There have been a lot of comments made at my desk this past week as passersby have stopped to watch and play Fracture, the latest from LucasArts and Day 1 Studios. A few have marveled at the ability to raise and lower terrain via devices in the game, others knocked it for looking too much like Too Human/Gears of War/Dark Sector/Halo, a few have laughed out loud as they watched the driving portions of the title, and some have said it looked kind of fun.
The weird thing is that they are all correct.
When you pick up your controller, you'll be set in the super-suit of Jet Brody, a member of the Atlantic Alliance's armed forces. See, in Fracture, the year is 2161 and everything's gone to hell. Climate change led to the Midwest flooding, and the east and west just got more and more distant with a sea in between them. The east -- the Atlantic Alliance -- began leaning on technology to better their world, while the west -- the Republic of Pacifica -- began tinkering with genetic modification as a way to mold their futures. When the game opens with Jet flying to the Pacifican home base in San Francisco, the president has just outlawed drastic genetic modification. Seems after the announcement of the federal ban, the leader of the Pacifican resistance General Nathan Sheridan began gearing up to take down the Alliance. It's up to Jet to infiltrate Sheridan's base, figure out what's going on, and take out the threat.
Jet's far from alone in his journey though. Aside from an ever-present comlink to his adoptive father and military mentor, Jet's packing a whole bunch of nifty toys in this third-person shooter. A super-suit similar to the ones found in Halo and Gears of War provides him with a shield (as evident by a blue bar on screen that drains when Jet takes damage and refills when he's not getting shot) while he'll get to pick up and play with a dozen different weapons, such as your standard shotguns and sniper rifles, as well as the ALM-37 Deep Freeze that turns enemies into popsicles and the Rhino that hurls electrically charged boulders at baddies. You can only carry two of these weapons at a time, but you're free to drop one of them for whatever you find while traipsing around the environments that are sure to become lopsided thanks to the terrain-altering weapons in the game.
On top of your guns, you'll have four grenades attached to the D-Pad. A vortex grenade basically creates a mini-black hole that sucks everything to one spot, spins it around, and blows it up; but the other three all shape the battlefield. One explosive will let out a blast and raise the dirt into a hill, another will create a deep crater, and a third will create a spike that towers into the sky. Fracture's whole hook is that you can screw with the levels like this, and the biggest part of that plan is a suit function known as the Entrencher. Now, although Fracture categorizes the Entrencher as a weapon, it really isn't. The Entrencher is the tool that allows you to raise and lower dirt on a whim. If you come to a pedestal you can't reach or a wall you can't scale, chances are you need to unleash a blast to get to the objective. The device takes no ammo and only needs to recharge if it's fired in succession a few times.
I'm sure LucasArts and Day 1 Studios are hoping that these devices and the terrain-altering abilities will be enough to separate Fracture from the bevy of other run-and-gun, third-person shooters on the market, but they won't be -- sure, Fracture can be fun thanks to its weapons, data cells to collect, and gun battles, but overall, the game is pretty generic.
Fracture's terrain mechanic is occasionally used really well. When I'm surrounded by Pacifican forces -- usually green dudes who pack machine guns or rifles -- and the screen's black and white because I've taken so much damage, the ability to create hills for instant cover makes the Entrencher worthwhile. However, that's not the case for most of the game. See, the entrencher can only be used to lower or raise dirt. You can't shoot concrete, marble, etc. This means that if you're running through a building and suddenly come to a dead end, that one patch of dirt in the back corner probably has something to do with your escape plan. Yeah, I used the gun to create cover during a few firefights, but most of the time I was using it to clear a pipe so that I could get from Point A to Point B, run a device into an overhead shield so it would blow up, or something similar. These limited reasons to use the tools just keep on repeating like this.
Sadly, the repetitive nature of the Entrencher can be applied to everything in Fracture. The levels, story, boss fights, and more all involve doing the same things over and over and over again. The story's broken up into three acts -- San Francisco, the southwest, and Washington D.C. -- but there are no chapter tags or subtitles for the act parts. That means you're just killing everything on the way to your radar-marked objective, and when you get there, you repeat the process after a quick save that often causes the screen to stutter. It's like you're just running through one excruciatingly long level.When I got to D.C., I had to run around underground raising and lowering earth so that energy beams could get to the proper shield generators and protect the Capitol from an incoming attack. The first few times I experimented with raising the ground so a mirror could be in the right place to bounce the beam to the proper generator, I had fun. However, I quickly realized that there was no science to the mirror placement -- just alternate raising and lowering until it's where it needs to be -- and that I had to reroute these beams for several generators. The pattern of walking into a room, killing everything, resetting the beam, walking into another room, and doing it all over again is not fun.
Only making matters worse is the fact that the Pacificans are fricking idiots. Decked out in their Dark Sector-like green suits, these dudes just stand there and shoot. You'll shoot one in the shoulder from a distance, and the guy will barely react and continue to sit there so you can hit him a few more times. They're not that much smarter up close, either. There were plenty of times Jet was in a firefight, would raise a hill between him and the enemy, and the bad guy would shout out that he had lost him. Really? I think he's on the other side of the hill that just appeared. Plus, all the green guys have the same voice, so their death sound, bonehead comments, and groans can get annoying.
The game will toss in a few variations of these green guys -- some red-suited men leap around with rocket launchers; there's a guy in a green-domed, metal suit who fired timed explosives; etc. -- but it's the green men you'll see again and again. Even when you get to a boss-ish character such as these minotaur looking beasts with metal skin, your fight will turn into you repeating the same pattern over and over until the foe is dead. For the minotaur, it's as simple and leaping into the air to avoid his attacks and then shooting at his obvious weak spots.
Graphically, Fracture disappoints as well. I'm sure some of the screenshots you've seen make it look good, and there are times where that's definitely the case. Jet's suit and some of the bigger battles do look sweet thanks to frantic fire and explosions (Xbox 360's a bit sharper and more colorful than the PS3), but the game's plagued by framerate drops and stutters when you save and each lengthy act looks the same the entire time you play. Worse -- and unforgivable in my opinion -- is how bad the cutscenes look. Something's up with the way these things were compressed because they're fuzzy, often look pixilated, chug, and look ridiculous.
The one silver lining Fracture has going for it is a fun and extensive online multiplayer mode. Up to 12 players can face off on eight different maps in eight different game types. Sure, the multiplayer staples such as Capture the Flag, king of the mountain (KingMaker) and deathmatch (Free for All) are here, but Fracture tosses in Excavation. Now, don't get me wrong, what makes the staples fun are the instances of lowering terrain to crawl under your enemy's door, firing off a giant rock conglomerate with the Rhino, and sucking your friends into a vortex, but Excavation really makes you use the Fracture-centric weapons to succeed. Here, you'll need to run to one of several locations on the map, lower the ground, raise one of your team's basalts, and choose to defend the spot or move on. See, you need to tear down the opponents towers, but they'll be doing the same to yours while points are being racked up across the map. I don't think the features are enough to make you need to own this game -- nor does the weapon testing feature where you get to run around shooting guns -- but if you're interested, a rental might be what the doctor ordered.
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