What else helps is the sense that Monolith really does care about this little world. As well as in-game cut-scenes and visions, there are logs all over the area for you to collect. These short bursts of information add a lot of colour to the proceedings, and in a BioShock-esque way add light and shade to what at its heart is a Resident-Evil-by-way-of-Akira ooh-those-corporations-they're-bad'uns plot. In fact, the most chilling moment in the game is delivered off-hand in one of these.
Monolith really has developed a setting, even if it's not that interested in explaining it. Take the monstrous creatures you fight - the fairly standard fast-gooey-teary-things, ghosty-telekenetic things and puppet-master-zombie-controller things. Bar the former, I got no sense of what they were there for. I actually knew the story behind them, because a developer explained their background during an interview I did, but it's not made clear in actual play. While I understand the idea that the strange and unknown is fearful, it's not how the monsters come across in the game. Generally speaking, they just come across as something novel to shoot.
As I said earlier, it's a game that leans more towards the combat than the story-concepts. This makes the aforementioned giant robot suit a logical - if predictable - extension. It's a robot suit. You get in it, and shoot bad guys with mini-guns and rockets until you reach the inevitable bump it can't get over. Then you get out. That's it. The quick-time events, thankfully, aren't actually based around complicated button sequences, but rather bashing one button like an old eighties sports game when you're grabbed by a monster. When a couple of major conflicts are reduced to this, you can't help feeling underwhelmed.
Multiplayer exists, featuring four modes and six maps, but I wasn't able to find any games pre-release to play, and there are no bots to just get a sense of the levels. (CORRECTION: There are in fact five modes. "Six if you count Team Deathmatch and plain old Deathmatch as separate ones," writes Kieron. "And while there's six maps in most modes, in Armoured Front, there's three other ones. And also online games to play now, which is nice." Apologies for the error.)
Eurogamer will look at this area again following release if it proves to offer anything more than other shooters, but on the surface of it the most interesting aspect is the character set-up options. You have a set amount of points, and purchasing each weapon or equipment option costs a number of points. So if you buy the highly expensive sniper rifle you're not going to be able to afford fancy armour, let alone a handy helping of grenades.
But back to single-player. FEAR 2 is most notable for being a game that doesn't even attempt to engage with any of the failings of the linear first-person shooter. Playing through on the average difficulty level, what slowed me down most was the handful of occasions when I couldn't locate the one place to progress (a process which the general gloominess of environments exacerbates). While the developers said they were expanding the size of the "corridor", in practice it's still a far more prescriptive game of where you can go than, say, Half-Life 2.
And Half-Life 2's levels made more sense conceptually too. It's rarely obvious why you're going the way you're going. I moved by instinct, knowing that heading in a certain way was what the game wanted me to do - but also knowing it didn't make much sense. FEAR 2 is a game that works off an engine of atmosphere, and the unreality underpinning it all just undercuts that immersion.
In other words, I found the experience of playing the game to be simultaneously exhilarating and depressing. The smallest fundamental parts - such as the combat - work. But on a higher level, alienation grows as the game becomes a chain of well-worn genre standards. I found myself thinking the back-handed compliment, "Well, at least I haven't done a gun-turret bit yet." Then, predictably, one turned up. Every time I started a new level I ended up wondering whether this one would be the moving-platform-train-bit. Surely it would arrive eventually? And it did.
It's a checklist of genre-tropes, well performed. If you're just looking for more well-polished shooting, this will while away the hours pleasantly enough. If you've never played a first-person shooter before, you'll probably be in love - this is as archetypal a corridor-shooter as has ever been made, and there's a reason why it works. But for anyone who's been running down corridors with shotguns for most of their adult life, this is so uninspired that you worry for the spark of Monolith's soul. You guys made No One Lives Forever, remember? You're smart. You're better than this.
FEAR 2 isn't terrible. That's the most terrible thing of all. Is mere competency enough to garner gamers' love? I don't know. But it's the one thing I really do fear.
5 / 10