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Video game previews
Fracture preview for PlayStation 3
 
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LucasArts announced Fracture today during an event at its Presidio offices held to showcase the mid-2008 third-person action game for the very first time. Developed by Day 1 Studios, which also made the MechAssault games for Microsoft, Fracture portrays a futuristic American civil war, though instead of restaging the epic North/South conflict, this time it's West Coast and East Coast going at it.

There's a "ripped from the headlines" quality about the premise of Fracture's story, as it dabbles in current hot topics such as genetic engineering and global warming. Basically, about 100 years in the future, a bunch of East Coast scientists create the first genetically engineered humans, but something goes horribly awry (as these things tend to do) and the first generation of Humanity 2.0 dies terrible deaths. Outraged at science run amok, the Eastern states outlaw genetic engineering, which sends the scientists to the West Coast, where they're welcome. A few decades later, the East Coast attempts to completely outlaw genetic engineering nationwide, which causes the West Coast to secede from the union and trigger a civil war. On one side is the high-tech, cybernetic East Coast and its European allies, forming the Atlantic Alliance, while on the other side is the West Coast and its Asian allies, forming the Republic of Pacifica. Oh, and we should mention that global warming created a slew of natural disasters like earthquakes and floods that pretty much wiped out the Midwest, meaning West Coast and East Coast are physically divided by water. (Sorry, Ohio and Texas!)

The big feature in Fracture, and what it derives its name from, is that the future scientists have also figured out tectonic weaponry, which means that you have the ability to deform terrain in the game in real time. That's a fancy way of saying you can literally shape the battlefield as you play. You do this by tossing a variety of special grenades that can mold the land before your eyes. There are five practical purposes for this: protection, navigation, destruction, puzzle solving, and tactical advantage. For instance, if you're under fire, you can toss a tectonic grenade that causes the ground to rise and form a mound in front of you, creating instant cover and blocking the line of sight between you and the enemy. Or, if there's a chasm, you can toss a spike grenade to cause a stone pillar to form out of the ground, letting you cross. Another example is that if there's a building you need to enter but can't, you can toss subsonic grenades to cause the ground to sink, letting you "dig" beneath the walls and carve out a tunnel. And perhaps the most violent grenade is the vortex grenade, which causes a hole to erupt in the ground that sucks in everything near it, including people, and then spins as an energy whirlwind that builds up and explodes.

LucasArts hopes that Fracture will be the opening chapter in a major new franchise for the company, which is striving to develop new intellectual properties while also focusing on its core franchises: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It sees Fracture as having a rich story to tell. You'll play as Mason Briggs, a soldier in the Atlantic Alliance who is sent west to put down those Pacifican rebels. Briggs, a demolitions expert, will rely on his variety of special grenades, but will also have an arsenal of conventional weapons. The mix of conventional and tectonic warfare is the game's strength, as it should let you fight in ways that you haven't experienced before and provide plenty of replayability. The demonstration LucasArts held had Briggs in a fierce battle against Pacifican soldiers and Hydras, elite genetically engineered troops clad in exoskeleton armor and able to leap high into the air. The battlefield was a dried-out San Francisco Bay (not too far from LucasArts' offices, in fact), and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge was nearby, rising out of the dry earth. The action was fierce, but Briggs used his grenades in a number of ways to defeat the enemies. This included causing a giant mound to rise up next to a small cliff and then using weapons fire to carve out steps to climb up and reach a previously inaccessible spot.

Fracture is being developed for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, and Day 1 president Denny Thorley said that the company was "wringing" the advanced hardware on both systems for everything they've got. For instance, the game can use a dedicated core for physics, which is important considering all of the objects that move around when the ground gets deformed constantly. We should also expect some pretty sophisticated artificial intelligence, as the enemies have the same grenades that you do, which means they'll need to understand how to use terrain deformation to their advantage, as well. The visuals themselves are very sharp, and the game takes place entirely in third person, a decision made because it helps frame all the terrain deformation in context since your character is always onscreen.

LucasArts and Day 1 didn't get into too many details regarding multiplayer, but the game will certainly have it, especially considering the developer's track record. MechAssault was the key Xbox Live launch title, helping to establish Microsoft's popular online service, and Day 1 is eager to show off what it can do online with a game where you can reshape the battlefield at will. Though considering that the game is a year away from shipping, the companies are holding off on multiplayer details for now. And that pretty much sums up the current state of things regarding the rest of the game at this point. With at least a full year to go in development, we're going to have plenty of time in the coming months to learn more about Fracture.

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