A limited online community and a myriad of bugs hurt Fray, a turn-based strategy game.
- Rare well-balanced matches can be a lot of fun
- Lots of gear and perks to unlock.
- Frequent visual and gameplay glitches
- Interface is awkward and inconsistent
- Matchmaking is problematic
- Weak player community.
It's always disappointing when cool concepts are killed by sloppy execution. The meticulously orchestrated chaos that erupts on the battlefield as squads of well-armed future soldiers duke it out in Fray's asynchronous turn-based encounters certainly appeals on a strategic level. But this multiplayer-only affair rapidly bleeds out its potential with only the lightest prodding. A sparse player community and an abundance of technical glitches spoil the satisfaction that comes from a match well played against a balanced opponent. Sadly, that scenario is such a rarity that it's tough to stick around long enough to reach those sporadic moments when everything feels like it's starting to click.
It's the year 2098, and three corporate factions vie for control of the planet. Rather than slaughtering each other in the real world, each side wages war in a holographic virtual realm by skirmishing with opposing groups of robotic sci-fi combatants that look like casting-call rejects for the nanosuit in Crysis. That's about as deep as the story goes, unfortunately, and while the gameplay itself is slightly more nuanced, it feels equally flimsy at times. The one inventive twist tied directly to the plot setup plays out in your choice of faction to support. Each corporation grants its troops a different perk, like bonus hit points or extra speed for your entire squad, and rallying behind your company of choice in battle after battle earns cumulative loyalty points that can be spent to unlock special upgrades for each class.
Selecting your patron corporation is a less tricky decision than picking your squad before every match. With only four slots available for your group and six character classes to pick from, expect to agonize a little over who makes the cut, since the precious experience points needed to access better gear and perks can be hard-earned. Units are decently balanced between the offensive-minded assault and tank classes, the sneakier sniper and shadow classes, and the backup support and medic classes. The inability to double up on any class is a shame, but it keeps matches from spiraling out of control. While they're so similar looking that their class icon is the only way to tell them apart sometimes, the warriors' distinct roles are clear-cut, and purchasing additional unlocked abilities and weaponry as you level up further differentiates and expands their usefulness.
It's not until you finally hit the virtual battlefield that things both heat up and fall apart. Matches begin with opposing sides deploying their troops across maps ranging from sprawling cityscapes to cramped laboratories. During the planning phase of each round, both sides queue up moves for individual squad members until all their action points are used up. When the preset timer ticks down or both sides are ready, the resolution phase kicks in, and all hell breaks loose. Bullets fly, strategies unfurl, bodies drop, fallen units respawn, and the next round kicks in. This repeats until the body count hits the designated quota or the round limit runs out and a victor is declared. There is indeed a certain thrill that comes with trying to strategize while anticipating your opponent's next move, particularly when your plans unfold in exciting, unexpected ways. Fray pulls off simultaneous tactical strategy decently enough, but it's rarely as smooth an experience as you find in other games that cover similar terrain.