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Fear Effect

3D action adventure reviewed

PlayStation Developer: Kronos Studios Publisher:Eidos Interactive

Wee Ming Lam, daughter of a powerful Chinese businessman has disappeared into the dangerous Shan Xi Protectorate, under mysterious circumstances.

You have a team of three mercenaries - Hana Tsu-Vachel, Royce Glas and Jakob "Dekes" Decourt. These three feel there's a pretty penny to be earned in getting to Wee Ming before the Protectorate.

The girl's father is hell-bent on stopping you from reaching her first. In an alternate reality China where nothing is as it seems, you have to prepare yourselves for some truly sinister beings also.

You must discover the truth behind the terrible secret that Wee Ming holds. Many will die before this little gem is revealed.

How will you cope with the Fear Effect?

The Drop Off

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Fear Effect's main menu

Fear Effect begins with a short introductory movie, narrated by Wee Ming herself. It serves well to set the scene for the decidedly supernatural goings on further on into the game itself .. One can also gather Wee Ming likes a bit of pain too!

Once at the menu, you have a simple choice of loading a previous save or starting fresh. The usual options to change subtitles on/off, controller key config and difficulty level are also included.

Choosing a new game will kick off a cut-scene showing Hana and Glas arriving in a helicopter, and landing on a heli-pad atop a skyscraper. You begin the game controlling Hana, armed with a simple pistol and knife. Glas takes off again, to meet again later in the adventure. Navigating your inventory and using the items can be a little confusing at first, but becomes natural in a fairly quick time.

If an object within the game can be used, the 'Use' panel will pop up. Similarly if you reach what seems to be a void, there may be some way down .. If so, the 'Climb' panel will flash into view. This also applies to taking items, equipping, looking and saving your game. At certain points in the game, the save icon will light up and your mobile phone rings. Save locations are excellently distributed throughout the entire game, never leaving you having to play over huge chunks of the game again .. Unless of course you didn't save!

A little heart monitor pulses in the top left-hand corner of the screen, whenever any of the three characters are in danger. The Fear Effect. This pulses a nice green colour if you're healthy, through to deep red when you're approaching your death! A watchful eye on your ammunition level is quite prudent too. The pistol isn't unlimited, and fighting purely with the knife is both a hazardous and foolhardy tactic.

Fighting Talk

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Deckard? Have you ever retired a human by mistake?

It's a mere five screens in that you first meet a couple of Wee Ming's father's henchmen. All weapons are auto-targeted to the nearest enemy. A green crosshair appears in the top-middle of the screen to show that your aim is locked in. If the enemy has their back to you, use the 'sneak' key to creep up on them. A red crosshair will mean you are close enough to perform an instant kill, with whatever weapon you choose.

Care has to be taken to disguise your presence. Footsteps can be easily heard by the enemy, as too can gunfire. I have often found that even if you use a gun in a room with three guys, the other two don't always catch on! A gunshot is not the most difficult of sounds to hear.

The battle system works reasonably well, but there are times where you really could do with someone other than your current target to be selected. Far too often you are fired upon by enemy off screen also. This can make for some blind firing in a vain hope you're making contact, and hence using up your precious ammo.

Weaponry isn't really that varied. Apart from the differing default weapons of the three characters, the only other weapons to come into the game are Machine Guns, and heavy weapons like Assault Rifles and Heavy Machine Guns. Glas by default carries a Smak-Jack (basically a metal bar), and Deke totes a fine pair of Brass Knuckles. Deke also has the nicer default weapon, the Hand Cannons; a bit like shotguns but fatter!

There's never a moment where you really feel like a kick ass mercenary though. The weapons are just far too weak both in sound and feel.

Sound & Vision

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Hana and her fans

The pre-rendered backgrounds remind me a huge amount of what was trying to be achieved in the big Commodore Amiga smash 'Bat'. Obviously being based in Hong Kong, the Chinese influence is evident. The Blade Runner feel to it all is also quite strong. What sets Fear Effect apart from other games of this ilk is that the backgrounds aren't totally static. Little things are going on, like the flash of car headlights on a highway, or the movements of shadows.

The main characters are done in a cartoon style, which is both very pleasing to the eye and also sits well with the background. Facial close-ups are particularly impressive, with mouth and eye movement looking good. Character movement is also nicely done, except for when they run .. Running makes them look like they're desperate for the toilet, and running at 45 degrees!

Sometimes the angles of the backgrounds can make it a real headache to judge where dropped ammo and/or items are. You can find yourself walking to the front of the screen, when the item is in actual fact further away.

The game is accompanied by good background music. I particularly liked the Vangelis like sound to the first level. Each song matches the mood of the setting quite nicely, and in the underground gives it that extra sinister edge.

The spot effects such as weapons are a little weak sounding, lacking the crisp punch needed. The voice acting ranges from the good to the really bad. Good being the actress who plays Hana, and bad being the lousy Australian accent of Dekes. I'm assuming it's supposed to be Australian anyway!

Is That It?

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Tense? Nervous? Try shooting some people

Of course no 3D action adventure would be complete without a set of puzzles throughout the game. Fear Effect's puzzles I have to say are ludicrously easy. There wasn't one single puzzle that stumped me. Far too linear and just left me with an average shoot 'em up to play. I don't consider myself a gaming genius by any means, but I like to at least have to scratch my head once in a while during a game.

Which brings me to the game itself. For a game that comes on four CDs, it is amazingly short. Let me define short - Completed in one three hour session. Finito! Not only this, but I found myself asking thin air 'is that it?' after the end credits began! Apparently if you play the game on the 'hard' setting, there's a different ending, but there's just not enough pull to the game to make me want to do it.

The plot also had some amazingly bad mistakes in it. Two of which I must highlight as near criminal, both involving Glas. One time he's bounding along weaponless, then moves to a cut-scene where he rescues Hana .. Not with bare fists, but with twin pistols! Even worse is the fact that he loses his other arm late on in the game, only for the last sequences to have him restored back to one!

I know there's magical powers going on here, but magically self-stitching arms is pushing my realm of fantasy!

Conclusion

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Woah! Neon is so yesterday!

Fear Effect is undeniably a good-looking game. The pre-rendered backdrops have the nice bonus of extra little animations going on, giving a more believable feel to locations. Everything is viewed in wide-screen, which looks fine and dandy, but an option to switch would've be nice.

Music helps to bolster the look of the game with added atmosphere, getting more grim and sinister as the game progresses. Sound used within the game is a little lacking, particularly with the weapon sounds. Most importantly though, the voice acting is on the whole good, as long as they don't try Australian accents!

The puzzles are far too easy, and game too short, despite the promise of a different ending on the 'hard' difficulty setting. Spanning across four CDs, you're lulled into the false sense of hope that the game is going to be massive.

A bit of an opportunity missed for me. I'd be interested in seeing where they go if a sequel is planned, but for me Fear Effect is just another average 3D adventure. Nowt special.

What The Scores Mean

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Glas prepares himself for another 'tough' puzzle

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