The (D)evolution of Video Game Releases
Sometime in the last decade, a bizarre shift has occurred in the video gaming industry. Games used to be tested for bugs, and said bugs were pruned and eliminated before releasing the title to the masses. Owing to factors unknown, developers started releasing games that were beta quality, some even in the alpha stage. The paying, loyal customer base was unwillingly turned into beta-testers of a “live” game, and subsequent patches and fixes eventually stabilized and streamlined the player experience. Over the course of time, even the media started to accept this as the norm, garnishing their reviews with statements like “it can only get better once <insert developer here> fixes the bugs”.
This is the approach I initially took when I was given a Steam code to review Fray. I have since decided to forgo this established model, and review the game as it is, irrespective of how it may be, if they fix all the bugs. You don’t buy construction paper at the store, hoping that with enough testing and feedback, they will eventually turn it into the softest toilet paper. When you buy a product, you expect it to function. Having said that, let’s review Fray.
A Tactical Overview
The year is 2098, and you represent one of three mega-corporations vying for domination of Earth. Instead of ravaging the earth and waging war across its landscape, each side wages war in virtual skirmishes with opponents using futuristic soldiers that could easily fit in the Tribes or Planetside series. Each of the corporations gives a specific buff to their champions on the battlefield. For example CronaCorp increases one of your stats for a short period of time, while Aros lets you reload when you are running low.
When putting your squad together, you have four slots in which to place six classes, and you cannot double up on a class, which is a good design decision since it forces you to employ a methodical selection process. The Assault and Tank are your typical front-line, heavy armor classes. The Shadow and Support are medium armor classes that can be loosely compared to the Spy and Engineer classes from Team Fortress 2. The light armor classes include the self-explanatory Medic and Sniper roles. Once selected, you can jump into battle.
There are two modes ‘deathmatch’ and ‘team deathmatch’ but more modes have been said to be added soon. At the start of each round is the ‘definition phase’, a two-minute setup stage where you can change your avatars’ weapons, equipment and stances. If you finish the turn quickly, you also get a stance bonus, but rushing through the definition phase could mean making hasty and unfruitful decisions that you will regret later. The resolution phase comes next and here you get to watch the fruits of your labor (or the pains of your misjudgment, depending on your perspective). It can be a bit bland as the action just monotonously unfolds; there is no time-dilation during firefights or kill-cams to enhance the drama on-screen. As far as turn-based strategy goes, this is pretty average.
Enough Bugs to Give an Entomologist the Creeps
It sounds very mediocre, doesn’t it? There is nothing wrong with mediocre. I have played a very wide variety of games that were mediocre, and forgot about them the next month. Fray on the other hand, is a game that I will not forget for a long time, and for all the wrong reasons. Clicks aren’t recognized, the units don’t acknowledge or carry out orders, keybinds don’t work, lag is pervasive, the game hangs, crashes, stutters, units will inexplicably face away from the direction that they moved in, units that died in a round will have their abilities activated through subsequent rounds until they respawn and cancel said ability. But perhaps most importantly, you can have the privilege of experiencing all this if you actually manage to log in.
To make matters worse, the game lacks some critical components. For one, there is no matchmaking. In essence, I could log in as a total noob, and be pitted against the game’s lead programmer. Additionally, there are no interactive tutorials, which let you experience and understand the battlefield before you have to jump into the fray, pun intended. Worst of all, sometimes you can’t even find a match, especially in off-peak hours, because the game was released so suddenly and with so little marketing, it never really developed a hype machine or a fan following. This is further exacerbated by the fact that there is no single-player version of the game, so if you can’t find a match, you can’t play, period. The chat window is the biggest nuisance, always in the way, and with no scrollback feature, it does not keep any record of anything said. Finally, the replay value is severely diminished by a solitary game mode.
In the interest of impartiality, it should be said that the maps are one of the redeeming qualities of Fray. When the game works, they look nice and colorful, well-designed and filled with tactical opportunities. The sound and music isn’t awful, but nothing that stands out of the ordinary either. The concept is certainly interesting on paper, and packs good potential, but it never quite comes together.
Brain Child released this game in mid-to-late alpha, rife with bugs, practically unplayable, devoid of critical features. If it functioned, casual players of the turn-based strategy genre could potentially enjoy it, but it would still never be a blockbuster. At release, the game is a disaster, a catastrophe of biblical proportions, unplayable, unfinished, and contains enough bugs to give an entomologist the creeps. Fray, and I swear this is the last pun I will use, is brutally frayed around the edges.
Cool, colorful maps
Pretty much everything else