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Shooters have had an injection of imagination of late. Not only through the fleshed out stories of Halo 3 360 or Bioshock 360, but through new and innovative ways to interact with the environment - best demonstrated in Portal 360.
Fracture looks to join this party by adding the ability to deform (read: raise and lower) the terrain.
First Person Shooters (FPS) present a game world from the perspective of the in game character. As graphics have improved these games are now able to produce realistic renderings of the game world, endowing the player with an added sense of immersion. FPS games usually involve single or multiplayer player missions where one team (or individual) has to complete a particular objective before the other. That the action invariable involves a combination of fisticuffs and gun based fighting which then dictates the violent nature of these experiences. Beneath this harsh exterior though is often a intricate tactile game - and this is usually what drives the player.
While other shooters rely on the carefully preplanned geometry of each level to provide players with challenge and opportunity, Fracture lets the player alter the landscape as they go. This simple change endows the player with God like powers that enable them to invent their own path through the environment.
This deformation is delivered through specific weapons. The Entrencher gun can be used with a left trigger to make a hill or left figure to make a crater. The Tectonic grenade can be used to blow a larger crater in the ground. The Spike grenade enables a shaft of rock to break through the turf. The Subsonic grenade emits low level vibrations that create deep sinkholes. Finally, Vortex grenades create magnetic whirlpools pulling objects and enemies in before it detonates. The effects of these and other related weapons are impressive, flinging dirt and dust around as they do their work. Any loose objects are thrown clear as the ground raises up.
Other than this deformation element, Fracture is a typical shooter (a particularly good looking one, but a standard shooter all the same). The player encounters a series of enemies, often well dug into their positions, that need shifting before progress can be made. The ability to alter the terrain lets them invent their own solution to each scenario, creating cover where they need it and cutting routes through the rock to outflank the enemy.
Some may find that the impressive ground altering technology falls a little flat in the ongoing game environment. The level designs are skewed quite heavily towards prescriptive rather than imaginative solutions. Each scenario seems to have been designed for a particular gun or grenade. Combine this with the absence of co-operative play, that often introduces much needed variety, and players need to enjoy linear gameplay to get the most out of Fracture.
The sheer joy of rampaging through environments, making a mess of the carefully sculpted geometry captures the joy of the proverbial Bull in a China shop. Given just a few minutes and you can create a veritable rift valley of mountains and canyons. Pulling the trigger on a Tectonic grenade and watching the ground disappear into a lava latticed crater generates a sense of joy and power that is rare amongst video games.
Taking this new play mechanic, and using it to defeat enemies in unusual and possibly unplanned ways feels really good. Perhaps it is the rarity of these experiences in the game that makes them so precious, but certainly they are more than enough reason to keep coming back for more.
Like other shooters you need a good few hours to get used to the controls and weapon set. Once you have grasped this you can easily progress in sessions of two hours or so.
Those that can afford to set aside whole evenings will undoubtedly get the most from the twenty hours or so of gameplay in the main story. Once this has been completed there are a range of online multiplayer modes, although no local split screen.
As indicated by the 12 certificate, very young players will find this experience a little bewildering and possibly overly violent. Even those a little older are likely to struggle with the movement controlled by the two analogue sticks.
Intermediate players should be wooed by the novelty of the scenery deformation. This creates a great hook for them to start experimenting and playing in the environment. The tutorial is not too heavy and delivers a good run down of the basic controls and weapons pretty quickly. Once in, provided they are happy with the linear progression, they should find an enjoyable and challenging experience.
Expert players will appreciate the Gears of War 360 quality presentation in Fracture. More adroit players will soon twig that although impressive, the terrain technology has not been put to use all that imaginatively in the game. Whereas Portal 360 takes a simple idea and stretches it to breaking point, Fracture doesn't develop its trump card as well.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: