Fracture (Hands On)


posted 9/29/2008 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PS3 360
First up on the LucasArts Gameplay Room agenda is an hour’s worth of Fracture’s single-player campaign. It begins with the in-game tutorial, which is 100 percent identical to the demo released on Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network September 18th. The showdown between Jet Brody and Colonel Sheridan comes to a head at Alcatraz Island. Sheridan, naturally, isn’t ready to walk away in cuffs, and the chase is on. Previously unknown through Jet Brody’s intel, however, is the fact that Sheridan has been preparing an all-out war effort for longer than initially conceived. Things will indeed get worse before they get better.

I push full-bore through the Alcatraz Island demo material until Jet Brody hops on a dropship and is airlifted towards his next target: the Golden Gate Bridge. Anti-aircraft gunfire cuts that objective short during a cutscene. Jet Brody’s ride is picked out of the air and goes down hard. He’s the sole survivor amidst the wreckage, but his comms are clean and his commanding officer, Colonel Lawrence, instructs him to press on -- army of one-style -- and proceed to the bridge as ordered. Jet Brody may have jokes, but he’s not insubordinate. Not yet, anyway. Both the Pacific and Atlantic forces seem suspect.

As I quickly acclimate to the tools of the trade -- to include the wrist-mounted Entrencher (“The key that unlocks the world of Fracture,” states Dan Hay, Executive Producer and Art Director for Day 1), Tectonic Grenades (which raise the terrain), and Subsonic Grenades (which do the opposite) -- I steer Jet through a complex of mammoth bunkers housing the two anti-aircraft guns that blew up Jet Brody’s ride.

Along the way I face plenty of Pacifican fodder, tossing them into the air when I burst the ground up from under them and skeet shooting their ragdoll bodies on the way down. Other times I raise terrain to provide immediate cover in the often times wide-open battlefields, or dig a trench to grant myself breathing room from the flying bullets overhead. The enemy is more than capable of utilizing its own tools for terrain deformation, flanking the mounds of earth from the left and right, climbing right over the top to gain a height advantage over my position, or falling back in order to recover shields. Creating a seemingly strong enemy AI in a corridor shooter like F.E.A.R. is all well and good, but that game’s AI didn’t have even a fraction of the variables being tossed about in Fracture. Here, as the battlefield tosses up and down like a stereo equalizer, the AI has to be able to cope with keeping track of a player that moves not only on the X-axis, but on a constantly variable Y-axis as well -- and we’re of course not just talking about Y-axis movement on a couple stationary staircases. While the AI may lose track of you on the Casual difficulty level (you will hear the bad guys shouting out, “Where’d he go?”) the hardcore difficulty setting creates a drastically different scenario, with a relentless enemy that -- even if it doesn’t know your exact location on the other side of that mound -- is willing to toss a grenade up and over at your last estimated location. Like 3-D Battleship.

The Day 1 team tells me that Fracture was initially conceived to be a first-person shooter, but realized how disorienting it was to raise up large mounds of dirt in front of your face that took up your entire field of view. Day 1 quickly concluded the need to pull back to a third-person perspective, just to keep a player’s bearings in the radically chaotic fields of battle. The only drawbacks to that decision was the lack of a near-object fade that can sometimes have foliage (a rare occurrence) that’s hanging five feet behind you suddenly choke a player’s line of sight. Another issue is that Jet Brody’s firing stance often has him holding a rifle down by his waistline: He’s literally shooting from the hip. And reconciling the difference between that low-slung firing position and the eye-level reticule can be a chore for the player. Jet Brody can also kneel behind objects, but it’s only under infrequent circumstances that he can fire at enemies from that kneeling position. A player has to pop up, fire off some rounds, and then recover.
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