by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
FRACT is a unique prospect: a musical first person adventure puzzler. It's like Myst, if Myst had you fixing a broken electronic music machine. It also has more than a few similarities to Proteus. When you start FRACT up, you're just kind of dumped into the game world. It's a TRON-like visual feast, full of neon lights and synthetic ambiance, but no context is given. There are no characters, no text, nothing to explain where you are or what you're trying to do. You're simply there, lost in a technological wilderness. Your only sign posts are the neon lights, leading down three separate color-coded paths.
FRACT mixes exploration with puzzle solving. The puzzles range from directing power flow by rotating pipes, to raising and lowering floating platforms, to creating specific soundscapes on synth machines. The puzzles are often repetitive, with each of the three color-coded paths having you do two sets of similar puzzles over and over again, but each new puzzle builds on what was previously learned. Most of the puzzles themselves are quire solid; more than once I felt stumped for several minutes, only to discover the answer right in front of me. There are some real noodle-twisters that make you think about every action you take, but they never feel truly impossible. The puzzles also often require you to reconcile overall progress with your need to move around. For example, while you might ultimately want to make a rotating platform face one direction so that it can catch the flow of power, jumping to the next platform may require you to make it face a different direction. Short-term progress constantly impedes long-term progress. Sometimes this becomes repetitive and irritating, but it is also an essential part of the game's unique puzzle design.
Part of what makes the puzzles so satisfying is that completing them seems to bring the world to life. What starts as silence or dull droning becomes music. Lights are lit. Platforms rebuild or rearrange themselves for you. The world itself responds to your deeds, and it's a great feeling. That said, certain puzzles seem designed with musicians in mind. This is especially true in the pink path, where you must click on certain sound-squares to create very specific soundscapes. It's not always clear what soundscapes the game wants you to create, and while there's a visual which shows you how close you are to the right combination, it isn't always clear what the game wants from you. Unless you're well-versed in the process of creating and mixing techno music, some of these puzzles will boil down to fiddling around until you've accidentally created what the game wants. It's less about thinking and more about repetitive trial-and-error.
No Meaning Or Melody
Between puzzles, you'll be exploring the game world on foot. Backtracking is made easier thanks to stations that you can travel between via an invisible monorail system. Exploring the game can be quite cryptic, since there's no hand-holding: you're never given explicit directions of where to go, or how to progress. On one hand, this creates a great feeling of discovery. Your progress feels earned. On the other hand, there's very little sense of direction. You only ever encounter text when the game tells you that you've unlocked something (more on that later). During certain segments I was very uncertain where I was intended to go. While it's nice to be immersed in a world, sometimes it would have been nice to have some idea of what I was supposed to do, or at least the ability to simply skip to the next puzzle. At the same time, the game was linear enough that I never felt truly free to explore the world. Aside from solving puzzles, there isn't really much to do in the game world and your movements are constantly limited by walls, cliffs, and your inability to jump.
Innovative puzzles, aesthetically unique, built-in music maker
Awkward controls, frustrating platforming, frequent confusion