Review: Fracked (PSVR)
By: Roberto Nieves
Platforms: PlayStation VR for PS4 and PS5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
We have always known that extraterrestrial life would arrive on Earth one day, but we never knew it would be at an oil rig in the middle of the artic. With alien mutants stalking about and the crew has turned into zombies, all that is left between an alien invasion and human annihilation is you, a worker and former soldier who has a penchant for using weapons. Coming off their success and lessons learned with Phantom: Covert Ops, developer nDreams sets its sights on something louder, faster, and noisier with Fracked, and the team has pulled off a spectacular experience. Fracked is one of the very best action experiences of 2021 and is only held back by its unexpectedly short length.
Fracked is a first-person action experience for the PlayStation VR. Exclusively utilizing the PS Move controllers, players are the main star of their very own action experience. A mutant alien army has taken over an oil rig in the middle of the arctic and is determined to bring about the end of the world through the arctic. Armed only with a gun, a submachine, and reflexes, players are thrust into a high-octane and high-energy action extravaganza. Players shoot, blast, and fight their way through the hordes, moving and maneuvering through each environment.
Fracked is not a wave shooter. It's a first-person experience with full-locomotion. Players move freely through the environment. Using the left Move controller, players can move about through the field and interact with surfaces and objects. The enemy is numerous and aggressive, and oftentimes, players come under heavy fire. To survive, Fracked has woven an incredibly intuitive cover system. Players select their preferred hand for holding the weapon, and the other free hand is used to grip surfaces for cover. The cover system allows players to quickly move and stick to the cover, positioning themselves as necessary to avoid and return fire. Fracked allows for alternation between the open hand and the weapon hand with the push of the Face Button. At certain points in Fracked, players may use the motion of the PlayStation VR helmet to guide themselves down the slippery snowy slopes of mountains. In several sequences, players ski down slopes to engage enemies and avoid avalanches. Using the headset, they maneuver left and right, avoiding trees and obstacles.
It's clear that the team at nDreams took what worked best with Phantom: Covert Ops and learned lessons on what didn't, as Fracked can be described as absolutely sublime in its weaving of gameplay, action, and control interface. From the very beginning, players are thrust into a non-stop action joyride but are introduced to a control setup that is quick to learn and adapt to. Right away, I found myself skiing down slopes and pulling off stunts that would be featured in Lethal Weapon and The Rock. Most games would put players into a tutorial to learn the basics, but the remarkable design in Fracked isn't exactly telling the player what to do, or even showing the player, but allowing the player to jump right in and play, with a moment or to guide the player. In moments, players have everything they need to give punishment to the bad guys.
The action in Fracked is superb and never lets go until the credits roll. Guns fire with ferocity and intensity, and chaotic firefights are about throughout the entire experience. Complimenting the interface once again, Fracked uses an easy-to-understand reload system and allows players to quickly glance at their weapon to see how many rounds are in the clip. The reloading sensation actually heightens the desperation and danger of the action sequences. Shooting and aiming are immensely satisfying, and the feedback is even better within the cover, using aggressive cover tactics to stay safe and take down foes. Even the vibration within the Move controllers is designed to feel a certain way, such as when firing the SMG or a specially augmented revolver. This feedback makes for many awesome moments for players. One of my personal favorites was ziplining down onto enemies, bullets grazing past me, eliminating enemies before I ever had a chance to land on the ground.
The action of Fracked is immensely satisfying, but the chases sequences down the slopes are easily one of the biggest highlights of the game. Think of every engaging chase sequence in an action film, and Fracked s the closest one would feel to being right in the middle of such a sensation. One long sequence as players blowing up guard towers, shooting down snowmobiles, plumbing from steep drops, and dodging trees, all to the pulsing percussion of a soundtrack clearly inspired by the '80s and '90s. Compounding this thrill-ride is a visual style clearly inspired by thick, illustrated graphic novels, not unlike Borderlands. It's a euphoric sensation, unlike anything felt like this year, and it's a feeling that will certainly resonate with players.
Enemies come from all angles and sides, aggressively charging the player. Some enemies, known as Blasters, are hulking monstrosities determined to crush players. Fighting these enemies requires flanking and running, as well as shooting explosive barrels whenever possible. As mentioned before, the remarkable cover system opens options for players. Dors, boxes, ledges, any surface can be sued for cover, but as enemies are aggressive, being aware of the surroundings is an important skill to learn for mastering Fracked. Occasionally, an augmented weapon appears that players can use. These weapons emit a purple glow, deal massive damage, and include a revolver, a grenade launcher, and a shotgun. These weapons can not be reloaded and can not be stored. Once used, the weapons disappear. To survive, knowing when and how best to use them is essential to success.
Breaking up the action, players use their hands to manage obstacles and platforms. Players climb ladders, steel beams, broken pieces of metal, and other obstacles. The controls feel tailored and precise, making hanging, climbing, and shimmying accurate and precise. There is a final platforming segment that may feel a little too difficult due to the use of electricity, but for the most part, platforming feels remarkable, and some may call it akin to adventure Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise.
Ultimately, between the shooting, skiing, and platforming, Fracked is a ride that never ends until the end. Fracked is a game that drips with excitement and engagement for the player, having them star in their very own action film and actually going to great lengths to have them feel as they are the center of every action moment. Even the orientation and position of the VR headset and controls are exceptional. I personally never felt dizzy or disoriented. The calibration of the game is accurate and though-out, and a quick look at the accessibility options shows the team at nDreams is committed to players. Fracked has several options for VR players, including vignette options to minimize motion sickness. Fracked promotes it is tailored made for PSVR, and I can say that is true, without a doubt. Fracked is remarkable, engaging, and worthy of great merit and praise.
Alas, nothing is perfect in the world of video games, and for Fracked, there are flaws in an otherwise glistening shine of armor. Fracked is a short game, and when the game is over, all that is left are completing remaining trophies, which amount to leftovers after a Thanksgiving meal. I played Fracked on normal difficulty and finished the game in approximately 4 to 6 hours, with breaks and dinner included. A second playthrough on hard difficulty and to find the game's hidden collectibles will likely take another 5 or 6 hours, given the difficulty spikes that occur later in Fracked. Following that, there is nothing else remaining that Fracked can offer. No challenges or missions. No co-op or leaderboards. This gives Fracked the impression that there is far more to see than what has been seen. Fracked is by no means an incomplete game, as it is a contained title filled with actions and a clear structure that has a beginning, middle, and end. However, given its relatively short length, it feels bittersweet. There is so much more I wanted to see in Fracked, and it feels the game could've lasted another couple of hours. One compliment I can give to this is that a shorter game can be more beneficial to players, especially those like myself that work 40-60 hours a week at the local hospital. Having said that, this short length isn't the worst fact about Fracked. This perspective changes significantly with the price point of $29.99. Some will undoubtedly be put off by the fact that this price point exists, especially when titles like Skyrim VR offer so much more length and content for less. However, my argument is in comparison to movies. A movie for two is almost $30, without knowing if the movie is good or not. For Fracked, there is a demo for playing the game, and the length, especially to reply the game, somewhat justifies the $30, albeit barely.
Another setback is the weapon variety. Aside from the one-handed machinegun, the handgun, and the three augmented weapons, there aren't any other weapons to be used. No rocket launchers, laser cannons, grenades, or mounted machine guns. Of course, that doesn't take away from what exists, as the gameplay for Fracked is phenomenal, but it feels like a missed opportunity to add a few new weapons and variants to the game. The same can be said for the enemy variety and their tactics. Most of the time, players fight the standard zombified mutant, some a little harder to kill than others. Occasionally, a zombie bomb will run towards you, dealing a fatal blow if they get too close and explode. The Blaster soldiers come few and far between, and Fracked contains only one boss fight, and that is towards the end. The enemy soldiers do not use any kind of advanced tactics, forgoing their own self-preservation to attack, and even get caught in the crossfire of you and an attacking enemy at range. Enemies throw grenades to flush players from cover, but that is the most regarding self-preservation tactics. Granted, the mutant army is zombified, contaminated by a crystal substance, and does use vigilance in trying to find players. Still, more enemy types, and bosses, would've gone a long way for the Fracked experience.
With this massive focus on action, the story for Fracked takes a significant step back. As loose as it is, the story has strong influences from the 1980s, from the one-liners to the talk of being in the jungles of the Vietnam War, with a villain that sounds a lot like Michael Rook. Rosalina, the chopper pilot, is actually quite enjoyable to listen to as well, and while the game and story are focused and short, the story works enough to be enjoyable. It feels like a larger story is ready to be told, however, and should Fracked have a successor, I am ready for that next chapter.
Flaws aside, Fracked is an exceptional VR action experience and certainly one of the best ones. Fracked is one of the finer titles for PlayStation VR and certainly among the best, but alas, had those setbacks not been present, I would have easily regarded Fracked as one of the best reasons to get a PSVR. Still, it's clear how much hard work went into Fracked and how remarkable the overall experience is. That feeling of excitement, action, adventure, and being the hero is an elusive feeling to attain. Nailing that feeling is the mark of commitment to a craft, polishing and refining that craft, and trusting in the player to experience what has been made. I encourage anyone with a PSVR to play Fracked and, at the very least, play the free demo available on PSN to see if Fracked is for them. Take it from me, though, someone who completed and thoroughly enjoyed Fracked, that Fracked is a fracking good time. It's explosive, filled with sublime action, the smoothest of controls, and an interface that makes the experience remarkably open to players. Suit up, load up, and get Fracked because there's a planet to save, and nobody else is going to do it but you.
Fracked was reviewed on the PSVR, with a launch-model PS4 and Move controllers, thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack-Up Dot Org by Jim Redner of The Redner Group.