Developer: Phosfiend Systems
Of the numerous attempts to make the film Tron interactive, few have deviated from an action experience. Content mined from the movie; the light cycles, recognizers and the solar sailers are an obvious fit for a traditional game. But for a location that is so ripe for exploring, it is a wonder that we are ushered so quickly into battle on the grid.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez also assimilates a computer generated world. But again, astonishing as that game is; we are pushed through levels like a virtual tourist; penetrating firewalls in visceral furore. Rez may send us to synaesthesia but perhaps at the expense of recalling what happened along the way.
What is apparent when you first enter FRACT OSC is that the incandescent aesthetics are inspired by the above. Effulgent light boxes draw you in like a moth, but here they can actually be enjoyed at your own pace. Pools of liquid energy hum and lustrous machinery sits beneath glowing towers. They would not be misplaced in the Metroid Prime universe; on a sonically procedural planet. Surprisingly Fract is also reminiscent of Dear Esther, not in theme but in its sense of place, its verisimilitude and its effort to convey singularity with the surroundings.
You begin your journey without understanding what is required of you; FRACT does not hand-hold but is more effective because of it. Perseverance does pay off and the reward is mesmeric; you learn that the entire world is built from modulations.
The terrain is amalgamated with a giant synthesizer that the user not only traverses but interacts with and uses to compose an overarching soundtrack. Each part of the composition is isolated inside a puzzle and their completion not only unlocks other areas but also adds a phonic layer to the melody.
Phosfiend gives a nod to Myst through these enigmas but they are a lot more organic than its inspiration. You never feel funnelled into a pattern of puzzle upon puzzle, the world is interconnected with audio and visual cues, stimulating as you explore. Even when a problem does block progression the challenge is conducive to experimentation; incorrect guesses are washed away in what feels like a natural creative process.
You become immersed in metrically accented beats and spectral envelopes, elevator platforms literally rise with tonal pitches, and all of this is built with textures of sound. The whole world feels like Boards of Canada remixing John Carpenter and Vangelis soundtracks. The difference is that you control their amplitude planes and time signatures. Using these techniques is all the incentive needed to push forward, especially as these small actions build a much bigger composition.
In a stroke of genius Phosfiend have also included a separate music editor. Unconsciously, you would have already become adept at using it; just by playing through the main part of the game. The combined puzzles you solve are the bones of the editor.
Despite all of FRACT’s references, it is not a product of them. You cannot explore the code of Tron or Rez like this, there isn’t a phonic planet for Samus Aran to chart and Myst: Neon edition has yet to be released.
FRACT is something unique but it is hard to quantify; it is like a phonic art creation tool but also a music generator and then there is the exploration, the platforming and the puzzles elements.
Sometimes when we cannot articulate or convey what we experience it becomes the highest form of praise. We stumble upon the neoteric in the unknown and the aberrant, even originality and innovation are based in the unconventional. This is very much genre-less work which needs time to be contemplated and discussed.
What I do know is that Phosfiend have created something that I never knew I wanted. But now I have experienced it I need more of it.
Buy FRACT here
Buy the soundtrack by Mogi Grumbles here