Fracture Review - 23/10/2008

With all the mammoth releases of this year, Fracture was in danger of being overlooked; going down in history as another much appreciated but unsuccessful sleeper hit. But sleeper hits have to be good, and Fracture sits in the dangerous middle ground that critics hate.

After ten minutes of play on LucasArts' technically impressive sci-fi third person shooter, I was wondering what all the negativity was about. While a heinous crime for a reviewer, I had read other opinions on Fracture - all negative. After about half an hour of play I was prepared to stick my neck on the line and give an out-of-sorts high score to the game that was getting universally panned. The tutorial and opening level are fantastic. Experimenting with the game's hook, terrain deformation, brings into the imagination a world of possibilities for combat. The opening weapons you are introduced to are all nifty and look great, and the criticised controls handle well.

With LB you can use your terrain deforming gun (the entrencher) to lower terrain. RB raises it. As well as solving various simple puzzles the developer throws at you, more crucially this is designed for use in combat. Creating walls of earth to protect you from enemy fire as your suspiciously Halo-like shield recharges, or digging enemy emplacements into the ground so you can get the upper hand on them and rain lethal bullets on them was cracking the first few times. Unfortunately, the game punishes you severely for using the real weapons provided which, against all but the weakest enemies, are pretty ineffective. Some guns work better against certain enemies, but as you can only carry two at once (not including the entrencher) you tend to have one explosive armament and one bullet-firing one – leaving your combat options somewhat limited.

The terrain deformation is well done, but not so well that the game can rely on it solely.

But how did our protagonist come to have this special technology? The game's story revolves around one half of the USA (the Pacificans) taking it upon themselves to biologically enhance their own bodies in the face of global warming which has rapidly diminished the country's land mass, engulfing the central states and separating east from west. The eastern half (the Atlantic Alliance), our force, uses mechanical and technological augmentation to combat the enemy and increase your chance of survival. What this basically boils down to in gameplay terms is a big suit of amour and a rechargeable shield. Virtually all the enemies you fight are robotic, at least on sight, while there are humans beneath the shell. The diversity in these foes isn't as good as it should be, and while there are interesting targets out there, such as agile jumping or powerful digging units that burrow to get the jump on you, they're just not fun to fight.

Some of the weapons are more diverse, with one firing a rocket into the ground and seeing it tunnel beneath rocks, friendlies and even buildings. It is definitely the coolest and best implemented piece of equipment I've seen in a game this year. You can kill enemies on the other side of the map with a well aimed rocket, regardless of terrain deformation or obstacles in the way. Similarly, the vortex grenade sucks up debris, equipment and enemies alike in a fantastic looking spiral. Funnily enough, despite worries that the game would be solely about deforming the terrain, there are plenty of nifty and innovative weapons available. Unfortunately the concern remains however; a lot of them just aren't effective.

The enemies are uninspiring and soak up bullets like titanium sponges.

The story is moved along using a series of cutscenes. In keeping with a lot of the game's features, they look like they're straight out of virtually any next-gen action game. Mass Effect, Halo, Resistance, all share distinct similarities with Fracture, not necessarily in terms of gameplay, but graphics, characters, atmosphere and presentation are all distinctly familiar. Why is that a problem? The three games cited above are all fantastic, loved all the more for their quality in these departments. Indeed, the cutscenes in Fracture (while there is a slightly odd graining effect in places) do manage to get you attached to the main character and involved in the storyline. I've read plenty of unkind things about that aspect of Fracture, but in my view it's a very strong area.

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