Last Chance to Play: Fracture

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As I discussed in our Last Chance to Play feature on TimeShift, the 7th generation of gaming experienced a number of games that were built, primarily, on a single feature. Fracture was one of these. Developed by Day 1 Studios (now known as: Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore), and published by the now defunct LucasArts (RIP), the game promised to “redefine” third-person-shooters by allowing gamers to “reshape the battlefield.”

The reception was less than underwhelming. Fracture is one of those games that has already been forgotten; “terrain deformation” failed to impress gamers, the struggle between the Pacificans and the Alliance (though I’m not sure who they’re aligned with) inspired no one, everyone hated the main character and the online servers are host to nothing more than tumbleweeds.

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I was working at a GameStop back when Fracture hit consoles back in 2008. My only experience with it was the demo on Xbox Live; it became one of those games that we’d ask “are you sure?” before a customer paid for it.

Without a doubt: Messing with the terrain seemed like an interesting idea, but the game seemed more like a tech demo than anything else. No one I knew gave a shit, and once critical reviews came out, the collective gaming conscious had moved on.

Since then, Fracture has become one of those games that perpetually drops in price, leaving gamers to flock to message boards to start threads with titles such as: “Saw this for $10, should I get it?” Now that you can pick up the game for less than $5, the question remains: Is it worth anything?

My experience with Fracture was interesting. I will say this: Fracture prompted more thought from me than I thought it would. Make no mistake about it: If you bought this game for full-price when it came out, I feel terribly for you, but as something you can snag in the bargain bin, it’s worth a shot.

This game is unlikely to become a guilty pleasure: There are a number of serious problems—especially on the PS3 where it looks it’s being played through an emulator—but as a part of 7th gen history, there’re some interesting aspects.

First off: You’re highly unlikely to give a damn about the story, or its main character. I spent most of the game unsure of why I was doing anything, and Brody is perhaps the most generic, empty character in the history of fiction.

It's not just the main character. Pictured here is the most boring villain ever.

It’s not just the main character. Pictured here is the most boring villain ever.

There’re also some serious problems with the guns. Fracture is a lesson in how not to design a shooter. Maybe it was the fact that all shooting is done with the R2 button on the DualShock 3 (the worst “trigger” design ever), or just the rather empty feeling one gets from firing a weapon in the game. There’re also some aiming problems with crouching and cover.

The automatic assault rifles feel as if they have the accuracy of a hose set on “mist.” The only weapon worth your time is the semi-auto “Raptor.” But expect to run out of ammunition way to soon.

But of course, like many other games of this time, the developers were focused on their gimmick: Terrain deformation. Watch any dev diary on this game and you’ll see they think very highly of this.

Truth be told, using terrain deformation is actually kind of interesting. You can use to create cover, which is primarily what it’s good for. There are a few interesting puzzles to accomplish as well—one in particular involves shaping the ground in such a way that explosive balls roll into power conductors.

Though it came off as a gimmick, terrain deformation actually makes for an interesting combat dynamic.

Though it came off as a gimmick, terrain deformation actually makes for an interesting combat dynamic.

Using it to create cover, however, is key to not getting frustrated by this game. And this game will frustrate you. If you try to play it like a standard shooter: You’re bound to have a terrible time. Even on the middle-level difficulty, the game likes to through a combination of some truly, truly annoying enemies that are very hard to kill, but can dispose of you quite easily.

By working with the terrain, however, you can—no pun intended—reshape the battlefield in a way that favors you. It takes some getting used to, and it is pretty interesting—but overall, it feels more like a tech-demo, or an early alpha-stage of the game. Had there been better shooter mechanics, and a decent story, this game might have been more memorable.

There was one moment where the terrain deformation was particularly impressive: After fighting off one of the larger enemies that looks like something straight out of Gears of War or Resistance: Fall of Man, I stopped to look at how the ground had been changed. From jumping around, tossing ground-deforming grenades and more, the landscape went from flat to being covered in hills and trenches. There have been few games where, after a firefight, I’ve stopped to look around at the chaos that just took place.

Fracture has a number of serious issues that prevent it from ever being considered a classic, or worth full-price admission. The shooting mechanics are off, the story is lousy, and as many critics have noted: Many aspects feel lifted from Halo, Mass Effect and even Gears of War.

That said, Fracture has a few things that many games, even AAA ones, are sorely lacking. Firstly, it embraces colors: Enemies are bright green, your suit is a deep red—decorated with blue lights, explosions are vivid. You’ll also fight through some varied environments: Mountainous regions, forest-like environments, and even a snow-covered Washington D.C.

Too many games stick to a boring color palette, and have severely limited environments, so if anything, Fracture was a nice departure from the mundane. It made the experience of shoddy mechanics worth it.

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