Not only did I expect to dislike LucasArts' upcoming earth-moving shooter "Fracture" when I saw it in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I was blunt about it.
Some would say I was rude. Because I preceded my playtime with the game by asking one of its producers why the game had a lot of negative buzz, why the lead character had his look changed, why people were calling the gameplay a shallow gimmick, etc, etc.
You'd think playing the game poolside under a thatched roof while little kids played in the pool and women in bikinis sunned themselves would have lightened my mood? Nah. But then I played "Fracture" and I… enjoyed it?
In "Fracture" you shoot special guns and toss special grenades that make pitcher's-mound-sized patches of dirt rise, lower or shoot up into towers. The first catch I heard about a year ago, is that you can't do this to every patch of terrain in the game. You can't do it on metal floors or to rock walls. So what I first considered to be a fun gameplay gimmick that I could use to terraform a battlefield I had come to fear was only going to be allowed in very specific places in the game. Wherever the designers didn't want me changing the landscape, they wouldn't expose any dirt.
I got to try what is now on my short-list of Best New Gaming Weapon of 2008.
Some of what I saw other players doing at their poolside "Fracture" stations did look pedestrian. Their armored agent of this futuristic East-West American Civil War was shooting high-tech machine guns at bad guys. That was literally not the earth-shattering gameplay I was looking for.
What you do with a skeptic like me is put me in the tutorial. And the tutorial level of "Fracture" is good, one of the more fun first levels I've played of a game in a while. The tutorial is a training ground that leads into a fight in and outside a prison (that conveniently has exposed patches of dirt!). The earth-moving weapons are introduced one at a time. You're encouraged to use each one in grand fashion. You're raising mounds of dirt that lift massive turrets into energy shields that destroy them. You're blowing up large towers. You're creating deep ditches to let you walk under a wall. In the prison, you learn to knock a guy into a ceiling but rapidly raising the dirt beneath his feet. You learn to create a shield of dirt by tossing an earth-raising grenade in front of a gunner and then dashing behind the mini-mountain that emerges.
You basically do nothing in "Fracture"'s tutorial level that feels subtle, and that's why it feels so good.
Near the end of the first level the player is forced to stand ground while a crowd of enemy soldiers rush toward your character. It's here where I got to try what is now on my short-list of Best New Gaming Weapon of 2008. This thing is an underground torpedo. I fired it with the right trigger of my Xbox 360 controller which caused it to burrow away in the direction I fired. A glow of light on the ground trailed away with it, letting me know its location. When the light was at the enemies I wanted to blow up, I pressed X and that subterranean torpedo exploded. Thumbs up for that.
Have we all played tutorial levels that are staged so precisely that they flow better than the rest of a game? Sure. But let's at least give "Fracture" and its development team some credit. I got a chance to get a new first impression, my first-hands-on with the beginning of the game. And I came away looking forward to playing more. That's now how I came in.
A new level of "Fracture" is set to debut at E3. The game is coming out later this year for the Xbox 360 and PS3. It is developed by Day 1 Studios.