Fracture, a new third-person shooter from LucasArts, mark the publisher’s second new franchise to ship in a month, a bold step for most companies, but especially a small- to medium-sized one like LucasArts. Yet not only is Fracture a new IP, it also introduces new technology: the ability to raise, drop and manipulate the very ground you walk on — in mid-game. Many shooter staples are found in Fracture; running around shooting things with the Halo body shield, the now-common Gears of War chase game, and the tough macho guy voice are all present and accounted for. But with the new terrain deformation, the tough enemies are specially tuned to deal with the ground popping up and sinking around them, introducing a new challenge to the new gameplay.
Fracture takes place 150 or so years in a future, where extreme global conditions have caused many natural disasters and literally torn the country apart. North America has broken in two, and the east and west halves have formed very different societies. The Atlantic Alliance on the East Coast has advanced its cybernetics in order to survive, including creating new technology to manipulate the ground. The Pacifican States, on the West Coast, have instead turned to genetic enhancement, creating an endless army of mutants.
Taking the side of the Atlantic Alliance, players assume the role of Jet Brody, a soldier with a harsh past who’s the best of the best, and thus only gets minor upgrades — which you can’t control and that don’t seem to make any difference. General Sheridan, of the Pacifican States, has gone completely mad and built a large force of mutants to rid the world of the Atlantic Alliance. War ensues, and it’s basically players’ job to take on the entire country by their lonesome.
Attached to Brody’s arm is The Entrencher, a piece of that ground-manipulating technology that can be used both as a weapon and as a tool. Getting used to changing the landscape around you becomes natural very quickly. The game immediately sets obstacles in your way, which force you to use your powers to get around them, over them and under them.
It’s more than just a novelty; the ability to manipulate the ground can be used for both defense and offense. Let’s say you have some enemies entrenched in front of you; no problem, just raise the ground where they’re hiding, and they pop up like toast. Have some bad guys charging out of a concrete pipe half-buried in the ground? Raise the ground at their feet to crush them against the ceiling (that’s always gratifying). The elements get so fun, in fact, that you’ll miss having these abilities when you play defense in other shooters. Bringing up a wall of hills and burrowing into the ground for protection is handy.
In order to accomplish this technical feat and make the objects act realistically, Day One Studios went to the Havok engineers, who created a special version of their physics engine specifically for Fracture. The effect created can be readily seen: general clutter, small objects, small structures and even people bounce around as you’d expect them to, with the landscape suddenly shifting beneath it all.
The pace and the balance of Fracture are very good. The challenge is just enough to be fun but not frustrating, and as you progress through the well-designed levels, visual queues will occasionally point out pieces of the environment you can use to your advantage, like loose rocks on a cliff above your enemies. More than anything, though, you’ll find yourself shooting and taking-out targets as you push through a rather linear game. After you’ve gotten a good way into the game it does pick up a bit, with a 500 foot-robot and more drastic scenery changes. There’s also a fun dune buggy ride at one point, but it’s only used once, and the rest of the game can get somewhat repetitive. Granted, fighting your way through enemies feeling like a superhero is always fun, even when repetitive.
Your enemies, the mutants, are smart enough to get around and over whatever terrain changes you throw at them, and they use the alterations for cover at the appropriate times. At other times, though, you find them frozen or lost, seeming to have forgotten that they’re in the middle of a battle. The different classes move around appropriately, with the sniper looking for a covered position, and the rocket-launcher guy bouncing up in the air and firing rockets down on you. The AI effort is good, but you won’t see any kind of coordination or flanking going on.
Occasionally, players will move short distances with a squad, but there are no command options; they’re just coming along for the ride. Commands would’ve been nice, considering they always seem to easily get confused and do little to no damage to the opposing force. But they do make good distractions for your enemies.
Fracture’s graphics waver between excellent and good. The effect of raising the ground is very well done, especially if you’re doing it in the rain or snow and can watch liquid realistically fall down around it. The scenery, though, while well done, get repetitious at times, and some levels look better than others. But overall, the bright but gritty look of the game suffices.
Since this is a LucasArts game, it’s no surprise that the sound effects and voice acting are top notch, with the music also very good but sometimes tiresome. Unfortunately, the voice actors’ role in the game is a small one, because what little story that there is in the game is always quick and to the point.
Your weapons range from your regular machine gun, rocket launcher, assault and sniper rifle, to some exotic weapons like the Black Widow and Torpedo Launcher. The Black Widow grenade launcher allows you to shoot off up to five sticky grenades that you can denote with a button press, so a little patience can make for an excellent traps. The Torpedo Launcher is an especially fun gun that tunnels its bullets underground at your enemies and detonates with a button press. Just watch your radar, and it almost becomes a mini game in itself. All of these weapons are slowly revealed as you progress through the game. A little sooner would have been better, as some — like the Mule gun — are given to you so late in the game that you probably won’t have time to figure out how to use it.
Four different types of grenades are used throughout the game, with some a little more useful than others. Your two main grenades blow up the land (create a hill) and blast it out (create a pit), with the other two are more special. The Spike grenade will cause a spike of earth to rise out of the ground, so if you throw it right beneath you, you have an instant elevator. The Vortex grenade is a rare find, but tossing it into an area scattered with rocks and enemies turns the surroundings into a crazy mixing bowl of spinning debris and sucking gravity. It can effectively take out a whole squad, but be careful not to get caught up in the party yourself.
Fracture’s online multiplayer is frantic and fun. With everyone shifting the landscape around at certain levels, the environments can end up looking like egg cartons by the end of the match. Each of your standard multiplayer modes — capture the flag, team deathmatch, king of the hill and holding points — is included and spread across eight fairly large and intricate maps.
Using terrain deformation adds a lot to the standard online shooter fare. You can plug the entrances to your base and then dig a trench around it, and certain things, like a large heavy gate that requires the ground to be manipulated to get past it, will make you smile as you fight with others to keep it open or shut, or even manage to crush someone underneath it. Shaping the land also introduces some logistical challenge, as you may find that a path you had traveled before has been buried or altered so badly you don’t recognize it anymore. Still, The Entrencher is used less in the multiplayer game, because while people are bounced around quickly with the ground and firing at you, you have no time to play with the scenery.
Fracture’s single-player campaign is enjoyable and relaxing at times, but it’s relatively short. As you make your way toward the end, it becomes obvious that the game was cut short, like so many games are these days. Here’s hoping Day One gets to make a sequel, because I could imagine more things happing with excellent toys they presented here.
Buy Fracture for PS3 at Amazon.
Buy Fracture for Xbox 360 at Amazon.
- Score: 7.9
- Fracture is a fun but repetitive game that does well with its new ground manipulation technology. It’s exciting to think what the team could do with the sequel, once some ideas are better fleshed out.
— Robert Dusseau