F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Reader Review
When did little girls in films and games get recast from cute to malevolent? When did they shift from being little fluffballs of pink and ponies to be protected into the blank-eyed, lank haired harpies-in-training that we see in pretty much every scary movie or video game at the moment? Did all these developers and directors have terrible experiences as children at the hands of sinister siblings, or are little girls just genuinely terrifying? Quite honestly, I'd like an answer, just so that I can make it stop.
Why? Because it scares the living crap out of me.
F.E.A.R. was one of the best FPS games released in the 2005 to 2007 period. It was atmospheric, had great combat and looked the business. It started life as a PC only title, but was ported to both Xbox 360 and PS3. It was memorable not just for the nervy psychological moments, but also for the strength of its enemy A.I., making the game challenging and frightening. It stands to reason, then, that we'd see a sequel.
F.E.A.R. 2 has been developed by the same team as the first game, Monolith Productions, who have had the good sense to recognise that if something isn't broken, then don't try to fix it. F.E.A.R. 2 is as spooky and visceral as its predecessor, mixing high production values with smart foes and snazzy fire fights. Playing through the single-player campaign is both exciting and heart-stopping - for every time you hit reload after a battle, you'll be hitting the pause button to scream at the TV. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not the bravest of people when it comes to the horror genre, but F.E.A.R. 2's ability to get under my skin is uncanny.
The reason for this is that the effort that has been put into making the undeniably silly plot completely believable. The environments that you travel through are incredibly detailed, with no effort spared in including even the most mundane of items. There's something unbelievably bone-chilling about tip-toeing through a deserted school, across the detritus of children's drawings, homework and flickering projectors, listening to the insane giggling of a tormented mind. Next thing you know, the locker doors lining the hall smash open and a bloody corpse swoops up into the ceiling. Very shortly after that, whilst once again shouting at the pause menu, I realised that F.E.A.R. 2 had very effectively sucked me into its world of slowly building psychological terror and sudden shocks.
The game truly does give an excellent sense of immersion, promoted by the many small touches of good design. For instance, the player is not just a camera suspended disembodied above a gun. Look down and you'll see your legs. The visor that your character wears will get covered in water droplets, crack when you get killed and the HUD will flicker when you get hit. When something creepy is going down, the lights will blink and flicker, strange distortions appear in front of your eyes and (from my point of view, most horribly) your torch will give out. Turning around to see Alma silently standing RIGHT BEHIND YOU with eyes glowing from her shadowy silhouette is frankly petrifying.
The Lithtech engine running the show allows for beautiful particle physics and lighting effects, as well as very nice destructible environments. Stray bullets kick up dust, shatter windows and knock lumps out of walls without compromising the frame-rate, making gun battles fun and spectacular. Fans of blood and gore certainly won't be disappointed, as there seems to be a grisly death for someone around every other corner.
The enemy AI certainly doesn't break immersion either, with the action portions of the game dominated by desperate stand-offs and sneaky tricks. Your foes will use cover, try to flank you and fling grenades to flush you out. Thankfully, you have a decent arsenal of guns, which have satisfying meaty sounds and feel genuinely powerful. Combined with martial arts close-quarters combat moves and a tasty slow-motion ability, you end up with very stylish and dare I say it, balletic fight sequences. The game even allows a delicious slice of stress-relief in the form of giant mech suit sequences that allow you to stomp around in a big metal suit with mini-guns and missiles. Anyone who knows me knows how close to my heart I hold games that feature big stompy robots.
As I said, the production values are very high, setting something of a benchmark for other titles to follow. The voice acting from your team and the enemies alike is flawless, and the audio effects of the world are executed perfectly. If a game aims to be scary, then it better be able to make the hairs rise on the back of your neck just by the merest suggestion of a creak behind you. Monolith have done a great job here, and the sound design is one of the most defining features of the game.
That said, sometimes its eagerness to scare around every corner begins to feel samey and predictable. Spend long enough in its cold, sweaty grasp and you'll develop your own sixth sense for when something is going to jump out and try to tear your face off. Whether it's just that there's only so many ways a developer can hide the strings from the gamer, or if it is some subtle repetition of the audio track that provides hints of what's to come, I couldn't distinguish. Disappointingly, towards the end of the game, when things should have been ramping up with stronger and stronger feelings of dread and apprehension, I ended up cursing every Alma appearance for slowing me down, rather than cursing them for making me ruin another pair of pants.
Also, if you haven't had the pleasure of playing through the first game, the plot of this sequel will seem obtuse and confusing. Monolith seem strangely coy about filling new players in on what went on in the first game, which is unfortunate as events in the first game directly affect the outcome of events in this instalment. While it does explain a good amount about Alma herself, the other aspects of who supporting characters are, what their motivations might be and their place in the over all history of the games are rather undeveloped. It's almost as if Monolith have assumed that everyone who plays video games will have already played F.E.A.R. which seems rather big-headed.
In the end of the day, F.E.A.R. 2 has been released into a glutted market. There's a whole load of big name, big budget action titles floating about the shops at the moment, so for a game to be successful it has to have something that sets it above the crowd. After considering it for a while, I do think that F.E.A.R.2 has enough to push it above other titles at the moment. The psychological horror is for the most part well executed and atmospheric, while the combat is definitely more than competent. The only reservation that I might have with recommending the game to a friend would be if they had already played though and completed the first game. The F.E.A.R. games rely on the ongoing story more than most FPS games, and to get the most out of it, I do believe you have to know what's going on.
However, if you have either played the previous game, read the Wikipedia plot summary or just don't care about story, go on ahead and buy yourself a copy of the game. After all, what is there to fear but fear itself?
Aside from creepy little girls, obviously.
8 / 10