I’m a bit of a sucker for puzzle games. Sometimes they make me scratch my head, sometimes they make me pull out my hair, sometimes I’m left so dumb-founded and confused, I’m left running around in circles for eternity, but none so far have left me tapping my foot to the rhythm, until of course FRACT OSC showed up.
FRACT is a 3D platform puzzler with a twist; it’s actually a sequencer disguised as a game. You move through a world built on and around sound. While it looks like a TRON inspired Winamp visualization from years past, it certainly makes for a refreshing blend of cognitive gymnastics and impulsive fidgeting brought on by sequenced electronica.
You are plopped into a poorly lit world with binaural basstones playing in the background, keeping you at ease as you walk around. As you descend further into the depths of a 90’s nightclub at 3am, the odd vibrant flicker of light pulses, gentle flashes of confetti fill the screen as you advance, blipping, beeping, and whooping away as you brush past; it’s a venerable feast of onomatopoeias. There is nothing terribly puzzling at first (apart from the sandbox feeling of “What am I doing now?”), but as the landscape quite literally unfolds before you, choices are slowly presented, paths to follow, and eventually, the first in a long line of music-driven puzzles.
These puzzles are not twitch-reflex, QTE inspired button mashers, they are more traditional platform based, environment altering, spacial awareness tests, but with a memory element thrown in, all mixed up with a respect to music. It may not be obvious at first, but the environment doesn’t merely respond or change to the music – it is the music. As platforms shift, so does the elements within the music. It all starts simple enough, but soon you are exposed to the heart of FRACT, the sequencing.
Melodies, rhythms and basslines play in the background, with progressively more complex sequencer interfaces presented in rich pulsing colors. As the blocks are laid out in sequence, the environment responds with suitable visuals. As you get closer to the right tune, the music becomes stronger and more complex, until eventually, you are immersed in a crescendo of lights and uplifting music, certainly a gratifying reward and one that plucks away at emotional strings. It’s all very satisfactory, like the guttural sigh after a thirst quenching sip of tea.
While many of the puzzles are obvious with clear methods, a few are more subtle, to the point of being obfuscated into the world you traverse, little knowing as to their purpose. While a good memory for sound is most helpful, there are plenty of visual clues that you can find to help with the later challenges. It’s the final challenge, though, that really tickled my inspiration and realization. Without getting into spoilers, it really is a serenade to the games core, and really drives home the point that the level is the music.
What makes FRACT unique, is the Studio that is gradually unlocked as you complete the puzzles. Before long, you are staring at a familiar toolset to the budding electronica composer. While the Studio is by no means comparable to the real thing, it’s a very interactive and visually stimulating setup.
FRACT, by Indie dev Phosfiend Systems, is a very refreshing game and worth picking up if you have any kind of interest in puzzles and/or music. It’s not a difficult game, but there are a few hours worth of brain teasing to keep you entertained.