Every once in a while, developers set out to create an ambitious, innovative title that stands out amongst the sea of generic video games that assault store shelves every day. We applaud the motivation – even if the end result isn’t exactly spectacular – primarily because it takes guts for any developer to stray from the beaten path and give the gamer something entirely new. It’s not every day that we can find true-blue originality in the industry, and if you’re willing to go out on a limb and shoot for the stars, we say, more power to ya. Day 1 Studios makes a valiant attempt with Fracture, but due to significant limitations and restrictions that revolve around the interesting concept, we’re left with an action game that ends up featuring more of a gimmick than an innovation or revolution. And what happens to gimmicks? They become tiresome and repetitive, and in this case, the foundation of the game remains firmly centered on a standard third-person shooter mechanic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the end, Fracture is a textbook case of “what could’ve been.”
The graphics may be the highlight of this particular title, as they’re relatively sharp and quite detailed. Day 1 should’ve taken more time with the character design (specifically with the faces) and there simply isn’t enough variety in the environments, but that doesn’t cripple the quality. There’s a good deal of color, plenty of interesting particle effects and background destruction, and for the most part, those cut-scenes are actually quite impressive. Due to the ever-changing landscape, we encountered several graphical glitches here and there, but that’s to be expected. In some ways, Fracture competes well with other action-oriented next-gen productions, but in other ways, it falls short. You will notice the Pacificans all kinda blend together after the first few hours of play, the ground seems to react the same way each time you alter it, and in the end, we can’t entirely rely on slick cut-scenes and well designed areas. Even so, you’re not about to complain very often, and given the steady pacing, there’s always plenty going on to keep your attention.
These days, we’ve noticed a lack of balance between sound effects and music in video games, and unfortunately, this lacking is quite evident in Fracture. Many times, the prevailing and explosive effects will drown out voices, and the soundtrack takes a back seat to the in-your-face combat sound. The good news is, the battle effects are really very good and they help to suck you into the experience. We felt the jarring impact of drastically and suddenly forcing large portions of earth to change should’ve been more “impactful,” but nevertheless, if you’ve got stereo sound, you’ll want to jack this bad boy. Of course, you might miss half the conversation when a lot of crap is going on, and the soundtrack – difficult to judge for us, because it continually bowed to the overwhelming nature of the effects – labors, but hey, that’s the sacrifice you’ll have to make. The voice acting is good, which makes it even more annoying that we sometimes lose it during particularly hectic action sequences. There’s a whole lot of up and down here, and that’s an interesting play on words if you’re at all familiar with the game’s gameplay premise…
We’ll set the stage for you before we dive into the specifics: you will play as Jet Brody, a member of the Atlantic Alliance who must do battle with the rebellious Pacificans. See, due to climate change, the United States suffered a rift in the Midwest thanks to excessive flooding, but this rift separated more than land; it separated ideals. The two sides of the country began to grow in different directions: while the East (Atlantic Alliance) wanted to embrace technology but shun human genetic tinkering, the West (Pacifica), believed this was holding back human advancement. Why not tinker? Why not try to create a superior race of homo sapiens? Well, there are reasons, but the Westerners aren’t hearing them, and it isn’t long before a civil war of epic proportions begins to spread across the once united country. Jet is out to take down the leader of the Pacificans, General Nathan Sheridan, who suffered a great personal loss and coincidentally blames it on the Atlantic Alliance. As Jet says at one time, he’s got a whole army and he’s got a grudge.
Anyway, the game isn’t only called “Fracture” due to the intriguing storyline; it assumes this title because the player can “fracture” the landscape at will. You will carry several futuristic items, most important of which is the Entrencher. Jet carries this with him at all times and you’ll need its unique abilities to successfully traverse the trying, war-torn environments. By aiming at pieces of movable earth, you can raise it to create a hill by pressing R1, or create a crater by pressing L1. You can continue to raise or lower pieces of land if needed, and if you’re wondering what the purpose of such movements might be, think logically. For example, if you’re stuck out in the open and your shield can’t handle any more hits, you can generate “insta-cover” by raising the ground in front of you to form a natural shield. You can also pop bothersome enemies into the air (although that doesn’t always have an effect) or even take out bridge columns by collapsing the ground beneath them. You also have four special grenades that can alter the landscape; one is the Spike grenade, which causes a big spike of earth to shoot from the ground.
This is all very well and good; the concept really is quite intriguing and loaded with possibilities. The only problem is that despite all the opportunities Day 1 could’ve presented us with, we’re stuck blasting our way through a very generic-feeling third-person shooter. Yeah, there are a few puzzles where we have to manipulate the ground in a certain way in order to continue onwards, but that wears thin after a while, and pretty soon, you’ll almost find it more of an annoyance than anything else. Many times, you’ll aim at the ground in front of you to create that aforementioned cover, and you’ll fire too close and pop yourself into the air, thereby defeating the whole purpose. Furthermore, many times, you won’t have any idea if it’d be better to raise or lower the earth to take care of a particular issue. For example, wouldn’t causing the earth to rise or lower cause problems in stability pillars? Also, we could never figure out why bullets would cause raised earth to return to its original shape; raise up a hill for cover, and if the enemy fire is slamming into your freshly developed hill, it will start to shrink. …what’s up with that? Does that make any sense whatsoever?
And here’s our other major gripe: not only were some of the enemies too difficult to bring down with the basic machine gun, but there were also far too many of them. Dozens of enemies can easily thwart your efforts and make you feel decidedly overmatched, although on the other hand, the influx of constant enemies did coerce you into using the Entrencher and some of your other nifty goodies. It’s just that, when you’re hunkered down behind a piece of cover (natural or artificial) and you’re literally surrounded by foes, you don’t feel as if you’re playing anything new. You just feel frustrated and afraid to move. Also, while the control is indeed solid, you move agonizingly slow when crouched, and in our opinion, too slow when going into closer-aim mode. And we’re not saying the Entrencher and various earth-maneuvering pieces of equipment don’t work well; they do. They deliver on the game’s claims, make the experience more interesting, and in general, are fun to use. But they just don’t do nearly enough to turn this game into something special, and that’s the most unfortunate downfall of Fracture.
If there weren’t so many fantastic games on store shelves already in October (and more coming November), we might actually recommend this one. It’s relatively entertaining from front to back, and despite a few small quirks in the control and a few technical glitches (lag during save points, for instance), the gameplay on the whole is quite good. It just seems that, at every turn, Day 1 failed to let the concept shine, and in the end, we’re left with a bunch of random enemies firing at us from all angles, and we spend far more time involved in a ho-hum third-person shooter. We wanted to be impressed, but we ended up underwhelmed. While there should be enough here to get excited about, there’s actually very little to be excited about, and that’s a damn shame. We figure Fracture simply needed more time in development so we could fully appreciate the charms of the land changing features, and there are plenty of other titles out there that should be higher on your priority list.
10/28/2008 Ben Dutka