A Mind-Bending First-Person Puzzle Game - Fractal Space Review

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Anyone who has been reading, watching, or playing science fiction stories for long knows that the best sci-fi isn’t really about fantastical visions of the future or in-depth breakdowns of how technology might work one day. These stories may contain those elements, but they aren’t the real point. No, the best sci-fi uses glimpses of the future to tell readers something about the present—about the world we live in today, about our culture and society, and in some cases, about ourselves as individuals.
Fractal Space is a brisk but intriguing sci-fi story that finds itself in the last of those categories. This is a game about identity—both the identity of the protagonist and of the player. It explores the traps we set for ourselves, the ways in which we stop ourselves from moving forward, and our human capacity to turn even the most positive memories into something sharper and more painful, but also our capacity for escaping from those harmful cycles.
If that all sounds a bit lofty, know that Fractal Space at least begins from a less pretentious point. The nameless protagonist wakes up in a strange, sterile lab setting and, after questioning where he is and what’s going on, is immediately urged along a series of deadly trials by a disembodied female voice. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re playing a Portal clone; I sure did at first.
However, as the relationship develops between the main character and that voice—jokingly dubbed I.G. or “Invisible Girl”—Fractal Space steps confidently into its own identity. Rather than a lab full of experiments gone awry, this tale takes place on what appears to be a space station, albeit one that doesn’t always fit together in logical ways. Rather than brain-busting riddles, most of this game’s puzzles tend toward platforming challenges. And rather than a malevolent artificial intelligence, Invisible Girl is... Well, I don’t want to spoil anything on that front!
Beyond ducking under skin-melting lasers and jumping over bone-cracking buzz saws, Fractal Space introduces a few other tricks to keep things fresh as it goes along. Soon into the experience, players gain access to a taser, which can be used to activate switches from a distance, adding a new layer to puzzles that may have seemed unsolvable at first. And an hour or so in, players discover a jetpack, a tool that enables much more freedom to exploring the game’s relatively small levels.
Both the jetpack and the taser are marked by limitations—limited fuel on the jetpack and power that must be recharged through pick-ups on the taser. But both are also implemented in such a way that these restraints are treated more like another piece of the puzzle rather than a frustrating wall that players must smash into. I found the jetpack in particular to be an absolute blast, with responsive controls that allowed me to burst up into the air quickly if desired, or take a slower and more cautious approach by tapping on the thruster button.
It’s no small miracle that Fractal Space manages to feel this good to control even when just using touchscreen controls. The game thankfully includes controller support for those who prefer it, but I actually never felt the need to break out my Razer Kishi. Even the most challenging and timing-sensitive puzzles were easy enough for me to accomplish using the touchscreen controls.
That’s not to say that there are no technical hitches in Fractal Space. The core game is available completely free-to-play, without ads or microtransactions of any sort aside from a humble request for donations at the end. However, for some reason this version of Fractal Space did not work on my Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G phone; the game continuously crashed during loading, and nothing I tried, from clearing my phone’s cache to uninstalling and reinstalling the app, would fix it. I ended up having to play Fractal Space HD, a lightly upgraded paid version of the game that supports 4K resolutions for Android TV. The one salve to this annoyance was the price: Fractal Space HD costs only $2.49, which feels very reasonable for the two to three hours of gameplay it provides.
I’ve avoided digging too much into story details here, because uncovering the mystery of what’s really going on aboard this bizarre space station is a big part of the draw of this game. I will say, however, that the awkward voice acting and stilted script don’t do any favors selling the big ideas at the heart of Fractal Space. And yet I have to give the game serious credit for trying something different and finding its own voice. Both on a gameplay and a narrative level, it would have been easy for this title to slip into shamelessly and fruitlessly trying to copy Portal; instead, it embraces its identity. Even if the game’s cloyingly self-serious ending didn’t hit me as hard as was intended, there’s a lot to be said for this game as a lesson in accepting who you are, goofiness, flaws, and all.
SCORE: 4 STARS OUT OF 5
PLAY IF YOU LIKE:
The Talos Principle. While Portal is the most immediate and obvious point of comparison for Fractal Space, the game ends up dealing more in philosophical, psychological, and intellectual ideals similar to the first-person puzzling of The Talos Principle.
Solaris and other films by Andrei Tarkovsky. While I can’t say for sure if Tarkovsky films were an inspiration for the two-person team at Haze Games, Fractal Space certainly seems to share that beloved Russian film director’s passion for spinning sci-fi scenarios into a more surreal, mind-bending realm.
💬 Have you played Fractal Space? Let me know what you thought in the comments. And if not, how about sharing your favorite science fiction book, movie, or game? Leave a response, and I’ll be sure to reply!
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hari
hari
2
ummm this game is super
09/30/2022
Author liked
Nikhil
Nikhil
very small game just 5 cpts 🥴
10/01/2022
Venu Venu
Venu Venu
pubg update
09/30/2022
no name
no name
1
wow
09/30/2022
Shankar Majhi
Shankar Majhi
pubg
09/30/2022
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