonate it at any point. Tip: use the radar like Missile Command.

Invader is a shotgun. Great when you can smell their breath, useless if theyre 50 feet away.

Bangalore is a rocker launcher.

Black Widow is a grenade launcher. Shoot a number of grenades and detonate at will. Tip: the grenades are sticky. Shoot an enemy, let him run back to his comrades, then blow them ALL up. OR, in multiplayer, shoot one of your own guys, send him into a pack of enemies, then blow HIM up and take them with him.

Freeze gun allows you to freeze either an enemy or the ground. Freeze an enemy, then shoot or melee them into shards of ice. Freeze the ground and it cant be TDd. This is particularly useful on the enemies that toss the hellacious green grenades from a height advantage. Freeze them and the grenades stop. Toss them a grenade and theyre a slushy. Freeze does unthaw after a few seconds and seems to unthaw faster with some enemies.

The Rhino is just, well, dumb. You shoot a magnetically tracking ball that grabs rocks and tries to grab you as well. Its kinda like being chased by that big stone behind Indiana Jones, but not nearly as cool.

Tectonic and Subsonic grenades. T (up arrow pic) grenades elevate the earth and throw enemies and local items up into the air. Enemies are VERY briefly stunned by the event. S grenades (down arrow pic) eliminate a hill, or create a crater.

Spike grenade creates a column of rock. This column can lift things up for better access, damage things attached to walls, or if you stand on one when it goes off, it will lift YOU to high points. They can be destroyed with a few shots so they do not make good cover.

The Vortex grenade is easily the most fun thing in the entire game and sadly, its the rarest weapon to stumble across and you can only carry one at a time. It creates a whirling vortex of suckage that pulls any local rock, crate or enemy into it, and then explodes. It is the weapon of choice for getting rid of a pack of enemies. Make sure theres some distance between you and the vortex. Many times I fought the urge to find cover so I could watch the hilarious carnage, only to find myself sucked into said carnage. Not so funny then, is it, hm?

There are a couple of other weapons whose names escape me. One is similar to the Vortex in that it will provide a little bit of suckage, just enough to pull an enemy out of cover and hold him there so you can quickly change weapons and off him before he can find cover again. There is also a subterranean enemy later on in the game, and this allows you to suck them out of the ground and get a good shot. The other shoots a subterranian grenade that tracks enemies.

Unlike the entrencher which is always handy, you can only carry two weapons at one time. Like usual, its best to carry one high ammo count and one low ammo count weapon at a time. Use the common weapon for furious fire and the limited weapon for strategic fire.

Shooting an powerful enemy is ridiculously difficult later in the game. Your best bet is to separate enemies with TD, isolate one and go melee him. You can usually take enough damage by that point to handle a few shots while you get closer. You also save ammo that way.

Besides the weapons, theres one additional challenge in the game. Those are data cells. Data cells glow an obvious purple and stand out from the green glow of the weapons and grenades. They really serve no purpose that I can tell, except as a collection item. With ten cells, you open up the weapon locker, a tool the devs used for testing weapons that they threw in as a freebie with the game. 35 cells gets you an achievement, and getting all 100 gets you another. The data cells provide no data or information though, which I thought was a missed opportunity.


player offers a number of environments and game types to soothe the savage super soldier. The environments, weapons and gameplay are taken straight out of the single player game. I wont cover all the locations here (there are six, and more are most certainly to come). The gametypes include Free For All, Team Free For All, Capture The Flag, One Flag CTF, KingMaker and Team KingMaker (hold the point), Break-In (variation of TKM) and Excavation. Excavation has points located around the map. You must dig to the point and raise a spike which will be your team color. Protect it for three seconds and its yours, but it can be destroyed and rebuilt as the opposing teams spike.

HERE COME THE OPINIONS

I wanted very badly to complete this game before a review was required, and I just didnt make it. The game has three acts and I am just inside the last act. Thats probably a good thing for the review because I dont risk hurting you with any spoilers. The bad thing is, that if the story really does pick up (which I would hope with the Jericho people involved), I wouldnt know, so I have to stick with my assessment that the story is the weakest part of this game.

Luckily for Fracture, thats really not a big deal. Heresy! I hear you cry. Honest. It is to this games benefit that its the gameplay that pulls you along and not the story. There are auto save point every little bit in the game, and I cant tell you how many times I blew it and said, Ill give it one more shot. Three, four, five AM and Im still trying little sections one more time before I call it a night. That means that this game has it. It has that thing that makes you want to play the next part, and the next and the next. It doesnt matter what the story is doing. You have to get past that next challenge, that next batch of baddies. Story be damned, Fracture is FUN.

In fact, its so fun, I have to tell you a little story. On my trip to SF to see the game first hand (fear not my review is from my own, final copy of the full game), I saw another game. This other game offered some similar, common multiplayer gametypes, and it was fun enough in its own right. But after playing Fracture with the TD feature, I would be bored to tears to play a similar game without it. Instead of running around looking for protection, you have to THINK Hey, I can MAKE some protection!

I certainly have some issues with it. If you get your vehicle stuck somehow, you cant rock it, bump it, or grenade it out of place. At one point, I had to exit and reenter the game so I could get my vehicle back. I had a couple of times where the game froze completely and required a reboot. You and I both know that, at this point, its impossible to attribute that to a game and not the console, so I wont point fingers. Im just stating that it happened.

There are a couple of places where you have a boss and the boss fights are an enormous pain in the butt. Dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot, die, restart. Whats bad about that is that I cant reconfigure my weapons, TD the ground the way I want it, save, and then go battle the baddie. No, I have to do that stuff over and over and over again, before I battle the guy for a quick fifteen second death so I can spend another ten minutes getting prepared for battle so I can try something else.

Save Anywhere should be a freakin law, the First Commandment of Video Games.

Fracture has taken some lumps in the online forums for the hand holding it does in the demo. Again, theres good new and bad news. The bad news is, you cant turn it off. Weapons crates, grenade crates, and data cells will always scream at you with a glowing neon light that shows where they are. There is no looking for ammo. There is only getting to the ammo.

The good news is that the hand-holding is really only featured in the intro training level of the game. Im talking about the little symbols that basically say, Shoot UP TD here or explode this wall. Those things DO go away, and rather quickly. The reason for them is simple. People forget that you have TD and the cues are a mental training thing to get you to think outside of the box or in this case, the halo.

Yes, I said it. There are more than a few casual similarities between this and that other future sci-fi thing. Mechanically enhanced super soldiers fighting mutated people, the design layout, the warthog runs, the dropships that crash, the girls voice in your head even the concept of altering your environment seems like it might have been spawned by Forge but just kicked up a notch.

However, Halo is fun, and this is fun, and considering TD, I dare say it might even be MORE fun. Im going to stick my neck out here and say that this is THE game to get while youre waiting for Gears of War 2 to come out, and once you get GOW2, Ill bet you find it missing something that you can only get in Fracture.


GRAPHICS: On the good end of this-gen games.
SOUND: Everything you could hope for from a Lucasarts title.
PERFORMANCE: Im not one of those guys who can declare a frame-rate, but it ran solid. The only issues I had were some jumping during transitions that may have been hardware related.
CAMERA: Acceptable, generally speaking, but I occasionally found myself trying to see through leaves because of where I was. I think a free camera that you get with a first person would have worked fine. I have no idea what there is about Fracture that demands a third-person view that couldnt have been done as a first person.
LONGEVITY: I figure 12-15 hours for the single player, medium difficulty. You get achievements for the medium and hard difficulties x three acts each. Multiplayer is very customizable with six maps and a number of gametypes. If you can get a few friends to give this a chance, I think youll get a LOT of play out of it.


Suggestions:
- Save Anywhere. It's the law.

- Take a cue from Mass Effect. Allow players to go back into a log and see what their current mission is. At one point I apparently finished a mission and stood around, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do.

- Change difficulty on the fly. I played through on medium and found myself wanting to toughen it up a bit in spots, and just be done with a spot and move along in others.

- Make the location of the weapons, grenades and data cells a little less obvious, or at least allow the player the option of turning the beacons on or off.

- First person would solve some of the camera problems.


Overall: 8.4 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10

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