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Sean Pettibone


Fracture (Playstation 3)

Even though Fracture might seem a bit predictable on the surface, dig a little deeper underground and you'll find a surprisingly engaging and challenging shooter. Fracture's biggest claim to fame is its unique terrain deforming weapons which allow you to change the structure of each level on the fly, allowing you to keep enemies off guard, build instant cover or dig underneath objects to find hidden areas. The system is remarkably intuitive and gives Fracture a different feel than other games in its genre with unique physics puzzles and entertaining gameplay.

Set in a distant dysfunctional future where the United States has been torn apart by advances in biotechnology, Fracture places you in the role of a powerful marine soldier who's aiming to take apart a separatist faction that has fully embraced their bio-engineered future. Your side has taken a different approach to these scientific advances and has opted to create new terraforming weapons that allow you to change the landscape around you almost instantly by pulling the trigger. Your basic mission is to wipe out the other side, using your abilities to keep them off guard and develop new methods of attack. Fracture's basic premise is fairly strong, and its solid execution keeps you interested throughout. The game's controls should be familiar to most fans of the genre. There are two basic types of weapons at your disposal - standard firearms and terrain altering devices. Learning how to use both of these weapons types effectively, and knowing in what situations require them, is a key element in successfully completing your missions. There are sections of the game where you probably won't be able to progress without using them but, you'll also need to anticipate the chain reaction effects of these forces, or else place yourself in the center of a disaster. Its this puzzle-type of gameplay that helps Fracture stand out, but there are enough familiar elements in the game that most players won't feel completely out of their depth.

Fracture's basic arsenal includes standard rifles, shotguns, sniper arms, grenades and mines that you can use to destroy any opponents who come in contact with you. These weapons function and operate in fairly standard fashion, using the PS3's lower shift keys, and most players should have little trouble getting into the game. Most of the action is fairly straightforward when it comes to battling foes, you merely aim and shoot and in this department, Fracture doesn't really offer much in the way that's new. One interesting aspect of the game is how it borrows elements from other titles and gives them a unique spin. For example, when you press the triangle button, you can sprint, as in Gears of War, with the screen zooming in on your character to give you a more visceral feeling of running. Another aspect which feels recycled are the game's environments and graphics, with levels that seem reminiscent of Halo. This extends to the cybernetic enemies, who bear more than a passing resemblance to the Covenent guards. Even the main protagonist feels slightly familiar, with the usual tough-guy marine you've come to know and love in many other titles. Finally, there are some interesting physics puzzles which feel kind of like those seen in Portal. Of course, building on successful elements from previous games is nothing new, as long as it's done judiciously and with the developers' own style. Taken alone, these elements make the game feel slightly derivative, but Fracture's innovations help to make it feel more unique than its individual elements might seem.

This becomes most apparent when you move your fingers to the upper shift keys, the game's innovative terrain changing weapons come to the forefront. It's definitely a unique approach and gives the player a unique way to play. There are several types of terra-forming weapons at your disposal. The most basic allow you to move the ground up or down by targeting a specific area. It's a highly effective technique and has the added advantage of knocking any foes off their feet. You can also use this method strategically to make rocks and boulders, or even sections of buildings collapse on top of them. It has its limits, and only works in areas with dirt bottoms, which covers a large section of the area. In more extreme instances, players can use spikes to violently change the landscape with sudden force. This technique obviously has a lot of uses, and the ability to change the level on the fly allows you to create paths to high areas you couldn't previously reach, which can be quite helpful, or to burrow underneath barriers to make paths to hidden sections previously unreachable. Obviously, this gives Fracture a unique feel unlike many other FPS titles on the market, and since its an integral part of the actual gameplay in terms of combat and puzzle solving techniques, it doesn't feel like a gimmick. It's a bit strange at first, but once you get used to the structure and techniques, it becomes second nature, and a solution you can turn to if you run into trouble. While it might not seem like a huge innovation, it effects most elements of play and gives the game a distinctly different feel that helps to keep you interested throughout.

One of the most player-friendly changes in FPS titles over recent years has been on the fly energy rejuvenation, and in Fracture it works well to help keep the flow going. You can still lose your life, but you have the option of hiding behind cover for a few seconds, which helps you continue your mission. It's not intended to make the game a cakewalk, and Fracture definitely poses a challenge, but it helps keep the learning curve shallow, especially in the initial phases. The game's level design and maps are smartly designed and give a good balance between open-ended, nearly sandbox areas and closer quarters combat, which helps to make things interesting throughout. Fracture's enemy AI is a bit smarter than you'd expect - while offing individual enemies isn't that difficult, they tend to attack in groups and call in reinforcements, which makes it harder to keep up with them. There are several types of foes in the game and most of the standard issue soldiers are fairly predictable, but here and there you'll have to take out a smarter and more powerful foe. Fracture isn't the hardest game on the market, but the mix of puzzle and combat is good, and it also benefits from frequent save points which makes progression steady. The single-player experience is smartly designed and quite challenging, but the game's extensive multiplayer, online modes offer more interesting play. There are several different maps to play on and Fracture's unique terraforming weapons help to keep things a notch above the usual capture the flag and death-match modes.

Obviously, the game's physics engine is impressive, with player alterable environments and destructive abilities that help to set Fracture apart from the pack. It's levels look quite impressive and there's loads of detail evident throughout. Excellent light sourcing, smooth player animation and impressive enemy design help to make this an immersive experience. However, unlike many FPS titles, there is only a single behind-the-player viewpoint, which is annoying. Additionally, the camera movement isn't as smooth as it could be, and its frequent changes in zoom and perspective cause you to become disoriented easily. This leads to disastrous results all too frequently, and there are many times where you can't turn the player around fast enough to avoid enemy fire. The sub-par camera system makes for a game that doesn't feel as polished as it could have, and undermines what should have been an otherwise impressive shooter. Fracture's voice-acting and music is decent, but nothing that's going to make you jump off your seat. Despite some flaws in its presentation and camera, Fracture is still an impressive game in many aspects. It's unique terra-forming weaponry allows for some interesting approaches in level design that helps to keep it from feeling too derivative. It's easy to use this system, and allows you to do things that simply can't be done in other games. The combat itself ranges from predictable to intense and there's a solid balance between combat, puzzle and exploration sequences. Fracture isn't the earth-shattering experience many gamers might have hoped for, but it while it falls short of the mark in many sections, the game lives up to its promise in enough areas to deserve a look if you want something a bit out of the ordinary.
- Michael Palisano

Grade: B-

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