Fracture Xbox 360 review

Will Lucasarts move the Earth for you? Aaron thinks not.

You’ve gotta love game designers. After all, if it wasn’t for their inventiveness and ability to craft whole new worlds, we wouldn’t be tearing through Locust with a chainsaw bayonet, injecting dubious serum that bestows the ability to throw bolts of lightning or taking on various denizens of the underworld with the blades of Athena. Occasionally though, some designers’ musings don’t quite live up to the their expectations, and sadly, Fracture is one such example.

Set in the future, in a world racked by climate change, the American government, in a bid to save the east coast from flooding, use experimental terrain manipulation technology to halt the oceanic approach. This results in the mid-west becoming a wasteland, sinking into the ocean. This ‘fracture’ of the US creates two new countries, and two new races. On the East are the game’s good guys – the Atlanticans, and on the West are the (boo, hiss!) Pacificans. What’s the difference between the two? The Atlanticans, being all moral and pure, decided to further their abilities and help the world by using cybernetic enhancements, while the Pacificans on the other hand, being evil and all, decided to take the route of genetic alteration, and created biologically-enhanced soliders (and possibly some REALLY big tomatoes), something the easterners don’t agree with. This causes everyone to kick off big style, and another American civil war begins.

You take on the role of an Atlantican super soldier called – don’t laugh – Jet Brody (*snigger*). As Jet you’re armed with a range of weapons, and the game’s much vaunted terrain deformation abilities, and have to wage what is essentially a one-man battle against your foes through a range of locales.

Fracture is a very attractive third-person blaster. Design-wise, the style is very much reminiscent of Unreal Tournament. This UT comparison doesn’t stop at the visuals either, and also carries over to the inventive use of weapons. While the game features all the usual armaments such as assault rifles and rocket launchers, it also sports some more interesting options, like a mine laying rifle and a ground-based torpedo launcher that fires a missile into the ground, which then proceeds to burrow along until it hits something solid or you detonate it.

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The big thing here though, is the terrain-sculpting element. Jet, is able to use his ‘Entrencher’, which is a device than can instantly raise and lower the ground with the pull of a trigger. With consequent shots, you can further raise or lower the ground, creating large mounds of earth or deep trenches. This manipulation of the earth can only be utilised on soft earth, so there are limitations, and there’s also a maximum and minimum height/depth you can go (so no burrowing out of the game world).

It’s not just the Entrencher that can shape the ground. There’s a number of grenades that can also raise and lower the earth when they blow, and ‘spike’ grenades can create a pillar of molten earth which you can use as a makeshift lift, or to raise walkways, amongst other things.

On paper, this terrain deformation must have sounded like a truly inspired idea, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have voted against it in the design meeting. I have to give Day 1 Studios credit – the mechanic does actually work well to some degree. It’s fun making the ground below enemy soldiers’ feet erupt, throwing them skywards, and raising the ground to form a shield against incoming fire, or creating a hole to hide in. However, much of the more inventive usage of this technology is squandered. Yes, it’s cool to raise the ground to make it over a wall, or to lift an electric conduit into place, but overall puzzles are very simple and contrived. And, even on the rare occasion that a situation actually forces you to think, the game kindly points out what you need to do, completely removing the challenge. You just can’t help but feel that the game engine is crying out for more, but has been stifled by rushed development, and, probably more likely, the powers that be holding more impressive use of the tech back until the inevitable sequel.

The rest of the game is solid enough with a few imperfections. Combat is fast and furious, and feels very, very similar to Mercenaries, and its recent sequel. The enemies you’ll face are a mixture of enhanced soldiers, with your generic cannon fodder making up the ranks, and other, tougher foes thrown in to offer a challenge. None of these have much intelligence though, save the ability to hide behind rocks and throw grenades. Others can jump around like possessed pogo sticks, and some sport armour that could possibly shake off a tactical nuke. With your powerful arsenal of weapons and ability to flick mud around at a whim, along with Halo-style recharging shields, you’re usually well equipped to take them on though.

Unfortunately, despite some interesting weapons and novel features, Fracture is, one the whole, just plain dull. The setting, characters and levels are all a bit… meh, and here are no standout moments. Level design ranges from okay to poor, and despite the ability to take out foes in all manner of ways, mainly thanks to the terrain deformation, 9 out of 10 times you’ll forgo any of this and simply shoot your way through, which undermines the key feature greatly.

Fracture is an odd game. There’s nothing really bad about it, save the dull content, clichéd characters and underused terrain system, but there’s also nothing great either. The game simply rumbles along ticking the paint-by-numbers action shooter boxes until you reach the end, and never lives up to what it coulda, shoulda been. You’ll never sit back and say “wow” as with so many recent releases, but if you like the genre, you’ll most likely enjoy it enough to make it through. This is a definite try before you buy title, and a shot at the demo, or a rental, is recommended before you shell out.

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3 out of 5