Impressions: FRACT Beta

Do you love those old, atmospheric point-and-click adventures, but wish they had a really thick, Tron-like flavor to them? No? Well, I guess you could be forgiven for never having thought of this particular combination before, so that’s where game maker Richard E. Flanagan comes in.

Flanagan made FRACT to finish off a postgraduate program in Game Design at the University of Montreal. Everything from the programming to the animation and puzzle design was made by him and him alone, which I don’t really have to tell you is an amazingly impressive feat. It was recently selected as one of the 2011 IGF student showcase winners, and you can download it and play for free. It’s still technically in a “beta” phase, currently at version .09.lessbusted, which is definitely promising. However, Flanagan stated that “There is possibility for future worlds if there is enough interest”, so if you like what you see, don’t be shy about letting him know!

It’s a pretty cool experience, and I encourage you to check it out. If you’re interested, hit the jump to read my personal impressions of the game.

I booted this game up before reading much of anything about the game, but right away I felt that Myst vibe that Flanagan describes. It’s incredibly atmospheric and solitary, and the game mostly just leaves  you alone to explore and absorb the details of your surroundings to solve puzzles. Currently, the beta version of FRACT contains roughly five puzzles. The first comes immediately, then you’re let loose in an open field to discover and solve several puzzles in whatever order you wish. After completing all those puzzles, you’ll gain access to the final puzzle, which tasks you with creating wicked sick biznasty beats on a rudimentary synthesizer puzzle object, which is pretty awesome. The whole thing will last most people around an hour.

The visuals are very slick and feel unique despite their fairly obvious immediate influences, and they do a good job of directing you towards important elements in the environment. The puzzles themselves aren’t exactly brain busters; most of them come down to “find the thing somewhere around here that will basically tell you how to solve this puzzle.” It seems fairly obvious that intricate puzzle design was not something that Flanagan studied at the University of Montreal, but that’s really okay. When it comes down to it, you don’t really play FRACT because you want a challenging experience, you play it because it’s a wondrous experience to walk around this world and see the ways it reacts to your presence.

To me, FRACT shows a lot of potential. This concept could easily be expanded to fill a retail game with five or six hours of content, with bigger worlds and more engaging puzzles. Obviously, it’s pretty unrealistic to expect something like that from the current development team, but if Flanagan gets hired by, oh, say, Amantia Design, we could have a real winner on our hands here. As it stands, the FRACT beta is definitely worth your time to check out, and will make you hope for a more substantial project built on this concept.

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Danl Haas

Danl is a home-grown Minnesotan gamer, artist, and programmer. He loves rhythm games, RTS, and platformers. He loves building computers, too. His favorite games include Phoenix Wright, Dance Dance Revolution, and Katamari Damacy.

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