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Fracture

It's the 22nd century, and America is divided between the staid old East Coast and the perverted, liberal Left Coast, where genetic experiments run rampant and body manipulation is the norm. A distinguished Army general has quit the East Coast, after his daughters die of a rare disorder – one that could have been treated by futuristic stem cell research. Now he leads an army of his own twisted experiments, and only you, a wholesome, corn-fed grunt named Jet Brody, can take him down—as well as all the San Francisco freaks you can get your hands on.

On top of the usual "run across the map and kill everyone" gameplay, this third-person shooter adds a gimmick: with a click of the bumper button you can make raw earth rise or fall in a heap. Fracture uses terrain tricks to clear obstacles and to offer certain tactical advantages, like giving yourself cover in a firefight, or popping a hill under your enemies and making them bounce around a little. But that trick isn't as funny as it sounds, and taking cover gets dull when you can't shoot around it. As for the content, the levels are gorgeous and vacant, the enemies are so tedious that you'll start to wish they would just kill themselves, and none of the obstacles count as a puzzle. Wrap it all in a story that's too simple to enjoy its own arch-Republicanism and you've got one long waste of bullets and dirt.

Beyond the game: LucasArts touted Fracture not just as an exercise in extreme landscaping, but as an new property that would help them break their dependence on Jedi. They just forgot to invest in story, characters, or heart.

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Worth playing for: On the XBox, both Fracture and The Force Unleashed front-load easy achievements, boosting your gamerscore right in the first hour. It's starting to feel like a bribe.

Frustration sets in when: Many times you'll need to plant a grenade precisely to solve a problem; a targeting system like the one used by Gears Of War would have been a big help.

Final judgment: Indie games often have better success with clever game mechanics, because they can't tack on millions of dollars of boilerplate third-person shooter play. Instead of echoing Portal, Fracture is more like Prey.

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