*Disclaimer: Fracked review code was provided by nDreams for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
It’s been a busy few months for PlayStation’s VR line-up. And with Sniper Elite VR and Arashi: Castles of Sin not quite hitting the mark for me, I turned my attention towards Fracked, a PSVR game that markets itself as a “trailblazing new VR action adventure that collides relentless gunfights with free running, skiing, and climbing”. And let me tell you, that’s underselling it.
Fracked, to put it plainly, is a beautiful game. Boasting a lavish cell-shaded art style extremely reminiscent of Borderlands, it immediately impresses from its very first moments. Where recent VR titles have tried to aim for a realistic art style and haven’t quite stuck the landing, the game manages to cover up any visual shortcomings by having a distinctive comic-book-like style. Textures that would otherwise appear lacklustre such as water or falling snow won’t make you think twice as it all perfectly fits the visual style and tone of the game.
This art style extends to the character design and mechanics themselves. Enemy character models are suitably bright and otherworldly, with most opponents featuring exaggerated purple spiked heads and limbs. Explosions and the barrel flare of guns is also appropriately over-the-top and stylised. Mechanic-wise, rather than a simple ammo-counter appearing above your gun you are able to see how many bullets are in your weapon by viewing it from the side, making your gun briefly transparent.
It’s this distinct and (semi) unique art style that truly propels Fracked further than it has any right to be. As we’ll get on to in just a second, Fracked doesn’t really shake up the current VR landscape with its level design or core gameplay, but its highly memorable art style makes previously-perfected mechanics (like climbing) feel brand new again.
A Blockbuster VR Experience
From the surface right down to its core, Fracked is a blockbuster action movie come to life. While there have been countless action-adventure games that take great inspiration from summer blockbusters, it manages to outclass most of them by putting you directly in the action. Where Uncharted 2 had you controlling Nathan Drake climbing up a falling train, Fracked has you climbing up a falling train. Thanks to some very responsive controller vibrations and realistic audio cues, you personally feel every creak and wobble of the train, every shift of a pipe and every slip of a ledge or window as you frantically clamber your way to the top.
Enjoying Fracked is also incredibly easy thanks to a streamlined control scheme. The triggers and the Move buttons are all you’ll need to master the intensely enjoyable combat and climbing. The simplicity of the controls actually go a long way in making you feel like the bad-ass action hero the game is desperately trying to make you. For example, reloading is incredibly simple yet satisfying. All it takes is two simple movements of your hand (pushing the magazine into your weapon and cocking it), but each one feels deliberate, with the Move controllers delivering a satisfying vibration upon each completed action. This simple mechanic epitomises Fracked‘s philosophy; doing something cool, and doing it easily, makes for one empoweringly fun experience.
Fracked knows exactly what it wants to be, and spends all of its run-time being it. The voice acting may be a little hammy and exaggerated and the plot may be even more barebones than your average Fast and Furious movie, but none of it matters when you’re zipping down a snow-covered mountain, blasting away at monster-driven snowmobiles, leaping over explosive towers, outrunning an avalanche, all while head-banging to the game’s stellar rock-techno soundtrack.
A Mechanical Masterpiece
While Fracked uses a whole range of pre-perfected VR mechanics for its movement and climbing, its shooting mechanics, in particular its cover mechanics, might just be one of the best VR innovations in years. You can grab practically any object, surface or wall and use it as cover. Once you’ve grabbed the surface with just one pull of the trigger, you’ll be able to manually pull yourself in, out and around that object. Where most VR shooters have you hunkered down in one spot, peeking and shooting until the enemies in front of you are all gone, Fracked instead lets you directly control the flow of the action, all with just one simple button press and arm movement.
This innovative cover mechanic provides some of the most intense and engaging firefights in all of VR. Enemies actively try to flank your position, forcing you to pay constant attention to your surroundings and use the available cover to your advantage. You decide when to peek around cover, you decide when to fire back, you decide when to retreat. You’re given all the tools to survive, it’s up to you on how you use them.
But that’s where we’ll find Fracked‘s first little downfall: its high level of intensity. Let me preface this by saying that I’ve had my PSVR headset for almost four years now. I’ve played A LOT of VR games. From beginner-oriented experiences like VR Worlds to open-world ventures like Skyrim VR, I’ve experienced the full range of VR user-levels. So you can believe me when I say that Fracked can be a very intense VR experience. As previously mentioned, enemies will rush straight towards you in every direction, trying to flush you out of cover. Their high level of aggression and fast speed can make even the most hardcore VR player feel intimidated. Even in “Easy Mode”, where players are given laser-guiding sights and enemy AI is significantly less aggressive, Fracked is not entirely accessible for VR newcomers.
With that being said, though, if you’re willing to put the time in and learn the intricacies of the intuitive and brilliant cover system, you’ll have absolutely no problems enjoying the game. You might just want to take regular time-outs!
Polished Like Ice
On a technical level, Fracked is a breath of fresh air. It’s been a while since I’ve played a VR game and experienced no tracking issues. I just want to reiterate that; no tracking issues. No pausing the game five times in 20 minutes to adjust the PlayStation Camera. No waving my arms around until my in-game hands stopped fidgeting. No falling through scenery because I grabbed the wrong rock. Fracked just worked. And what a difference that made.
Aside from some minor audio looping in the last mission, it ran perfectly throughout my time with it. The framerate was smooth, textures remained stylistically detailed, and no pop-in occurred. I was completely engrossed during my time playing and truly able to lose myself in the bombastic blockbuster comic-book action of the game.
Short and Bittersweet
But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and Fracked‘s end comes a little too early. With eight missions, it clocks in at around five hours. This is far from short for a VR game, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that just one more mission would have made all the difference here, especially as the penultimate level is a shortened carbon copy of a previous stage.
Fracked‘s level of variation across the board is an aspect that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Weapon selection is pretty limited, with only a pistol and SMG available as constant weapons and a shotgun, revolver, and grenade launcher available as limited-time pick-ups in the environment. Enemies also lack variation, with only three types appearing: the standard enemies, the exploding enemies, and the boss enemies. Environments themselves also suffer from a lack of deviation, with snow-covered caves and snow-covered factories dominating the short run-time.
While the missions themselves are paced very well, with shooting sequences being broken up nicely and climbing sections that lead naturally into large-scale set-pieces, you’ve essentially seen everything Fracked has to offer after just the second mission. It’s this lack of variation and the game’s shorter length that just stops it from being a perfect VR action experience.
Despite being hindered by the lack of variation, it moves at such a frantic and thrilling pace that you’ll scarcely notice it. When you reach its end, you’ll certainly be itching for more. Let’s just hope that the final tease of the game gives way to something even bigger and bolder.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Fracked is available now on PlayStation VR only.
Words By Cameron Swan