The original F.E.A.R. did an amazing job at breaking new ground for the first-person horror genre.
It was lauded as being an exceptionally action packed, adrenaline pumped horror experience. How will the sequel, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin stand up to its predecessor, and how do you improve on an already amazing gameplay experience? Let’s see how Monolith have done at bringing fear back to our gaming consoles.
The story starts out thirty minutes before the end of the first F.E.A.R. and the epic explosion that the original team were responsible for. This sets you up in a sort of post-Apocalyptic environment of half destroyed buildings, and rubble-littered streets in an almost parallel story.
You are Michael Becket, whose Special Forces Unit is meant to rescue a certain Genevieve Aristide, who worked for Arnacham, a company that has been attempting to create a sort of mind control army called the Replica. Genevieve foresaw the problems that were occurring and Arnacham is attempting to kill her and destroy the testing facility in an effort to remove any evidence of their program.
For those of you who are new to F.E.A.R. the game eases you into your role, and slowly introduces the various features to you as you play through the early stages. This works well, and the controls are fluid enough to make them pretty easy to grasp. You have the usual buttons, jump, run, melee and so on, but what is different is how the player movement has been modelled. As you walk around you’ll notice you can feel your player placing his feet, and the appropriate shifting of weight as he does so. This initially seems quite strange and makes some of the earlier hectic moments a bit challenging, but once you get used to it it feels much more realistic than the old approach, although let's just hope it doesn’t cause motion sickness.
What is a shame is that the introduction to the story is not as clear and simple as the controls and movement. More effort should have been put in to explaining the root of the game, particularly for players who are new to the F.E.A.R. world. It all does become more clearer as you play, but it would have been nice not to have been left scratching our heads for such a length of time. Fortunately for us, Alma makes a return, and is once again the focus of the troubles in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. She’s back in true Japanese horror style to scare the pants off anyone who dares to play the game past their bedtime.
As you uncover more of Arnachan’s devious meddling with psychic abilities, Alma is constantly on your tail. Alma is a young girl who was put through incredible torture by Arnacham in their attempts to create a psychic army, until she eventually died, and now she is seeking revenge (you know, like The Ring). Alma presents herself in the form of apparitions and psychic visions which alone are already highly disturbing, however she is so powerful in F.E.A.R. 2 that her energy alone tears the flesh off many an enemy, which in most cases makes her presence firstly highly uncomfortable, and secondly pretty bloody scary.
The strong influence of the Japanese horror genre makes itself known in the game, and is a welcome shift away from run-of-the-mill shooters. Monolith have done an exceptional job at balancing the various aspects of the game, the combat and the horror simply feel right. Neither becomes too much and they are each complimented nicely by the other.
Mostly you’ll be blasting your way through a range of levels, from schools to underground facilities, to a hospital. Each level is exceptionally detailed and neither becomes bland or boring, and for the most part they suit the horror perfectly. At one stage we were standing in the corridor of the school when suddenly Alma made herself known by sending a powerful energy blast in our direction, which tore open all the lockers and blasted chairs out of the way as it moved towards us. As it dissipated again the lockers were left banging slowly to a stop, and we were left in no doubt that this sequel means business!
Navigating the levels can be tricky, as the developers have gone for a low-key HUD without a minimap or any visual aids to let you know where to go next. This can be frustrating when you’re searching for the one point that progresses the level, but overall this never takes too long and does little to detract from the heart-pumping adrenaline that you’ll be feeling as you progress.
Helping this along is the low lighting and the atmospheric music and sound effects, including the crunch of shattered glass below your feet, not to mention the visions and dangerous apparitions. It's definitely a game to be played with the sound turned up and the lights down low.
Most of the game is spent fighting human soldiers, mixed with the occasional mutant-like creature from Armacham’s test experiments gone wrong. Graphically the game is gorgeous, with amazing lighting effects and some incredible gore levels which make the game very worthy of its R18 tag. It certainly is a contender for one of the best looking Xbox 360 titles of the year.
The combat is incredibly fast paced and action packed. The enemy AI are highly responsive, as they'll knock tables over to take cover, and seek anything they can hide behind, all the while moving forward or around you to get shots in. All the more delightful it was to see that after lighting one of the enemy soldiers on fire he started to "stop drop and roll" in an attempt to put out the flames. Rarely will an enemy be in the same place where you last saw him, and often enough you’ll be peeking around one corner only to have a enemy successfully flank you and shoot you in the back. Thankfully this doesn’t usually end badly due to the armour and health system which has been implemented, which is relatively forgiving.
The weapons include the requisite shotgun, pistol and SMG or Assault Rifle mix, but there are a few heavy weapons included which really spice things up. One in particular - which seems to be an energy gun - disintegrates flesh much like Alma’s own energy attacks. You also are able to pilot a mech style vehicle at one stage, which is simply awesome. But generally the weapons are well-balanced and make for some solid fire-fights that rarely feel too easy. Never will you find a lone enemy, but they will arrive in squads and generally act like a squad as well.
The scary part really is Alma’s supernatural presence which there is little that you can do to fight, often leaving us feeling compelled to run in the opposite direction while the game drove us towards the next goal.
F.E.A.R. 2 now also includes the usual Slow-Mo which so many FPS seem to be implementing. This is great when fighting the human enemies, however when you are being attacked by something more sinister, flicking into Slow-Mo really seems to take the edge out of the fear, and seems to pull you out of the moment. This is a shame because the feature works well to blast rows of enemies while dodging their bullets, but it is up to the player if or when they want to use this.
The single-player comes off as somewhat short, although that seems to be the trend of late with FPS titles. Clocking in at around 7 - 9 hours depending on your skill level and how you pace yourself, it doesn’t provide the lengthy single-player that other games do, however compared with other console FPS titles it’s not too bad.
The multiplayer failed to really excite us. F.E.A.R. 2 really doesn’t do anything here that hasn’t been done over and over. With consoles drowning in multiplayer titles there is little that leads us to believe that this is a title that will have an online presence for years to come. However it does bring in mech-style combat with the available vehicles, and these things are incredible to be in.
There are a good number of game modes such as capturing points, or just plain old deathmatch with six different modes in total. All the maps available are well put together and fun to play on, and these look almost as splendid as in the single-player, with some exceptional graphics displayed here as well. Unfortunately, as with far too many online Xbox 360 titles, the lag was very frustrating as we only found games hosted in the US.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin does an exceptional job at creating an awesome FPS experience, that works well on almost every level. The game is action packed and the enemy AI is absolutely top notch. The main critique would be that F.E.A.R. 2 does very little to differentiate itself with every other FPS on the market. The horror aspect is very well done, and despite not being the scariest thing we’ve seen, it really does give you the odd fright particularly if you are playing it in the dark with your surround sound cranked up.
If you're expecting innovation and something new, F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t for you, but if you are content with the FPS genre then it is an absolute must. It's an exceptional FPS, but it could certainly have certainly been longer and perhaps pushed our comfort zone a bit more, particularly when the FPS market is so saturated.