FRACTER is a puzzle game developed by the team over at 4L Games. To be more exact, it’s an isometric puzzler set in a dark, captivating and almost ethereal setting. The aim of the game is to guide the protagonist through a number of puzzle-laden levels, while also avoiding a whole bunch of zombie-like enemies in the process. I believe the correct type-face is indeed FRACTER – in capitals – before you think I’m shouting it every time!
The gameplay is pretty straightforward, but with some really clever mechanics built-in. You basically guide a nameless female protagonist via a number of puzzle levels that are connected by a hub, requiring you to ‘complete’ a level before returning to the hub and then choosing your next level. You must complete them in sequential order however, which is fine as the game teaches you how each puzzle works as you go, so a kind of in-house tutorial sequence takes you through the first few levels and then slowly increases in difficulty.
What kind of puzzles, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a combination of block pushing (think Tomb Raider) with a bit of light refraction; and some puzzles combine both elements. More puzzles come into play as you progress but these are the core mechanics throughout the game. There’s generally a light source in each room and you need to refract it using a number of mirrors that can be pushed around by your character. There are also enemies which creep around in the dark and you have to hide from them, but this is pretty basic in terms of stealth (think the guards in Hyrule Castle in Zelda Ocarina of Time rather than Metal Gear Solid).
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Did I mention this game is creepy af? Well it is! The developers do a really good job of making a fairly simplistic environment super atmospheric and at times, frankly, scary. It’s kind of like Silent Hill meets the 2D Bomberman games (OK enough with the wacky comparisons). The puzzles are clever though, keeping you engaged and constantly thinking. They’re not rocket-science, which is good as it keeps the game accessible, but they’re challenging enough to feel rewarding when you complete something.
Level / World Design
The world design is pretty basic. Like I said before, there’s a hub with levels that offshoot from it. The levels themselves are pretty cool and resemble a piece of MC Escher artwork with lots of staircases leading into various nooks and crannies. They get more expansive as you progress and the various components/rooms of any given level link together very nicely.
Story / Personality
To be honest, the story is quite limited, in that there basically isn’t one. There’s the general creepiness I’ve mentioned already, and you’re quite obviously stuck in a parallel universe of some sorts, but other than that, there’s not much in the way of a story arc. Throughout the game, you find ghost-like versions of yourself, just in case it wasn’t creepy enough already, and you collect these ghost-like collectibles throughout each level, which is a nice addition and makes the game slightly non-linear.
Graphics / Art Direction
The graphics are very simple, and completely in monochrome. I did find myself straining my eyes a lot trying to see through the darkness. SOME colour would have been nice but I appreciate the whole point of the game is that the creepy dark/monochrome environment is the theme here. It does remind me of when I was about 10 years old at school and we had to colour-in this picture from a kitchen in the Tudor times. I decided to get my pencil and colour it all in grey and told my teacher that it was smoke/steam in the kitchen. She wasn’t impressed. But I guess what I’m saying is it’s a lot easier to ‘colour’ something in grey then it is in various pretty colours… So yes, some colour wouldn’t have gone amiss, maybe even in the hub world or somewhere – anywhere!
Music / Sound Design
The music in FRACTER is in keeping with the creepy tone of the rest of it. So as with most creepy games, the music takes a backseat and only shows up at times of suspense or jumpiness. It ticks along nicely in the background and adds to the overall feeling of isolation, but it’s definitely more of an ambient soundtrack than anything else.
Final Score: 70%
FRACTER (sorry for shouting again) does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s well made and does the puzzle genre justice, so if you like puzzle games, I’d definitely recommend this game to you. If you’re a casual gamer and not really into puzzle games, I wouldn’t recommend this as you do need to have patience and enjoy playing a game that is purely puzzle oriented, rather than enjoy playing a game where the puzzles are just a small part of the gameplay. But 4L Games have done a commendable job in making a clever, moody, atmospheric puzzler. Some of the puzzles are so cleverly put together that I wanted to actually applaud while I was playing it. It just wasn’t completely my cup of tea.
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