Fray is great in theory, but suffers from a seemingly half-finished execution

Sometimes ideas look great on paper but just don’t turn out that great in reality. Take Fray, for instance. A simultaneous turn-based tactical shooter set in a futuristic yet familiar world is a fantastic idea for the FPS-challenged gamers out there. Unfortunately, the game in its current state simply doesn’t live up to the the promise of its concept.

A product of the French studio Brain Candy, Fray takes place inside a virtual environment designed to take peoples’ minds off the sorry state of the planet Earth. For fun, everyone watches four-person teams of soldiers do battle while representing the three mega-corporations who run the world.

These are futuristic soldiers, of course, and the gameplay involves issuing orders to the squad members while the other team does the same, then watching the results of said orders play out simultaneously. Think of it as Halo meets XCOM minus all the aliens. Six classes are available to form the ideal squad, all with pretty intuitive sets of abilities: Assault, Sniper, Shadow (stealth), Medic, Tank and Support.

During each turn, every squad member has an action bar that fills up as orders are issued. Movement, attacks, switching stances and changing weapons or gear all use different amounts of the bar, so the skill comes in maximizing every unit’s potential on every turn. The tricky part is remembering that everything plays out in order. For example, if you tell the Sniper to move, then shoot, he won’t fire until he’s done running.

Fray

When the action is really going, it’s chaotic fun. Trying to figure out what the other player is going to do before he does it is like chess with high-powered weapons, and there are plenty of squad combinations to test out. Performing well in battles earns experience points that can unlock new weapons, abilities and stat boosts for each class, adding to the possibilities.

That same variety isn’t present in the game modes, which are currently limited to simple Deathmatches where the first team to seven kills or the side with the most frags after 30 turns wins. Another mode called Survivor has already been pulled by the developers. There’s also no real matchmaking system to speak of, meaning players have the choice of joining an open game and hoping its against someone of roughly equal level or trying their luck setting something up through global chat. At least the maps in Fray look nice, with some allegedly modeled on real French streets – though the Gamezebo interns have yet to confirm this.

Fray

Then there are the bugs. Ah yes, the bugs. Chances are, if there’s a way for the game to crash, it will, like some kind of software-based test of Murphy’s Law. This reviewer personally experienced Fray sticking on the squad select screen, freezing during the resolution phase of a turn and even glitching out during the (unfinished) tutorial. It wasn’t uncommon to have the top half of the screen turn fuzzy while orders were issued or to have the game incorrectly count the number of kills each team had scored during a battle. The devs have also had problems with the entire server during the first few days of release, a worrisome issue considering there is no single player mode.

Even when some real gameplay does take place, there are times when it feels like there’s too much waiting going on: for the map to load, for turns to resolve or for the final match stats to show up. It’s probably not because of the graphics, which are solid but don’t stand out as particularly taxing for most current computers.

It’s a shame this game isn’t more polished, because the potential is there for a hit for those of us who would like to use brain power over reflexes in our tactical firefights. Fray might get there with enough patches, but it’s hard to recommend it right now, when players are essentially paying for the right to beta test it.