A Harbinger of Fun
Monolith Productions’ first F.E.A.R. title did an excellent job of marrying a compelling first-person shooter with a chilling tale involving a disturbed little girl, a host of clone soldiers, and an AWOL leader. The impressive enemy A.I., smooth controls, and interesting scary elements made F.E.A.R. an unmitigated success and a fan favorite.
Flash forward four years and F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin takes everything players loved about the original and improves upon it. The enhanced visuals, more interesting enemies, and smarter story have gone a long way to improving an already solid franchise. That said, F.E.A.R. 2 is a lot better shooter than it is a horror title. In fact, despite the excellent visual and aural effects used to convey fright, it felt like almost any other high quality FPS. If you’re looking for something as intense as Dead Space, you won’t find it in F.E.A.R. 2. Still, I had loads of fun with the action elements in this game and appreciated the creepy atmosphere and unsettling yarn the devs were spinning.
Starting just before the massive explosion that rocked the city of Auburn, F.E.A.R. 2 has players take on the role of a new protagonist, a soldier from Delta squad named Michael Beckett. Beckett, along with his squad mates, is tasked with securing Genevieve Aristide, an Armacham Technologies (ATC) executive, before the rogue Colonel Richard Vanek and the ATC security forces can get their hands on her and eliminate all evidence and individuals linking the corporation to Project Origin. Of course, all hell breaks loose, and the psychic abilities of Alma Wade (an evil little girl turned woman) begins to wreak havoc, culminating in a nuclear explosion of her hatred that lays waste to Auburn. This sets the stage for the strange yet intriguing events of F.E.A.R. 2.
This may sound like a lot to take in, but if you haven’t played the original game, you’ll be happy to know the first half hour of the sequel does a great job of getting you up to speed with what went on previously. Likewise, veterans of F.E.A.R. will likely enjoy this new story even more and will have many of the unexplained threads nicely wrapped up. That’s because the storytelling in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is very well presented via scattered intel clips and quality cinematics.
Gameplay in F.E.A.R. 2 is centered on standard FPS mechanics. Thankfully, the controls, enemy A.I., and environments are about as good as they get for the genre. For starters, whether using a console controller or a mouse and keyboard, F.E.A.R. 2 really feels good. It was effortless to pass from room to room and level to level, because the controls are so tight. Additionally, I really enjoyed the ability to set up cover by toppling tables and to initiate the limited Matrix-like slow-mo ability.
Even though the controls make things easy, the enemy A.I. does its best to make things difficult. Enemies tend to come in logical waves, work together, find cover, move when their position is compromised, and try to flush you out of a fortified spot. I loved how the A.I. weaved and dodged my barrage of fire and timed their movements to flank me. This made me use the entirety of my vast arsenal, including small arms, grenades, and heavy weaponry to stop their advance, as well as strategic use of my bullet-time slow-mo power to dispatch them efficiently.
Moreover, there are a ton of distinct enemies you’ll be fighting over the course of the game. This is a vast improvement over the game’s predecessor, which sent wave after wave of ho-hum clones at you. This time around, players will have to deal with more than mundane soldiers. Members of the security forces have unique roles and abilities, which they use in coordinated attacks to challenge the player. Also, automaton Replica Soldiers, lithe, cloaked Assassins, beefy, flesh-hungry Abominations, necromancer-like, corpse-puppeteer Remnants, and ghostly Specters do a great job of varying the kinds of threats you’ll face. Additionally, players will once again have to take on Elite Powered Armor (EPA) – anime-like mech suits. Fortunately, they won’t be too much of a problem considering you’re able to hop in an EPA of your own and lay waste to foes and the ruins of Auburn alike. This mech suit portion of the game may seem like a gimmick, but I found it to be an absolute joy for the short time I took control of the rig.
Also, F.E.A.R. 2 does a nice job of changing up the locations within which you’ll fight. This is also a vast improvement over the original, which kept you cornered in facilities like a rat in a maze. Starting off in familiar indoor confines, F.E.A.R. 2 will soon progress to some excellent outdoor urban wastelands and a subterranean complex that will test your FPS ability. Because of the varied environments, I never found myself bored or disinterested with the title. Fighting in buildings was fun because I had to deal with tight corridors, bad lighting, columns, locked and barricaded doors, etc. While fighting outside allowed me to take advantage of the environment and foment chaos in a bombed out urban setting – which frequently made for some stunning visuals.
In fact, visuals are another one of the game’s strong points. The world seems realistic and lived-in, blood flows like wine, and weapon fire looks great. All the battles are frantic and chaotic, but the game rarely seemed to chug along – I loved just how smooth the game plays. Best of all was just how awesome the supernatural effects are. They do a great job of setting the tone of the story. Lighting is phenomenal, the warping of the screen and the static interference when Alma is present is quite creepy, and the ethereal Specters are some of the best ghosts ever portrayed in a video game.
However, slightly marring the graphics is a somewhat fuzzy and grainy filter. I would have liked to have seen far sharper visuals. Also, while animations and physics seem to be pretty darn good, enemies often fall to the ground in unrealistic ways. Many times I was jerked out of gaming zen by a Replica who somehow stayed perched on their knees after taking several lethal headshots. The death animations definitely could have used some work. These complaints are minor though, and all in all the game looks solid.
This is also true of the sounds in F.E.A.R. 2. The purposefully disjointed musical themes really work by staying unpredictable. Also, the sound effects are very eerie. It is easy to get sucked into believing what you’re seeing because the sounds are there to truly enhance the experience. Finally, the voice over work, while professional, doesn’t quite hit the mark. All in all, the actors did a nice job of portraying the dialogue, but occasionally a shiver of embarrassment rippled through me during the delivery.
Perhaps the weakest part of F.E.A.R. 2 is its multiplayer offering. There are six modes of play that encompass classic game types such as Deathmatch, CTF, and strategic point control. Also, players can try their skill at defusing and setting bombs or even battling it out in an EPA mech suit. Unfortunately, the later suffers from the fact there is only one suit per side, which means it struggles with some serious second fiddle issues. Eventually, players will be able to buy new weapons and change and customize their load-outs, including primary, secondary, and armor type. The multiplayer mode is by no means broken or even dull, it just isn’t nearly as compelling as the single-player campaign, and it can’t hold a candle to the other top shooters out there.
As you can see, F.E.A.R. 2 is a very competent and enjoyable game. As a shooter, I was very impressed with the title. Unfortunately, I never really felt the fear that gave the game its moniker. Certainly the game is disturbing, but it is definitely not frightening. I think it’s because there is so much action going on all the time that players actually become numb to the scare factor. As such, you’ll want to pick up F.E.A.R. 2 because it is an outstanding FPS with a great ambience, not because it is a horror title that implements shooter mechanics. This is perhaps the biggest complaint I can muster for this title. Even still, I found the single-player compelling enough to recommend its purchase to anyone who likes to blow stuff up with a sense of purpose!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The action is smooth, frantic and expertly captured. I also really enjoyed the creepy supernatural effects. The grainy over-filter and frequently unrealistic death animations are unfortunate. 4.5 Control
Controls are incredibly tight and shooter-friendly. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The purposefully disjointed musical themes really work, and the sound effects are very eerie. The voice over work, while professional, doesn’t quite hit the mark. 4.2 Play Value
As a shooter, this game is an excellent and rewarding experience. Unfortunately, the scare factor doesn’t seem to really come through. Also, the online multiplayer is decent but nothing that will hold your attention for too long. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.