Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Hard To Find Fault With Fracture

I first played Fracture for the XBox 360 last fall, when its free demo came out on XBox Live, and I thought it was pretty cool. However, with Dead Space, Fable 2, and Left 4 Dead just around the corner, I decided that it wasn't worth the sixty dollar price tag.

And I was right - those other three games are better. But Fracture is still a really good game, as I discovered after picking it up two months ago for a third of its release price ($20) in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. I've been playing it on and off ever since, progressing to what I think is two-thirds the way through the game, and it's been a great ride so far.

Fracture is a third person, over the shoulder shooter, easily comparable to Gears of War and the like. The hero is your typical tough guy future space marine dude, with the silly name of Jet Brody. The U.S. in this climate-changed future is - get this - Fractured into two factions, one that's into cybernetic enhancements and the other one into genetic modifications.

The hook of Fracture is a good one - players have terrain-altering abilities built into their guns or maybe their armor - oh hell, it's on the left and right bumper buttons of the controller. They can raise and lower terrain, creating mountains or pits right in front of them, with what they call "the entrencher".

The applications of these abilities and the whole "fracture" theme are well-woven into the game. In combat, players can raise the ground in front of them for cover, or lower it to dig a foxhole, or raise the ground the enemy is on to disorient them for a few seconds. It works well, looks cool, and never gets old.

There are terrain puzzles, too, to solve with the entrencher and the terrain-altering grenades, one of which is particularly useful in that it creates tall spires that rise straight up. Raise some ground to fix a broken bridge before crossing it. Or use the entrencher to dig under a closed door.

The weapons are for the most part pretty standard (versions of the assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher), but still cool, and there are some new ideas here as well. The "Black Widow" is a good example - you shoot up to six charges out towards a group of enemies, and then detonate all of them at once. The vortex grenade is also fun - it creates a powerful magnetic vortex where you throw it, pulling in enemies, crates, rocks, and the like. It's always funny to watch it go off.

Combat is gritty and nearly constant, with few quiet moments, as the player slogs from area to area. Enemies get tougher and bosses show up later, but there are enough checkpoints and saves to keep it from getting too frustrating. The music playing during battle is really good, and adds to the tension. Big points for the epic soundtrack.

There's a vehicle section, too, with the strangest all-terrain vehicle I've yet seen in a game. The gun on it is automatic, leaving the player to drive it around, which is quite a challenge in itself as the controls are a bit off-putting. The left stick is used to give it the gas or hold back, and the right stick steers. It felt very awkward, but it was a short sequence and had more terrain-altering fun as the player used the vehicle's abilities to make ramps or dig under doors while driving around.

Look, if you're a rock-hard sell on this generation of gaming, with the standards set very high by Gears of War, Call of Duty 4, and GTA IV, you might find fault with Fracture. This middle-aged gamer stands on softer ground and has found it to be a solid, polished, gem of a game, certainly worthy of the twenty dollars I spent and enjoyable as a title to pick up and take a crack at from time to time.

Did I get enough bad puns into that last paragraph? Hmmm...maybe I should just split while I'm ahead.

No comments: