Fracture

Review

posted 10/6/2008 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PS3 360
Al Gore was right. By the year 2161, the inconvenient truth of the matter is that global warming has become the number one global power. America’s shorelines have risen to an alarming degree, turning many coastal cities into Atlantises, the central plains into an inland sea, and the United States into a geographically split landscape.

But it’s not only Rand McNally that’s been enjoying job security through the constantly changing map. Terrain Deformation (Fracture’s reason for being) is the big sell that constantly changes the face of the battlefield on a micro scale. While most developers of action-shooter games have focused their efforts on deforming the architecture, per se, of the battlefield – hard cover and foliage degradation, collapsible buildings – developer Day 1 Studios’ programmers were forced into countless late nights at the office, working the gargantuan task of figuring out how to transform the terrain itself. How that feels, exactly, and how that changes the game, specifically, can’t be described through any process short of getting your own hands in the dirt.


Call it a waterbed shooter. Call it a Jell-O mold platformer. Realize that it’s both. But also realize, before you call it a “gimmick,” that Fracture is utterly devoted to its cause. Every type of grenade moves the earth. Only two guns out of the full-lineup armory don’t pound the ground in some way, shape, or form. Each level is crafted to take full advantage of deformable terrain. The singular vehicle driven during the campaign is equipped to break down and build up the road. So no matter what else may strike you as generic in the scenery or the character design, you will never forget that you’re playing Fracture as long as there’s a patch of dirt within arm’s reach.

And there’s zero guesswork involved in deciding whether your Entrencher, a continually-recharging Terrain Deformation weapon permanently attached to your forearm, can in fact deform the terrain: If it’s brown, you can deform it – if it’s gray, you can’t. This accomplishes two conflict-of-interest things. First, it ensures that in single-player and multiplayer that you’ll intuitively know, without hesitation, what terrain you can affect and what terrain you can’t. Second, it ensures that in single-player and multiplayer that you’ll have to fight the visual boredom painted across two-thirds of the game’s three acts.

The first act has the hero-formerly-known-as-Mason-Briggs, Jet Brody, flying into the newly-formed capital city of the Pacifican States, San Francisco. The Bay Area is the real-world home of publisher LucasArts, and the name Jet Brody, incidentally, was bestowed by George Lucas himself after he found the name Mason Briggs too generic. Publisher LucasArts’ writers played a significant role in the characters’ backstory, although their effort only passively makes its way onto the screen. Jet was raised in a houseboat on the Mississippi Sea, which is a Mark-Twain-worthy detail that’s ignored in-game. Colonel Roy Lawrence, spearhead of the Atlantic Alliance, adopted Jet at a young age -- which is likewise ignored in-game except for the fact that the Colonel is being literal when he calls Jet “Son.” General Nathan Sheridan, the rogue leader of the Pacifican States, is treasonously bitter about the preventable loss of his twin daughters – although this tremendous fact is brushed off with a passive one-liner in a cutscene. And the introduction of female bit character, the Japanese-born Mariko Tokuyama, during the second act neither heats up nor cools off the game screen.


Nevertheless, the overarching conflict of cyber technology versus genetic engineering (the driving ideologies behind the Atlantic Alliance and Pacifican States, respectively) is at least a step up from the incredibly lazy aliens-versus-humans trope baked into too many other shooters.
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