Online games sometimes get special treatment and forgiveness. Even after a title is officially released, we allow regular patches and updates that fine tune game mechanics and stability issues without a second look — a method of delivery which has bled over into console games (but that is another subject all together). Aren’t games that ship to the consumer supposed to be complete? Where does one draw the line?
As entertaining as it is, Fray, the latest online multiplayer squad tactic game from Brain Candy, can still be considered unfinished. Developer Brain Candy is hard at work constantly improving its product, rolling out substantial improvements, putting a big plus to its strengths, and eliminating its weaknesses.
Albeit, at the current moment, it faces a long road until it can really be called a complete experience.
The Fray beta was packed with bugs, as to be expected, but they were mostly entertaining little errors. At a moment’s notice, a character’s upper torso would spin like a top making the arms look like fan blades; death would be greeted with a non-intentionally slow, agonizingly melodramatic falling animation, etc. Albeit, after release, these were replaced by a more nefarious bug: players simply couldn’t log in.
Falling onto the familiar forgiving PC gaming attitude, Gamer Limit gave Brain Candy the benefit of the doubt and held off on a somewhat incomplete review of beta gameplay, opting to get “final version” experience in before issuing a verdict. The quandary is that there is no final version in sight. Even after the scalability issues were fixed, there are still problems beyond the inability to log in; which is a shame because Fray shows real promise. And there it is again — that forgiving attitude intimating that with time, Fray will be awesome; but it isn’t right now.
As an online game, availability is a must. As a supposed finished game, polish is expected. There should be little to not bugs. However, Fray missed the mark on all three out of the gate.
In all honesty, Brian Candy should be applauded for handling the biggest issues within a couple of days. They were very quick in knocking out the major problems that were prohibiting players from logging on. Yet, up until now, there may be occasions where the login screen locks up, requiring a reboot.
Brain Candy should also get a nod for applying some powerful gameplay controls over the short period of time between initial release and the v1.01 patch. The ability to control the camera angle, to access the map in its entirety during play and more, added in only a few days most likely in response to the cries of many first day buyers. One must take issue with this because these controls should have been present on day one. At the same time, they are very sharp and smooth now that they are in.
There are certain bugs that bruise the gameplay even more than the lack of polish. Like the fact that the shadows of the opposing squad could be seen at any point in time, even when your squad is on the other side of the map. For a game that focuses on tactics and strategy, knowing where your opponent is at all times really dampens the experience.
All the flaws are enough to turn away a large portion of the gaming community. However, there is a lot about Fray that makes it entertaining and fun experience.
Intuitive controls open up a plethora of commands and abilities with just a click. Each member of the squad earns points and experience the more they are on the field. Spend points on preset specials like increased accuracy or additional abilities once your character reaches a specific level. Nothing seems out of place here nor off balance, if only a little linear.
And even though the experience is dampened by persistent shadows, the game still manages to make squad based strategy a pleasant necessity. There are six squad member types — Assault, Medic, Shadow, Sniper, Support and Tank — of which you may only use four per match. At their essence, the strength of each caters to at least one of the others’ weaknesses, making for some interesting tactics.
For instance, the tank has the most armor and one of the strongest attacks, but moves the slowest. Therefore, the other squad members are required to be several steps ahead to ensure the opponent doesn’t get into position and gain the upper hand before the tank’s full power is unleashed. Needless to say, if you get online with a semi-experienced player, things are bound to get intense real fast.
It also pays to leverage the terrain. Brain Candy gets extra points for creating environments that are highly detailed and crisp. That level of detail offers a clear, bird’s eye view of all cover, possible routes and interactive elements (things that go boom and cause extra damage). The environment is a key factor in determining strategy, as you try to divide the enemy squad and corner weakened warriors.
Again, all this is only overshadowed by the fact that, ever once in a while, the tactical goodness can’t be accessed without a system reboot. Or worse, it is frozen when things are just getting good. It doesn’t help that the initial fallout sometimes makes it difficult to find a match during the in-between hours.
At the time of this writing, Fray has vastly improved from its initial release. If Brain Candy remains as hardworking and quick as it has been, the game will only get better, and fast. That does not take away from its present flaws; and, unfortunately, Gamer Limit cannot deliver a score for a future release.
This review was based on a digital copy of Fray for the PC.