Review: Fracture – Day 1 Studios – XBox 360 (2008)

On my Christmas breaks for the last few years, I’ve tended to play a few “fast games” in the interest of a slight cull to my pile of (videogame) shame. Sadly, these games are often not that great, though I do start out hopeful that they might be at least decent. Since I just haven’t been feeling a desire to paint much yet, I’ve started the gaming reviews!

This year, I’m starting out with Fracture, (stylised as Frac\ture on the cover art). The premise of which is that global warming physically divided the east and west coasts of the USA, who then had a bit of a tiff over differing views of genetic modification of humans. The gimmick here, though, is terrain deformation. And killing Californians, apparently. Sorry, “Pacificans”. Who are “no longer fully human”, and more importantly – rebels to the Federal Government, backed by “Asia”. Meanwhile the US Government forces that you play as part of are backed by “Europe”. Uh-huh. Because Asia is east and Europe is west, I guess… This is all told in faux “news reports” from the US Government/East side’s perspective with a really heavy propagandist slant that makes even Fox News sound Fair and Balanced. So maybe all is not as it seems? Not that we get to see or experience any of that

The tutorial is a tiny bit trippy, with flashbacks of Bullfrog’s Populous, and really a bit of a new way of thinking about navigating terrain in a shooter. Until I fired up the game, I had thought that it was a FPS, but it’s instead a 3rd person shooter. Probably worth mentioning that.

Visual design of the main character’s armour is quite reminiscent of Halo and looks decent enough. I like the little thing they’ve done regarding the HUD being a hologram projected outside the suit, but his lack of helmet is more telling than the average Warhammer 40k Space Marine Hero’s lack of same. Your character is the same generic white guy that seemingly all of these games use. I think his name is BaldyStubble McSpacemarine, and as Outside XBox said about him when he appeared in Sniper Elite 3, (because it’s the same bloody character over and over) he “may as well be an animated bag of gravel.” Ha! Better yet, it turns out his name is Brody. No confirmation on whether his first name is Dude.

Dude Brody. Not terrible design, but so, so generic.

The game also comes with a generic black guy who is your immediate superior officer (and shares your haircut!) He’s supposed to be a colonel or general or some such, and he’s clearly supposed to fit into that Sergeant Apone/Black superior officer trope, but without the scenery-chewing or entertainment value of Al Matthews. Instead we get completely forgettable. Much like out protagonist himself.

Visually, the game isn’t bad for something from 2008 (I think?), but it doesn’t hold up in 2015 either. Graphics are a bit too dark which feels like grainy, with too much use of black and (dare I say it?) not enough use of browns, which would make the game less hideously dark. I know, brown games. But there’s colour theory around avoiding or minimising the use of black, and I think that would have been a good move here, since there’s just too much here. Basically, the game looks and feels like a failed “Gears of Halo” kinda game.

The AI is pretty bog standard, with an extra special helping of bog. (A mook just blew himself up with a grenade as I’m playing through this right now). Aaaaaaand another one, 30 seconds later.

Most importantly, though – the shooting is bad. Aiming is poor, you can only hold 2 weapons at a time, and the grenades are pretty useless since the main two that you have for the course of the game don’t explode bad guys, and instead deform terrain – just like your unlimited-charge deform-gun. You get some AI squadmates at certain points, but they’re about as useful as your mooks in an episode of Dynasty Warriors – that is to say that they stand around near the enemy comparing notes with them. Well, they get in the way, so perhaps they’re worse than the useless ones in DW. But yeah, the shooting and aiming in this title is shitful.

How shitful, you ask? Well, let’s put it this way: After less than an hour of gameplay, I found that the “best”/most efficient/least unfun way to kill the endless hordes of generic faceless enemies in this third person shooting game was to melee them to death. Not because the melee is awesome or anything, either. It’s basically an incredibly pissweak little punch. However, given how bad the shooting is, I’m finding that charging in, whacking the mooks a bunch of times, and then hiding behind cover before repeating is the “best” way to get through the combat quickly and easily. That ain’t a real good outcome for a game which is supposed to be a shooter.

Yes. I would have preferred if this game was even Browner.

I was kinda hoping for a game I could play in a day or two and get some satisfying shooting out of, even if the game was short and as bit subpar. I certainly haven’t gotten that….

Cut to a few hours later, and I’ve stumbled onto the final boss fight. I fight him for a good while, before pausing the game to see WTF is up – is he healing, or am I chipping away at him? This is especially relevant, since I don’t have many grenades and only have a shitty gun. I find a walkthrough that recommends that you have a powerful weapon, so that you can kick the shit out of him straight off the bat, since he regenerates every so often, and you’ll also want to be able to destroy the spires that allow him to regenerate. Oh. Good. /eyeroll

So anyway. Game is uninstalled, the disc is back in its case, and the game will probably be an (unpleasant) gift for some poor unsuspecting person in the future. Basically, Fracture isn’t worth the time it’d take to try and grind through that last, bullshit, out of proportion to the rest of the game boss fight. (Reminds me of last year and Heavenly Sword – why do devs pull that kind of shit?) In this instance, I was playing on Easy so I wasn’t in any danger of dying from the final boss – more of developing RSI in my wrist. (I started on normal, then restarted on easy during the first mission when I found the game controlled like shit.)

So anyway. I’ll probably YouTube the ending to see what happened, just for completeness’ sake. The fact that I haven’t actually done it yet is telling with regard to how much/little I actually care about the story. Because it’s a shitty, generic, forgettable story. In a shitty, generic, forgettable game.

Verdict: Avoid.

How Generic? How Forgettable? THIS much.

 

Review: Dark Sector – Digital Extremes, Inc. – PS3

Dark Sector. or darkSectOr, as it wants to be called. Back when it was released there was a bit of a hulabaloo about its violence content, going to far as to being Banz0red in Australia in 2008. This naturally meant i needed to rush out and pick up a copy, a year after it’s release in late 2009 so I did. My next  move was to carefully store it in the backlog. Apparently it got a release in Australia later on, in censored form. Hopefully that’s not what the patch it just installed was about, but I guess I’ll see.

Playing through it I certainly didn’t see anything that struck me as even the slightest of ban-worthy. I’m wondering if the game update/patch I downloaded was a censorship patch. It’s also quite possible – and in fact likely that the bar has very much changed in the past 7 years as well, though.

This screenshot is Strangely Brown.

This game got some pretty reasonable reviews back in the day, with a few that were less enthusiastic. Let’s see how it holds up today. It could be argued that it’s unfair to judge these games I’ve been looking at by today’s standards. While that’s a reasonable point in some ways the fact is that these games are still available to buy and play today – especially on Steam, XBL, PSN, etc – so they’re still very much available for purchase and play. Given that, I feel it’s worthwhile enough to look at them with modern eyes and not through rose-coloured lenses to see what still holds up today and what might have been a good idea back in the day but is past it’s use-by date. I’m making a conscious effort not to be harsh when it comes to graphics, (with the exception of pointing out when a game is a brown-grey smear) but as blunt as I like when it comes to gameplay.

The first thing I noticed was that it’s 3rd person with pretty bad motion bob – not a good start, though I did get used to it after awhile. Graphics are pretty bland and muddy. It kinda-sorta depicts a westerner’s mental image of a delapidated and decaying post-Soviet, post-bio-zombi-pocalypse-infected bit of Russia/ex-Soviet states, but it’s just unrelentingly dark, dim, grainy and shitty looking. I’ve seen enough photographs of Pripyat, ghost towns and similar abandoned areas (and been to a few) to know that the sun does shine there, and the use of light as well as darkness can create an atmosphere of eerie and abandoned stillness. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out only 5 months before and managed to capture this so much more effectively, and that’s a bloody Call of Duty game. (Though to be fair, this was before CoD was the MP-focused-bro-shooter-focused thing that it’s now become).

To be fair, the game looks good in some ways, especially as an early-era PS3 title – but the unrelenting palette of dull browns and blur-greys quickly fatigued my eyes, resulting in it all having the effect of washing together as a muddy dark smear in my memory, even minutes after stepping away from the console. Story-wise. Well, I’m guilty of giving crap to people who complain about the stories of videogames. This one though stands out in it’s …bland nothingness. You play as a Sam-Fisher-wannabe CIA-Black-Ops-type. You infiltrate a Russian castle-base. There’s a virus, evil Russian scientists, you get infected – giving you super powers, a mutant metal arm and a magic glaive which you accept as just fine, and then you slaughter your way through endless zombies (infected civilians) and the Russian troops that are trying to contain the virus (which includes you).

So, yes – you’re an American rampaging your way through the Russian troops trying to maintain a quarantine zone of a mutant virus outbreak. Making them the bad guys – because they’re Russian, after all – and you the good guy – because ‘murica, Fuck Yeah!

Also very popular, you can see the exciting dark blue-grey palette in action.

Actually, I decided before too long into the game that the character I was playing was actually the bad guy for the most part. Like in those Grandoise Theft Automobile games that all the kids are playing these days. But with an even more unlikeable protagonist than Trevor. I can’t believe it… horrible sixaxis aftertouch controls again. Right after I played Heavenly Sword. Still, it’s not as overused as it was in HS, and instead the game just falls into a pattern of blandness.

I found that playing it was pretty straightforward. The ranged combat is bland, and just serviceable – but not fun or tight. The melee combat is just bad. Awful, in fact. Movement is awkward as well, due to both the off-centre 3rd person view, the mapping of run to X rather than L3 (which means if you want to run and change direction – which you need to do at various times – you need to have two thumbs. Was putting run onto R3/RS a gameplay movement that came after 2008? I honestly don’t recall. If it wasn’t, then Digital Extremes have (had?) no excuse. I remember playing MoH back on PS1, but it was so long ago now I don’t recall anything about the controls other than using the dual sticks, which were new-ish at the time.

As I played through, I’m just found it to be so very meh. It lacks both the highs and the lows of Heavenly Sword. It started out like eating a disappointingly bland but inoffensive meal that you don’t really enjoy but isn’t bad enough to not bother finishing, especially since you paid for it – but while you’re eating it you’re thinking of somewhere better you might have gone instead where you’d have really enjoyed it. Still, before I’d finished Chapter 4 (of 10) I was wishing the game would just finish already and by the time I’d started Chapter 5 I was really starting to question myself on whether I was making good use of my holidays by playing tedious games “just to finish them” or if I am just wasting my time. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I do wonder where I should draw the line, as I know some games take a little while to “get going”. I think Dark Sector is pretty well beyond that point, though. Boss fights are a pain in the arse, since they change the mechanic of what you’re supposed to do several times (sometimes mid-fight) with no feedback to the player, and short of checking GameFAQs to figure out WTF you’re supposed to be doing, I can’t see how the designers got a pass on this.

Seriously. The whole fucking game looks like this.

At one point the game mixes things up with a … yes! A vehicle level. You pilot a crab-walker robot with guns that the game manages to make feel not like vicious auto-cannon that will tear things apart, but glorified pop-guns. Seriously, if you’ve played many shooters on any platform, you’ll know the feeling of a game that manages to make the guns “feel” right. Weighty and powerful. These are best described as piddly. Another disappointment to notch up.

Multiplayer looks good on paper. I do like asymmetrical “infection mode” type gameplay. Unfortunately I doubt anyone is still playing MP on this thing 6 and a half years later, and it would be using these gameplay controls that I find so very trying. So I didn’t even bother to look or check it out.

I managed to just finish Chapter 5, which is apparently halfway through the game …aaaand you know what? I’m done with it. This game, taken as a whole – is shit. Every aspect of it, from the graphics to the controls to the shooting mechanics to the aftertouch controls range from awful to subpar to average at the very best. The game isn’t “sticky” in any way, the characters and story are wooden, bland and actively unlikeble. The “endless waves of zombies” that the game throws at you every so often aren’t fun to cut down because the controls are so awful, and the too-common visual noise that the game throws at you (water, fire, vibration, etc) just makes the game even more off-putting.

The game does have a few good concepts – the glaive and various abilities attached to it are nice ideas – unfortunately they’re just ineptly executed, and buried under way too many poor game mechanics. I’ve seen reviews listing this thing as 5-6 hours long, but it seemed quite a lot longer than that to me. I didn’t even die a lot, I just found it long, boring, tedious and frankly un-fun experience – and not one I was willing to waste more time on. I’d rather be doing almost anything else, and so my run through this game is finished, if incomplete.

Verdict: There’s nothing at all to redeem this game in 2015. There are far better ways to spend your time. Avoid.