Summer 2021 was looking really good for big virtual reality (VR) titles until a couple of projects had to be delayed by their developers. Thankfully, nDreams’ PlayStation VR exclusive Fracked has suffered no such problems, ready to offer players the kind of wall to wall action that Hollywood loves to throw out during its seasonal blockbuster fest. The problem with blockbuster titles is that quite often they’re style over substance, so is Fracked the same or does it have brains as well as brawn?
Just like a Bond movie Fracked wastes no time in dropping you into the action, almost immediately skiing down a mountainside being chased by an avalanche caused by fracking. Steering is all head-based, carving through the snow and in between trees as you look for safety. It’s a fantastic intro albeit an intense one, making a quick trip to the comfort options essential for anyone who’s not got their VR legs.
These skiing sections crop up a number of times in Fracked, with the latter sequences throwing in enemies on snowmobiles and guard towers to blow up with your handy SMG. They’re immensely entertaining as your try to avoid splatting against a rock whilst shooting bad guys – you can’t get much more action hero than that!
Essentially Fracked continues that no-holds-barred gameplay throughout, but with the added bonus that the majority of the levels offer plenty of choice and verticality when it comes to the epic shootouts. Most of the areas tend to be a sequence of arenas interlinked with climbing and other traversable terrains, providing that all-important feeling of interaction with the environment. This physical element is seen all over Fracked, most importantly in the shootouts.
These set pieces see Fracked continually provide plenty of cover, explosive barrels and the most ziplines a VR videogame has ever had. Cover has always been crucial in any FPS, where you generally duck behind it by either pressing a button or (in VR’s case) kneeling down. Fracked offers a different option, grabbing the cover so you can quickly hide behind it and then peer over or around it to locate the next enemy. It’s another great example from nDreams of marrying VR gameplay with intuitive mechanics. Being able to do that became so natural that you’ll wonder why it’s not seen more often.
Yet Fracked doesn’t want you to stay in one place, movement is key and the levels do encourage this factor, perfect for a nice flanking manoeuvre. PlayStation Move isn’t exactly the best controller when it comes to running around a battlefield but Fracked provides a decent system which can be found in other PlayStation VR titles like Arashi: Castle of Sin. The same goes for its reloading, providing a basic manual reloading mechanic where glowing cartridge appears, you push it in and cock gun. Quick and effective without being overly tedious.
However, it’s the range of weaponry that starts to let Fracked down. You’re given all this space and choice when attacking the enemy yet your only two guns are a pistol and SMG. That’s literally all you carry, nothing else. Not even any ammo, which is picked up by walking over green boxes, harking back to very traditional videogame tropes. Other guns do appear including a revolver, grenade launcher and very short-range shotgun but these are “special” weapons that are single use only. Once their ammo is depleted they fade away. Really annoying if you’re in the middle of a firefight and your gun starts to dissolve leaving you a sitting duck.
The enemies do take advantage of this as they’re not the usual run and gun AI opponents. They do seek cover and will reposition to gain an advantage, which makes for some great shootouts. As mentioned, you have to use the space as there are explosive grunts who’ll charge and detonate, whilst the big tank that lays mines can only be killed by destroying the pack on their back.
So you’re continually having to blast your way through and rework strategies on the fly. On the one hand that’s what you want in an action-oriented videogame yet the gameplay does get a little shallow. There are no real puzzles to speak of, you’re continually pointed towards the next checkpoint when having to complete a task and because of this continual speed, Fracked is over before it has really begun, clocking in at around 3 hours. There are coins hidden throughout which seem like an afterthought, simply serving as a Trophy award.
nDreams is well versed in making highly polished VR titles and Fracked is no different. The art style is gorgeous, adding a comic book blend to the action playing out. And there are some wonderful ideas and mechanics employed. Unfortunately, they’re not given the time and breadth to be expanded upon, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to the narrative. Fracked is exuberant and exciting to play, it just burns too bright and fast.