Ruffian Games might be most known for the Crackdown games for the 360 when they were under the name Realtime Worlds. For me, however, I have yet to play any of the Crackdown-games except for the Mega-Drive release, and I rather remember Ruffian Games for their contribution to Star Wars Kinect, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and their pitch for a new Streets of Rage-game. Fragmental, however, is an indie-title from this studio, interestingly enough. It is a twin-stick arcade shooter, heavily made with controllers in mind and for competitive and cooperative couch-gaming. That is at least what the site says. May I ask then why this only got a release for the PC as of now? Isn’t couch-gaming more natural on a console? Regardless, I am still up for a classic treat and after a night without sleep, I can easily say that Fragmental is fabulous.
Reliving an arcade-experience
Right off, Fragmental makes it clear that it is all about direct arcade confrontation, by offering 4-player deathmatch and survival, both having a team-option, as well as onslaught for single player or co-op up to four players. Onslaught might not be the main selling point as it is the last option here, but is a great mode where you simply have to kill hordes of enemies until a counter ends within the shortest amount of time. Survival and death-match are quite similar, as both focus on you and your enemies fighting each other in order to survive each stage, with the difference being that survival focuses on obstacle-courses more and has lives that player lose with each death. Death-match, on the other hand, gives you points for kills as well as makes you lose points if you commit suicide. Get the first mount of points in death-match equal to the goal set or stay alive until the end in survival, and you win. We will back to onslaught later on, as it is more of an extra and not as big of a focus as the competitive multiplayer-aspect.
This is pretty much what Fragmental offers in modes, but that is why it is fantastic: It is easy to learn how to play in a matter of seconds for anyone to jump in, as you either have to survive or kill the other players. What makes it so engaging through these modes, is in its design and mechanics. With three lives in each round, the game is also lenient enough to actually give players a decent chance at getting good without hand-holding. Fragmental is an overhead, twin-stick shooter, where you start each fight without any weapon and have to find them on the field in order to take out the opponents. You can attack them barehanded, but that only pushes them backward, which is a nice way to get some distance from them, but you won’t be killing anyone through this. It is better to run away, which has a smart design-choice of making shooting harder to do as you can’t strafe while running, forcing you to keep a steady pace.
Weapons are incredibly diverse and varied, not just in stats, but in function. You have weapons that ricochet bullets, shots that can go over obstacles, rockets that cause explosions, and bullets that fire before you can react to name a few! Providing both variation in stats and use makes for fun gameplay, especially since you can rarely rely on one single weapon. In fact, one ability you have is to throw your gun, as they will only have a certain amount of ammo which is showcased around your character, and you can only carry one at the time. You only get a small amount of ammunition for your weapon, so you will have to gather a new one quickly, and while you can tell from the outlines what weapon there is to be picked up, there is little time for gaining a new one, forcing you to make quick decisions on what to do. The weapons aren’t unbalanced, so all 22 are valid choices. You just have to be strategic and quick on how to use them.
A lovely detail about the shooting as well, is that while friendly fire is always on, you can choose the difficulty of weapon-selection so newcomers will have an easier time getting accustomed to the firearms and get a chance against veterans. While the weapon-selection is fantastic, the level-design just adds to the lovely carnage. The one-screen battlefields vary between mishmashes of canyons with environmental objects you can shoot but not walk over, portals to transport and attack through, small areas to make fights claustrophobic, and more, providing fast-paced and fun action at all times. There are also stages focusing exclusively on obstacle-courses, like falling balls that instantly kill you, and combine these with power-ups that can affect other players like slow-motion, you got a recipe for a lovely and varied shooter.
All in all, there is a lot to come back to for fun and exciting matches against friends. I am happy this game exists, but It is not made with PC in mind at all. You are going to need more controllers and an HDMI-cable for playing on the big screen, since playing together through one screen, is not comfortable. I still admire the game, but it is one fantastic example of why the PCMR crowd is a joke. There is not even an option for online-play.
Despite an odd platform of choice, Fragmental is still a fantastic and frantic shooter that provides huge diversity in guns and level-design and is easy to pick up and play for everyone. It knows how far it should go with its premise and is always a joy to pick up for a short or a long match. As long as you are in the mood for couch-gaming using your PC.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Look at all those pretty neon-colors
After being hit with neon soundwaves at the title screen, it is obvious that Fragmental wants to be a digital retro-style game, oozing with early 90s goodness. It is a simple look where areas share the same colors and texture with the focus being more on the effects and motions, making it hard, at times, to be excited by the creativity it provides. Even if some layouts remind you clearly of canyons or a Pac-Man stage, they have too similar color schemes to be distinct and instead blend in with one another. This might honestly have been done to make the player use their imagination to fill in what these digital worlds are supposed to represent, which is a neat tribute to old arcade-titles. Just adding minor visual effects could still contain this style and offer a clearer variation.
Though the developers have been very smart with the character’s design, as while they are bulky and not imaginative, they represent a simple style with clear colors which makes it easy to know who to shoot at and whom you should let live. Again, it is to represent a simpler time, but it is hard to say more creative designs could not have been made for the game to be artistically distinct. Similar to more abstract and figurative art. That being said, it is beautiful to look at with tons of explosions, waves in the background and every shattered human feels devastating. It’s all eye-catching and I also love how you can easily see what shot is whos by the colors alone. The fantastic sound-effects add to this, with clear digitized and immersive sounds adding to the style of the game, and the electronic soundtrack, while relying on short tunes, is effective and fits the game’s visuals greatly.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Just one more match, okay?
The replay value comes mainly from how fun this title is to play, and due to its fantastic ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ mechanic, it is easy to get the mentality of “just one more go” and see if you can’t be victorious against your friends. Sadly, there is no form of online play and while it is understandable due to what kind of game this wants to be, for the PC platform, it is just strange to have a crowd around your computer. I guess it is at least nice the co-op gaming on PC using the same keyboard from the ’90s hasn’t returned.
Onslaught might be the clear extra here, as it is the last mode and is the one that actually has challenges by rewarding you medals depending on how fast you killed all the enemies. It is incredibly intriguing, with layouts that complement how many players you are going to have along. However, this is far from easy, as enemies are fierce, have varied playstyles representing the colors, such as white fiends try to rush you, and the fighting is relentless. You are definitely getting your skills tested and will meet a ton of game overs before actually getting any medals. I just wish you actually got something else than bragging rights.
Extra Score: 8/10
Fragmental is such an interesting beast. It is a fantastic competitive twin-stick arcade shooter, that is easy to pick up and play, and hard to master, sitting up with the greatest in this setup like the Super Smash Bros-series. I am just perplexed as to why it is on a system with no online, but other than that, it is definitely worth having at parties. Great variety in guns, fun levels, fast-paced and engaging action, intriguing presentation-wise, Fragmental will always be a hit as long as you have some good friends, and don’t mind turning your computer into a console.
- Easy to pick up and play
- Tons of varied weapons, powerups, and stages
- Perfect for short and long sessions
- Beautiful balance and creativity
- Nice extra for single-player
- Stylish and solid presentation vise
- Lovely sound effects
- It is on a console it sorely is not designed for
- No online
- The visuals could have had more creative variety in texture at least