Last week, I went to the stronghold of George Lucas LucasArts in the posh Presidio of San Francisco for some hands-on with the multiplayer mode of Fracture. Too bad I can't tell you about it, because the embargo expires tomorrow. But! I can tell you about the single player mode that I snuck back in to see today…After being plied with sushi and diet coke, I sat down with Fracture big wigs Chris Norris and Paul Armatta to play through a few levels of the campaign. I won't lie – I suck at shooters, so I was anxious about embarrassing myself, even on the lowest difficulty setting. When I told this to Chris, he replied: "[Former LucasArts president] Jim Ward always said easy needs to be easy." And so it was. It was so easy, I was able to run up and punch three guys in a row, unlocking the "pugilist" Achievement. Still, melee is melee for any shooter – much like a shotgun to the face never gets old. The big question, then, is: How is this different than Halo? Pretty much everyone asks this question whenever a shooter comes out; and you can bet your ass developers ask themselves the same question whenever they make a shooter in this post-Halo world. Fracture's answer: deforming terrain. The whole shtick of gameplay involves raising and lowering terrain with a nifty excavation tool/weapon in order to get into areas, defeat enemies, and create your own cover (suck it, Gears of War). The idea, Chris says, is not to make something so overwhelmingly new that you turn off Halo-fans, but to make something familiar enough to comfort them – and then add something new and super cool they can latch onto. Paul admitted he didn't think too much of the terrain deforming gimmick when he first started playing Fracture. He's more of the run and gun type (like me, if I didn't die so much). But now, he says, the he uses the terrain gun without even thinking about it. Part of this is due to level design – there's a strategy/puzzle element to moving terrain around. If you were to tear through an area without any thought to where the bad guys were or how you'd get to them, you'd be dead in a matter of minutes, even on easy. But with the terrain gun, you can make cover, elevate platforms to reach higher places, or wreck enemy regiments by caving in the ground beneath their feet.

The story behind single-player is the U.S. has split into two factions – the Atlantic Alliance (good guys) and the Republic of Pacifica (the bad guys). The RP have decided that bio-engineering is good and the AA disagrees… forcefully. Caught up in the middle of this is war-baby-turned-badass Jet Brody, our hero. Jet's a demolitions expert on the frontlines of the war between the RP and the AA. Through the course of the game, Jet travels from war-torn, post-apocalyptic San Francisco, to the war-torn, post-apocalyptic "Midwest" (like… Iowa, or something), and then on to the slight less war-ton, semi-pre-apocalyptic Washington D.C. Supposedly, he's after some Big Secret Thing that may or may not end the war; he's also on the trail of an RP scientist named Mariko who's also onto the Big Secret Thing. Contrary to popular shooter formula, there's no sexual tension there (which is great because Jet looks like someone took a lawnmower to his face right before puberty). These 150+ years of back story plus the current Jet-Mariko plot twist is brought to you in a series of cutscenes framed like news casts and in-game cinema scenes where stuff blows up and Jet has smartass remarks. No 90-minute-order-a-pizza movies, here - the longest expository newscast we saw was easily less than five minutes. What struck me was how well every element of the game blended together. Fracture is still a few months off (October-ish), but the cutscenes and the voice acting – combined with some really great music from Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, the next Star Trek film) – knit together to tell a story that's more interesting than what mere Halo-clones usually come up with (*cough* Haze *cough*). Plus it looks pretty good; post apocalypse is usually washed-out sepia at best, but the San Francisco fight under the Golden Gate bridge was bright and vivid. The last thing I got a look before I had to get out the door was the driving. As per Halo's formula for Awesome Shooter, there had to be some sort of all-terrain vehicle – but because it's Fracture, said vehicle had to be able to raise and lower terrain. And boy did it ever; you get these underground charges you can launch ahead to erupt beneath enemy barricades. Or you can use them to make a ramp for you to drive over and catch mad air before slamming down on people on the other side. Overall, the driving handled way better than anything I've ever driven in a Halo game, and it didn't feel tacked-on at first glance (I'd have to play all the way through to make absolutely sure). So, long story short, here's what you need to know about Fracture's campaign mode: 1) Averages 10 hrs in length (more if you suck, less if you rock). 2) Three difficulty levels (and they aren't kidding when they say "hard"). 3) Three locations – San Francisco, Washington D.C., and the Midwest. 4) Rechargeable "shield" HP, a la Halo. 5) Tons of Achievements available (but no Trophies… yet). 6) Frequent checkpoints (awesome!). 7) Short-ish cutscenes. 8) Friendly A.I.s that'll help you survive. 9) Hostile A.I.s that adapt to the terrain you change. 10) You cannot just run and gun; you've got to take your time, think, and use the terrain gun. Check back tomorrow for more on fisting, vortex grenades, and other multiplayer tidbits. That's right: fisting.