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Destructoid review: Fracture

12:26 PM on 10.11.2008 // Brad Nicholson

Whenever I think about game clichés that never quite made it big time, I always think terrain deformation. Volition had it with the Red Faction series, but it never quite caught on. It probably has something to do with the amount of time developers have to spend trying to fully realize levels under which players can dig. Especially when they’re catering to a guy like me, who will consistently try to make it to China at the beginning of every level.

Of course, new console, new rules, right? LucasArts' and Day 1 Studios' Fracture is a shooter at its heart, and a physics game in its gut. The basic premise involves killing enemies and then raising and lowering terrain to progress through the level. It sounds fairly simple on paper, but probably a nightmare in the office.

Of course, it's not the developers' woes that you're probably concerned with. It's how the game is. Hit the break to check out our full review.

[Déjà vu much? Yes, this is our second review of LucasArt's Fracture. Wondering why? While you may find the text of the original view of some value, the final score and word didn't comply with Destructoid's review standards (in particular the lack of testing the multiplayer experience). The game has been re-evaluated by a different review keeping this in mind. -- Nick]

Fracture (PS3, Xbox 360 reviewed)
Developed by Day 1 Studios
Published by
LucasArts and Activision
Released on October 7, 2008

The game begins with all the shock of an Al Gore Keynote presentation. The year is 2161, and the citizens of the United States are directly dealing with the ramifications of environmental neglect, which have led to flooding on such a scale that the ocean now buries the entire Midwest and separates the country.

Quite naturally, this physical division of the U.S. has given rise to two central ways of life for the entire world. The east coast (and western Europe), now dubbed the “Alliance,” enjoys funny accents and really bulky armor. The “Pacificans” (the west coast as well as Asia) are all about genetic enhancement and modification. Immediately in the game’s storyline, these two factions are at odds with each other because of the Alliance’s desire to ban genetic modification. Understandably angry, the Pacificans lead an uprising chock full of robot suits, mechs, and a nasty virus capable of destroying the Alliance.

But Jet Brody, the player you control, will have none of that. The storyline is extremely loose. Along the way of this nonsensical struggle, Brody is given orders by a disembodied colonel and a cute little scientist named Mariko Tokuyama. There aren’t any impactful decisions to be had, nor any real sense of what you’re fighting about. Furthermore, the side characters are nothing more than voices. What they have to share are simply directions on how to beat a level, and very rarely is there a sense of the “moment,” which is to say, that thing that makes you care about why you’re playing. If anything, the world of Fracture is nothing more than a play on the title of the game. Day 1 really wanted to make sure that potential consumers knew what they were getting into when they slapped on that title.

Jet Brody is the prototypical badass, but his equipment helps accentuate his “badassness.” Brody can only carry two weapons at once, but his terrain deformation weapon, the Entrencher, is always at his side. Fracture is built upon the premise of raising and lowering the terrain in order to solve puzzles, create barriers during conflict, and get to really high places. This can be done in multiple ways, but the primary means is via the Entrencher weapon. By smacking one of the shoulder buttons, players will be able to manipulate the land’s verticality. The problem is, the gun only works on dirt. In fact, the only time land can be raised is through dirt. Dirt is raised and lowered in small chunks, which ultimately caps out before getting too crazy.

In one regard, this is a relief, but it can often lead to frustration when having to scavenge around the level to find another tool to raise land even more. That aside, the gun works and serves to create small barriers between the enemy and Brody. More importantly, it works quickly without any catches. Players will find themselves utilizing the ability more to get to higher spots and finding entrenched doors more than they will strategically in battle.

And there’s a reason why the Entrencher doesn’t necessarily translate to battle. Fracture controls much like Gears of War mixed with Halo. It’s got a gently pulled back over the shoulder view like Gears, but the speed of gameplay is much like Halo. The reason Gears worked so well is because the gameplay was so slow, if not methodical. Fracture isn’t like that. The game has speed and so do the enemies. This leads to many awkward conflicts and strafing matches within the central shooting mechanic.  Past the initial levels of the game, seeking cover behind a barrier becomes a necessity because of the onslaught of weaponry and quick-fire AI rolling after Brody.

The only problem is that barriers often move because of the nature of explosives in Fracture, which have the same capacity of terrain deformation as the Entrencher. Once cover is blown away (literally), the game becomes overly frantic, as players will be forced to negotiate between several targets, all eating at Brody’s shields, while running around in circles and avoiding grenades and rockets. It’s like a chicken with its head cut off, expect Brody is the chicken, and he has a shit ton of grenades and firepower. There's even a funny little driving section in the middle of the affair, which really seems to serve zero purpose. The car isn't a slouch, but the controls are unforgivably tight. Think Halo's Warthog, except two-wheel drive.

The frenetic style of battle doesn’t just end at the single-player (which takes roughly four to six hours to beat); it also translates directly to the multiplayer experience. Fracture has a ton of different multiplayer modes, most of which are fairly standard fare. The game features free for all, capture the flag, and king of the hill with team variants included into the fold. There are several special add-ons to the modes, specifically with king of the hill (Kingmaker, Break-in, and Excavation in Fracture-speak) that utilize the terrain deformation to some degree. All of the maps in the mode are medium to large and obviously offer a few integral portions in which the Entrencher can provide an advantage. Unfortunately, the nature of play doesn’t provide the proper context to actually utilize the deformation option.

Each player in multiplayer is on an even-keel, with Brody-like abilities including the powerful shield, jumping, and air-punching power earned later in the game. The faltering point in this mode is clear from the onset. Frantic strafing and firing coupled with shields and explosions equals a bad experience. There are also some balancing issues apparent, most notably with the extremely overpowered sniper rifle and explosive weaponry. Most players will find it unnecessary to even bother with the other weapons present in the multiplayer. There’s also an issue with the amount of people who are actually competing online in this title. It’s only been a few weeks since release, but it’s a veritable ghost town.

The game has the main graphical polish where needed. There aren’t any clipping issues to be found nor any other visual oddity that one would expect to find in a game that relies so heavily on physics-based play. Fracture looks like an extremely polished Too Human. It’s dated, but services. That is to say, nothing looks spectacularly amazing, but it’s all there. In terms of sound, one would be surprised by the decent voice-acting and musical quality. Day 1 will probably never stray too far from their own roots.

Fracture is a game that has something to offer, but nothing of particular value. The terrain deformation suffices, but it isn’t mind-blowing. The story is standard for a shooter, but not necessarily terrible. The visuals and sound are adequate. The real problems can be seen quite clearly by the short campaign with recycled boss battles and poor shooting mechanics. The bad shooting translates directly to the multiplayer component, thus soiling it.

Fracture feels like a concept forged many years ago, but it just doesn’t stack up with any conventional standards. If you enjoy shooters, feel free to rent. Otherwise, it’s safe to pass this one up.

Score: 4.0 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)

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