E3 '07: Fracture Multiplayer Hands-On

We go head-to-head playing LucasArts' literally groundbreaking action game.

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The premise of Fracture is certainly a nifty one. This is a futuristic first-person shooter where you can mold the terrain to your needs on the fly. You're armed not only with assault rifles and shotguns, but also with special grenades that can cause Earth to sink, rise, erupt in a vortex that sucks everything nearby into it, and more. It may seem a bit gimmicky, but in multiplayer matches it can create a wild battle. After all, it's one thing to be able to deform terrain on the fly, but it's another when you're in a battle where everyone is doing that, too.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

We battled in three-on-three battles in the only level of the game shown thus far, the dried-out basin of San Francisco Bay, right near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. On one side were the Pacificans, the genetically engineered soldiers of the game, and on the other side were the Atlantic Alliance soldiers, clad in power armor and cybernetically enhanced. For the purposes of this demo, both sides had the same weapons and abilities, though that won't be the case in the final version of the game, as we can expect to see the two sides embrace their unique advantages.

You start a multiplayer match with a couple of weapons, and you can carry only two at any one time. There's a semiautomatic energy rifle that serves as sort of a sniper weapon, though it does only a small amount of damage, so you have to hammer your target repeatedly to take him down. Then there's an assault rifle that can unload into an opponent, though its accuracy makes it useful only for close-to-medium range. This provides a basic mix of short- and long-range weaponry, but there are other weapons that can be recovered around the level, such as a shotgun that's lethal up close, as well as the Bangalore launcher, which fires ground-burrowing torpedoes that explode underground. And, of course, you have your ground-deforming grenades.

There are four types of grenades. Tectonic grenades cause the ground to rise, useful if you need to create cover from enemy fire. Subsonic grenades cause the ground to sink, which can also provide cover or force an enemy to climb out of a hole. Spike grenades cause a pillar of earth to rise out of the ground. This has all kinds of applications. You can lift heavy objects out of the way, or you can ride the spike for a gain in elevation. Then there are vortex grenades, which create a whirlwind that sucks in anything and anyone next to it and then explodes with a burst of energy. The vortex grenades are obviously the most powerful, but they're also pretty scarce. While we started with a small number of the other types of grenades, we didn't get any vortex grenades. The only way we could recover them in this level was to use spike grenades to lift the grate that covers them, and of course, this grate is located in a relatively exposed area, making it perfect for ambushes.

The resulting firefights basically could be summed up thusly. Combatants spot one another and usually toss a grenade at each other, causing the ground to suddenly deform. Then it's a battle to close and kill, or maneuver around the newly formed mound or pit to flank, or fall back and revaluate the situation. After several minutes of this, the battlefield can become a complete and total mess, in a good way. Mounds and spikes stand out of the ground, blocking the line of sight (you can shatter spikes with enough weapons fire). Meanwhile, maneuvering becomes more difficult, as a once-flat surface is pockmarked with hills and pits. You're limited to a walk in multiplayer--there is no run function. This makes the pace of the game feel more methodical than fast-paced run-and-gun games. That doesn't translate into a slow game, though. The action in Fracture is just as intense as in those games, as it's more cat-and-mouse and less run-and-gun.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

We played the Xbox 360 version of Fracture (it's also coming out for the PlayStation 3), and the controls were almost identical to Halo's. The only major difference is that the D pad is used for selecting grenade types. Up on the D pad for tectonic, right for spike, down for subsonic, and left for vortex. As long as you have grenades, you can chuck them with the left trigger. It didn't take too long to acclimate to them. The only real learning curve is figuring out how to use grenades effectively.

Visually, all of this action looks good on screen. Fracture seems to be part of the new wave of shooters adopting the notion that there's a lot more in the color palette than just dull and dark colors. The Pacificans are clad in shiny, cool, yellow organic armor that makes them look sort of like insects, while the Atlantic Alliance soldiers are in electric blue power armor that stands out. Meanwhile, the environment is bright and colorful, an impressive feat considering that this is essentially a game about moving dirt.

LucasArts hopes that Fracture's innovative ground deformation features make it stand out, and from what we saw it certainly does. You'll do things in this game that you've never really done before in a shooter. More importantly, the game makes even regular deathmatch--a mode that feels like an obligatory feature in every game--feel fresh and interesting--so much so that it'll be interesting to see what else LucasArts and developer Day 1 can do with terrain deformation. Fracture is due out in 2008.

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