Jul 27 2010

Game Reviews: Osmos, Frac/ture

Category: materialism,video gamesSami @ 3:47 pm

These are not new games, I know; not the point.

Osmos: PC, Hemisphere Games

I picked this up in the Steam store because it looked interesting; I’d been browsing through the indie games. It may have been on sale, too, I don’t remember, but it’s currently priced at $9.99 and I think it’s worth it.

It’s deceptively simple in its mechanics, and almost meditatively soothing to play. A gentle, melodically liquid soundtrack accompanies you as you control a sphere of matter, attempting to absorb other spheres of matter while avoiding being absorbed. The rule is simple: bigger spheres absorb smaller spheres, adding the smaller sphere’s mass to their own.

You direct your sphere’s motion by clicking in the direction you want it to fire a little blob of its own mass; this goes shooting off, and imparts some movement to your sphere in the opposite direction.

Of course, when your ejected propulsion mass hits another sphere, the absorption effects still take place, and the kinetic energy it had is also absorbed by that sphere.

The levels with a second animate sphere opposed to yours, and the ones where all the spheres are orbiting a central point, get complicated, but it’s all surprisingly intuitive.

It’s rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

Frac/ture: PS3, Lucasarts

I bought this on sale at Gametraders, because it was on sale and looked really, really cool. It’s a third person shooter, but it has a twist: your character has an additional weapon called an Entrencher which raises and lowers terrain. (Various grenades also have terrain-altering effects.)

In theory, this could be very very cool.

In practice, it’s *quite* cool, but is let down by a few things.

1) The actual damage-dealing weapons often feel incredibly ineffectual. I play a surprising (to me, since I used to think I didn’t like them at all) number of shooting-type games, and there’s a balance I’m accustomed to between the required number of hits an enemy should take to die, the accuracy with which I’m hitting them, and the grade of weapon I’m using.

The weapons in Frac/ture appear to have appalling range and accuracy, which is odd given that the player’s character is a representative of an army with some incredibly high-tech gear, and to be seriously underpowered relative to the strength of the enemy Pacificans. It’s frustrating to be hitting a standard mook with a hail of bullets at point-black range and finding oneself unable to kill him without having to retreat for cover a couple of times. It’s also frustrating to unload an entire clip of ammunition into one standard mook and find oneself unable to kill him before needing to retreat to reload.

This makes combat against multiple enemies tiresome, especially since on those occasions when your character actually has allies accompanying him rather than sending him off alone to do absolutely everything himself, your allies are completely useless.

2) It can be annoyingly difficult to get certain terrain challenges to resolve at all. In early stages, you will, for example, be required to throw a spike grenade (which makes a spike of half-molten-looking rock emerge from the ground) in a certain place to shift a grating to form a ramp, or similar things. All well and good, except getting the grenade to land in precisely the right spot for this to work can be incredibly finicky.

The sole saving grace is that if the grenade doesn’t land somewhere useful it will generally not detonate and you can pick it up again, but this isn’t much consolation as you search various different launch points and angles from which to throw the grenade so that it will land in the precisely correct place under the grating.

3) The sound is unbelievably buggy. At some point between a few minutes and an hour or so after you start playing the game, it overloads itself and starts making speaker-threatening failure noises. This would be bad enough, but the sound is actually quite important to gameplay. (There is a subtitles option, but it excludes rather a lot of the dialogue, and is therefore pretty useless.)

The sound issue is probably the most frustrating. The issues with the weapons and so on can be annoying, but I’ve still been having a lot of fun with the game… until the point where it just dies on me.

So, sadly, I can’t particularly recommend Frac/ture to those without a fairly strong tolerance for restarting battles and restarting their consoles. It’s rather a disappointing effort from Lucasarts.

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