Fract Beta (2010 game) review…

Fract Beta (2010 game) review after the break…

Fract Beta (2010 game) review…

I normally attempt to write reviews like a story: That they have a beginning, a middle and an end, with the ending tying the review together. That’s how critics are taught to write because that’s how readers like to read – Readers like to read stories, not summaries, bullet points or “l33t sp3@k.”

Not this time. I’ll end the suspense right now – Go play Fract Beta. Yes, Fract Beta is flawed. Yes, Fract Beta could be improved. Yes, the last puzzle in Fract Beta is most definitely frustrating the first time around. Yes, Fract Beta is a little large for the actual game play content that it provides. Yet Fract Beta is a free and, on a decent computer, has some of the most compelling visuals for a freeware game that I’ve seen in a while.

Fract Beta may best be described as “Myst” meets “Tron.” The game play is reminiscent of the “You figure it out” first-person puzzler of “Myst” while the visual style, short of featuring humanoids with glowing frisbees, is a direct take from the original movie “Tron.”

As a small, independent venture, Fract Beta has some shortcomings. First, there isn’t any plot to speak of. Start game, enter the computer game world. Who are you? What are you doing there? Why are you there? Why are these puzzles here? Those questions aren’t answered. Don’t attempt to figure it out because “there’s no there there.” Here are you puzzles, now go solve them.

The beta also doesn’t have a save game feature which is rather inexcusable as, for the first time through, some of the puzzles are trickier then others. Hardcore puzzlers might find the initial four puzzles rather easy to solve but the fifth and final puzzle will most definitely tax most brains. Fortunately, there is no death – You are always “rebooted” near where you “died.”

The initial four puzzles are a routing puzzle, two pattern puzzles and a patience puzzle. The presentation makes the puzzles a bit more impressive then they actually are: Upon the second go around, a speedy player can solve the entire game in mere minutes. There is also a bit of misdirection – One puzzle involves cubes but looking at the cubes themselves isn’t the answer which might lead some to become frustrated. Another puzzle simply involves waiting for a few moments for the opportune time to move. Not exactly genius-level deduction at work.

The fifth and final puzzle is a considerable leap in difficulty and, with the lack of a save game feature, may cause several people to abandon the game in frustration. While I won’t reveal the answer outright, here’s a mighty big hint: The answer is actually within the four puzzles you solved earlier.

Fract Beta is visually impressive but is rather empty otherwise. I understand that it is a “beta” or proof-of-concept but a little more story substance could go a long way. A save game feature isn’t actually critical (once you know the answers to the puzzles, solving the entire game is effortless) but should be added. What might also help is to randomize the puzzles themselves so that no one can simply run through the game without having to retrace the steps necessary in order to find the proper solution. Why not randomize the first puzzle so that the missing bars are located in different areas? That the “cube” pattern is different upon every replay?

Breathing life into this digital domain might be a considerable task but the rewards of creating a world rather then creating a few puzzles inside a themed setting are worth it. Richard E. Flanagan has created an impressive visual but now needs to add substance to the style.

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