Every now and then a game comes along with an innovative new feature that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before.
But all too often the game itself turns out to be a bit of a dog, although it goes on to attain a certain cult standing for being the first to introduce a feature which becomes commonplace.
Fracture from LucasArts may well be one of those games. Its terraforming technology breaks new ground (pun intended) and with any luck it won’t be the last we see of it. However, Fracture itself just doesn’t do the technology justice.
The year is 2161 and North America has turned to custard. The Midwest has flooded due to climate change and the resulting sea has divided the East and West.
You are cast as Jet Brody of the Atlantic Alliance (East) and are tasked with infiltrating the Republic of Pacifica (West) who have been experimenting with genetic modification. It’s a decent storyline which breaks the traditional shackles of the Axis vs Allies, Aliens vs Humans or Zombies vs Humans fare.
Following in the footsteps of Gears of War and Halo, Brody is equipped with a high-tech body suit which not only protects him but contains a very special tool called the Entrencher. This tool, which can also be used as a weapon, is the main attraction in Fracture and is what lifts the game slightly above being just another third-person shooter. The Entrencher allows Brody to raise or lower the ground. This can’t be done just anywhere, only on bare dirt which is often strategically placed. But in wide open areas of earth you can go nuts and completely alter the level.
The Entrencher is fired like a weapon using the crosshairs. The shoulder bumpers will either raise the ground in a mound (subsequent firing will raise it further), or lower the ground like a blast crater. Raising it can be handy for reaching high places, raising bridges or creating ramps - and even crushing enemies against the ceiling if you’re lucky enough to get one standing in the right place.
Perhaps the coolest thing about raising the ground is that in a frantic fire-fight you can create instant dirt mounds to take cover behind. It’s something that you’ll use a lot when you’re allowed to. It’s great to create a mound for cover and wait until an enemy flanks the mound only to have you fire up another mound under him sending him flying. Lowering the ground is useful for getting underneath obstacles and sometimes creating cover, but there’s not too many other applications I’ve come across.
Along with the Entrencher there are a number of the traditional weapons that you’d expect to see in any shooter. The ALM-37 Deep Freeze has a point of difference though in that it turns enemies into ice so you can proceed to shatter them to pieces. The Rhino fires electrically charged boulders at enemies and is handy when there is a tightly packed group of them. There is also a sticky grenade launcher that can bring down structures if you use it to take out their supports. You can only carry two weapons at once (not including the Entrencher) and four types of grenades (which are designated to the D-Pad).
The grenades are anything but traditional. Three of them change the terrain in the form of creating a hill, a crater and a granite spike which is handy once again for raising bridges and getting you to hard to reach places. The fourth is called a vortex grenade that, when thrown, creates a mini black hole which swirls around and sucks in everything in the immediate vicinity then blows it to smithereens. It’s an awesome weapon but makes the game a tad too easy as you end up using it all the time when there’s multiple enemies.
You're thinking the game sounds fun so far, right? Well, maybe – but you're wrong, because it isn't. Fracture is very restrictive in how you approach the game and linear in what you must do to achieve certain tasks. Most of the chances you get to use the Entrencher are in a corner patch of dirt at the end of a corridor to get to another level to complete an objective. This excellent feature just seems to go to waste. There’s very little variation in gameplay either – it’s a case of clear a room/area, run a corridor, clear another room, go outside, clear that area, wash, rinse and repeat. It’s almost as if you’re playing one never ending level like Microsoft’s Too Human. That makes Fracture rental-fodder, as finishing the game would take some serious determination. Sure, there are some parts where you have to lower and raise ground in a puzzle-like nature to turn things on and off, but all in all it’s just a bit of a yawnfest.
And then there’s the enemies themselves. Did someone say dumb? The AI is awful. Some enemies will take appropriate cover, but others will stand quite happily out in the open and beg to be plugged. When you hit them, they barely react until you deliver the fatal blow. It’s sloppy and is another nail in Fracture’s coffin.
There is one saving grace, however, and that’s the multiplayer. While not enough to recommend shelling out cash for a purchase, it’s pretty good fun for a short time. There’s eight maps and eight game types for up to twelve players at once.
All the usual culprits are here, such as Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and King of the Hill, but the Entrencher gives them a breath of life and an extra dimension to gameplay. Perhaps the best multiplayer mode though is Excavator. Here, using the Entrencher is paramount to victory. One team must attempt to take several points on the map by lowering the ground and therefore raising one of the opposition’s basalts, you can then choose to defend this point or continue on to another. All the while the opposing team is doing the same to you. It’s a great mode and really illustrates the promise that terraforming weapons have.
Graphically I must liken the game once again to Too Human, i.e. a huge disappointment. Explosions, battles and Brody’s suit all look nice and pretty, but the cutscenes are an embarrassment, the framerate drops dramatically in places and the checkpoint saving makes the game stutter a few frames rather than just pausing play for a couple of seconds.
Overall, Fracture has some nice ideas but doesn’t back them up with a memorable game. The whole experience just stinks of mediocre. With any luck someone will pick up the terraforming idea and run with it. I can see it having successful applications in a number of franchises, especially Halo.