Crispy Gamer

Fracture

In the alternate reality of Fracture, the United States is divided by civil war. It?s not a smoking ban, religion or foreign policy that triggers this massive rift, but the issue of genetic engineering.The two halves of the country wage a technological war using future weapons that turn the earth itself into a deadly weapon.

The operative videogame buzzword here is ?terrain deformation,? according to Denny Thorely of Day 1 Studios -- the team behind this new LucasArts franchise. His game infuses the over-the-shoulder shooting of Gears of War with an innovative set of weaponry that allows players to mold in-game landscape to their will. The first of these guns we saw in our preview at the LucasArts was the Entrencher, a weapon that causes huge masses of earth to bulge out of the ground. These berms could be used to create cover, bridge gaps or provide the high-ground in a firefight. According to Thorely the game?s robust physics engine, when paired with the wild weapons, allows for interesting emergent behaviors. During testing, for example, one designer learned that he could propel his character into the air by using the Entrencher to make the earth rise under his feet -- just like the rocket jump in Quake III.

It?s not just the firearms in Fracture that make the earth move under your feet. One grenade creates a massive vortex -- like a whirlpool in the dirt -- that will suck up opponents, rocks and anything else unlucky enough get to close to its hungry maw. Others produce massive spikes that jut out of the ground and tower overhead. These have obvious offensive potential, but are also used for puzzle solving. One level featured a raised series of platforms that appeared to have become damaged and lost some of their vital supports. The player was able to toss these ?spike grenades? under the dangling gangplanks and prop them up again with an improvised stone pillar.

The entire arsenal of weapons in Fracture seems like it?s gunning to top Insomniac in the nutzo gun department. From the torpedo launcher that fires burrowing projectiles into the ground to the spiraling heat-seekers burped out by the Bangalore rocket cannon, Fracture is chock-full of weapons that could easily share ammo shop shelf space with the tools of destruction in a Ratchet & Clank game.

At this point the question on the lips of any sane gamer?s lips should be, ?What about multiplayer?? LucasArts didn?t have any footage of multiplayer to show, but they assured us that head-to-head deathmatches are coming along swimmingly. Apparently the game?s terrain deformation mechanics produce all kinds of unpredictable results -- especially in the multiplayer setting. Expect to see all the typical kinds of matches and team games as well as some utterly different kinds of gametypes crafted specifically to take advantage of Fracture?s imaginative weapons.

Denny Thorely did share some details regarding what to expect from Fracture multiplayer. He spoke a bit about cover and battlefield dynamics, pointing out that player run speed was affected negatively by steep inclines. Terrain deformation, he said, would ?create a whole new way to tactically engage another human being? online. That?s a pretty hefty promise. It wasn?t long ago that the innovative shooter Prey aimed to change the way we frag by introducing portal warps and wall-walking, but the game?s multiplayer became so bogged down by shoddy net code and eager players that the matches were both frustrating and damn near impossible to play. Thorely insists that Day 1 Studios is taking concerns such as these to heart. Already they?re concentrating on multiplayer synching, so that every rumble, rift and landslide looks and feels the same to players on opposite ends of the Internet. The team has already sunk six months into multiplayer quality assurance testing.

Our walkthrough ended with a ground-level reveal of the game?s setting. The player turned the corner in a rocky ravine. In the sky overhead the Golden Gate Bridged loomed. Turns out a good part of the game takes place right in LucasArt?s backyard -- literally a stone?s throw from the Presidio. Thorely hinted that the game would take players to many more ?interesting? locations. Fracture?s civil-war storyline could make nearly any place in America part of its sandbox. Thorely was keen to point out, though, that technology and buzzwords aren?t the end-all-be-all when it comes to LucasArts. He cited the core philosophy that simulation technology works the best when it is unleashed to serve the story. Melding a deep story with wild gameplay mechanics can be a difficult undertaking. We?ve seen Half-Life 2 pull off such a miracle. Fracture?s Dennis Thorely appears to have the path in sight. Besides, he said, ?you?ll really know we?ve gotten there when the tech no longer has fancy names.?

This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. The game is scheduled for release in the summer of 2008.