Although FRACT OSC is a music game, it doesn't fall into the two distinct genres that we're used to seeing. It's neither a rhythm game like Rock Band, Elite Beat Agents, or Rhythm Heaven and nor is it a title that uses your own music to create gameplay, like Audiosurf or Beat Hazard.
In fact, the game FRACT OSC resembles most closely is the indie exploration game MirrorMoon EP, which strands you on a desolate landscape with very little clues about what you should be doing to progress.
FRACT OSC shares some of the same problems as MirrorMoon but once you've worked out its secrets, it becomes a game that's worth exploring.
FRACT OSC [Mac, PC (reviewed)]
Developer: Phosfiend Systems
Publisher: Phosfiend Systems
Released: April 22, 2014
FRACT OSC is split into two sections. The main part involves exploring a beautiful, abstract landscape and solving music-based puzzles you'll find dotted around the environment. The other is a studio room containing a synthesizer and sequencer whose components you'll unlock in the main game; solve more puzzles in the main part and the more tools and settings you'll have to play around with in the music studio. FRACT starts off with limited information -- indeed, the only text you'll see (outside of the menus) is the title of the game floating by -- and you won't be getting any clues as you start to explore.
The first thing that will strike you about FRACT OSC is its minimalistic art style; the environment is made of straight lines and big blocky shapes. There are lots of bright colorful shapes and objects that pulse and generate tones and sounds when you approach, making what appears to be a lifeless landscape feel strangely organic.
What really captures the attention is the sheer scale of it all; it seems so vast and immense with dazzling structures, fields of crystals, and shards of light shooting upwards. When you actually complete a section, you'll unlock some background music as well and it just helps fill in the world a bit more. What starts off as an interesting but barren landscape is eventually pulsing with sound and light.
FRACT is split into three areas for each synth you can unlock in your studio: the lead, pad, and bass. To gain access to another tool for the studio, you'll need to unlock a pair of puzzles. For instance, the lead synth section starts with musical cubes in a grid; the player has to move them around whilst standing on a designated platform to complete the puzzle. Once they've done that, there's a sequencer puzzle that will finish off the section. This format repeats itself five times increasing in difficulty each time and although it's a shame there isn't more variation in the puzzles, the reward of more unlocks will keep pushing you forward.
What may put many players off is the almost complete lack of a guiding hand or clear sense of what to do first. As always, being dumped on an alien landscape with very little idea of what to do or where to go, FRACT can be overwhelming but once you start making those first steps, you'll find there is a logic and pattern to what you're supposed to be doing.
As you come across fast travel booths, you'll get an idea of a three-dimensional map that you can use to plot your progress. Each synth section is color-coded and has its own thematic style too, like the pad synthesizer puzzles all cause a fluorescent green liquid to flow through a dam, filling a lake. It's a great way of making it clear what to expect but there's still plenty of times where you can wander off the beaten path and end up solving puzzles out of order.
The immediate challenge is unlocking the three main synths, but there's an inspired ending chapter that distils all of FRACT's music creation tools into a large platforming puzzle. It's a high point in a game that has plenty of them. Indeed, the title is a series of fantastic musical and visual peaks that keep rising and rising into a crescendo.
If you mainline the puzzles and quickly get a good grasp on them, you can finish FRACT OSC in a few hours. However, it's worth taking time to explore, find hidden corners, and really soak up the ambiance. Once you're done, it's off to the music studio.
The music studio is pretty well stocked; you'll find all your unlocked synths and FX units. If you've ever used the KORG DS titles, you'll have a good idea what to expect. Completing the game will give you advanced options for your FX units but if you have no musical experience (there are some in-game tutorials), they can be daunting.
It's easy to create some simple loops and if you're a more advanced musician, FRACT will export your creations as mp3s or upload them to your YouTube channel. Despite the main point of the game being the challenge of unlocking the synth modules, you can choose to just unlock the entire studio via the main menu.
Whilst you can control FRACT with a controller, the puzzle sections and studio parts do require a bit of finesse that using a keyboard and mouse will give you. Graphics options are fairly limited although the simple shapes and colors of the art style don't really need to have to many graphical bells and whistles to fool around with.
FRACT OSC is a game where you need to be willing to go in blind and just explore; this might be something that puts a player off within the first 10 minutes, as there's no tooltips or tutorial to tell them what to do, unlike most modern games. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the strange, geometric landscape and understand the structure of the puzzles and progression, then you'll be rewarded with a great experience.
Seeing the world fill up with sound and color is an amazing sight and it's something that should be experienced by all regardless of your level of music skill.