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FRACT OSC Review: Drop the Bass
FRACT OSC is a lot like playing a dream. It’s completely surreal, trapping one inside a bizarre Tron-like world filled with strange structures and hypnotic music. The environment is whimsical and chaotic, puzzles are satisfying on a sensory level, and like a dream, the game is an abstract experience guaranteed to evoke a wide range of responses from its players.
The most common of which will probably be distaste. On the surface, FRACT OSC is not all that complex; it’s best described as a musical exploration game in which one walks around a world fixing broken machinery by solving a variety of sound-based puzzles. It relies heavily on player curiosity and discovery, rarely guiding or giving any clues as to what one should do in order to progress. It’s not a widely accessible concept, and those who do not have the patience for slow, meditative games will probably not buy into what FRACT is selling.
Many who are willing to take the time to experiment with it, however, will find that FRACT is often at its best when it is completely directionless. The game’s severe avoidance to hold hands allows people to be guided by their own curiosity, exploring and learning about the different pieces in the environment on a whim. It is admittedly a bit frustrating at times, especially when one is faced with an ambiguous and difficult puzzle. However, even the most difficult of puzzles can eventually be solved through a generous amount of trial and error.
Puzzles can be fun to experiment with, but it’s the way they’re used in the game that is especially inventive. FRACT features an in-game audio station that gives players the tools to create their own mixes and compositions, and puzzles serve as tutorials to teach people how to use the different sequencers and editing effects in the studio. Some involve placing notes at specific beats to open doors, while others require stringing together sequences by manipulating the turning mechanic used to control oscillators. The mechanics vary, but good environmental cues help the logic of puzzle solving maintain some level of continuity.
Sound samples for bass lines, percussion, and melodies to use in the studio are unlocked after completing key puzzles, but the actual payoff to finding solutions is satisfying on a deeply intimate level. A wide array of sounds ranging from complete silence to a flood of hypnotic bass lines are all emphasized and even accented by the actions of the environment. Neon lights pulse in time to percussive beats, structures move in time to ethereal melodies, and music weaves itself together and brilliantly floods into the world whenever puzzles are solved, making the reward for finding solutions a uniquely whimsical sensory experience. FRACT is a massive love letter to electronic music, and its reliance on synthesizers to power the world and animate the music often makes it feel like a contemporary take on Disney’s Fantasia.
FRACT‘s usage of sound is particularly striking. Contrary to what one might think, there is no constant barrage of electro-synth melodies. Instead, it spaces out intense musical sequences, often using the silence in between to great effect. While navigating the world between puzzles, players are only accompanied by heavy silence accented by random atmospheric noise. This lack of sound actually made the world seem cold and empty, leaving one with feelings of being isolated and confused. The times spent solving puzzles and working to shape sounds, however, were warm and inviting, bringing everything to life in moments of synthesized brilliance. The fact that the game strikes this balance is key to what makes the auditory payoff of puzzles so successful, and serves as a motivating factor for players to continue exploring the environment.
Yes, there are times when it is frustrating, and not all puzzle solutions can be described as intuitive. In fact, one can expect to spend generous amounts of time attempting to sort out solutions through tedious amounts of trial and error. The frustration that arises from these moments, however, is quickly made up for with the satisfaction of sorting solutions out and enjoying a brilliant sonic reward.
A complete lack of guidance throughout goes against our better instincts as players, and feeling lost and directionless in a massive open world can sometimes be overwhelming. This is, however, an essential part of the game’s approach to exploration and discovery. Allowing one’s self to calmly sit back and merely inhabit the world piques the curiosity and imagination in ways so many games cannot.
FRACT is like playing a dream. And like a dream, it’s an extraordinary exercise in creativity and discovery to be pondered in the mind over and over again.