Fracture PS3, Xbox 360 Review

It isn’t often LucasArts wanders outside of their Star Wars comfort zone, much less with a risky new intellectual property in an already overcrowded next-gen shooter space. In Fracture, developed by Day 1 Studios, the George Lucas-funded publisher is putting all their eggs in a player’s ability to alter the landscape with a simple squeeze of the trigger. Players will either embrace the added strategic element of raising and lowering the terrain or find it a gimmick in an otherwise run-of-the-will linear shooter set in a futuristic rendition of an unstable earthbound civilization.

Conflict presented in Fracture began with a series of natural disasters that ripped North America into two halves: the east and west. Through years of evolution, the Atlantic Alliance on the East Coast relied on cybernetic technology to survive, while the western Pacifican States chose to pursue genetic enhancements resulting in their people turning into virtual mutants. A once proud country now divided by not only water but individual physical appearance faces an all-out war initiated by a mad general of the Pacifican States. As Jet Brody, an Atlantic Alliance soldier tormented by his past, players are responsible for infiltrating Pacifican lands to rid the “mutant” threat and reunite the country.

At Brody’s disposal and driving Fracture’s gameplay is the Entrencher weapon. Using either the right trigger, the Entrencher can be shot into the ground to raise it up. Subsequent shots into the same spot will raise the ground even higher. Likewise, the opposite trigger can be used to lower the ground beyond its initial starting point. Other weapons are fun like the Vortex grenade that creates a tornado sucking anything into it, and the Black Widow gun that fires five “sticky grenades” which can be detonated later with a single push of the button. At the end of a bloody battle Fracture is still defined by, and will earn its legacy by, the Entrencher.

Beyond the initial “coolness” factor of geo-altering the terrain are several strategic uses for the Entrencher. Some, such as raising the ground to scale a wall, lowering it to find a tunnel or raising it to damage something above, are part of the game’s linear design and must be completed to advance. These obstacles do become redundant after an hour or so offering little challenge or creativity to pass.

During combat is when Fracture becomes truly “fun,” “creative” and “strategic.” Fun comes from creating a hole underneath a cadre of enemies and then shooting down on top of them; creative from raising the ground beneath an enemy and crushing him into the ceiling above; and strategic from building mounds of barriers between yourself and an enemy heavy gun emplacement to get close enough for an easy kill while taking little to no damage. The offensive and defensive applications are as extensive as a player’s mind allows them to be.

Level design in Fracture is clever in that there are almost always dirt areas to manipulate the ground with the Entrencher, even when indoors. When it may appear you’re at a dead end, a voice will come over the intercom and “steer” you to the solution – often involving the Entrencher. There’s just enough variety in the vertically aggressive level design to overcome the excessively linear path that prevails from beginning to end.

The biggest frustration in Fracture’s single player campaign stems from enemy AI inconsistency. At times they are surprisingly clever, erecting cover when shot at or lowering covering you create. Snipers take position up high and the “kill them immediately or die” rocket launcher mutants are overly aggressive. Other times the enemies stand out in the open, inviting a bullet lodged into their skull. Several times I walked reasonably close by them and they acted like statues without periphery vision.

Aside from going after Achievements or Trophies, there’s really no reason to return to the single player campaign after blasting through it. The multiplayer modes, however, are hard to walk away from to begin with despite simple old school modes. For example, AI-controlled enemies are fairly conservative with their use of Entrencher weaponry. Playing on a map with 11 other human opponents keeps the ground raising and lowering at a frenetic pace. In fact, the pace is so fast that it takes a fast mind to develop and execute strategies, much more so than a traditional shooter. Players without this honed skill will abandon the Entrencher and rely on hopping around like a bunny rabbit and shooting like mad.

Taking a step back from Fracture’s gameplay reveals a solid audio/video presentation one would expect from a company aligned with Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound. There is quite a bit of decently acted dialogue and all sorts of deep explosions and gunfire, in addition to an enveloping surround experience. Blown up on a 112″ screen at full resolution, Fracture holds up well visually with above average textures and extremely strong lighting, especially on metallic surfaces such as Brody’s suit. Objects and structures drawn at a distance are a bit weak but are quickly forgotten in the heat of battle.

After all the hype and buildup, Fracture’s Entrencher comes through to deliver a unique new way to play shooters, especially in multiplayer modes. The ability to alter terrain is no gimmick and from this moment forward gravely missed in other shooters, many of whom sport more intricate and interesting single player campaign levels. Fine tuning the AI and breaking gameplay’s linearity are Fracture’s saviors I sincerely hope a sequel is given the chance to deliver.

– Dan Bradley

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