F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin Review. (360 Version Played)
As an avid fan of the original FEAR, I went into FEAR 2 with high hopes on many fronts. I wanted to be scared witless, and I wanted a solid first person shooter, and it goes without saying that Monolith have delivered on both fronts.
The original FEAR gripped me from the get go, with its large fire fights, thick atmosphere, amazing tension building and sharp scares that left me on the edge of my seat for the whole of the experience, with a deep and complex story to boot that really shined amongst all the monotonous titles that filled the market at the time. FEAR 2 does a great job of replicating its predecessor, and building upon its foundations.
The game starts with the player taking the role of Michael Becket, a Delta Force Operative deployed with his task force codenamed Dark Signal. With FEAR ending on a sharp cliff-hanger, I like many other FEAR fans were chomping at the bit to find out what happened to Point Man and the rest of the squad at the end of the original FEAR. Unfortunately, this is not addressed in the latest instalment, but rather an alternate perspective is taken. Becket is deployed 30 minutes before the finale of the original FEAR, only a short distance away from where the finale takes place. Shortly after doing the first mission, the finale of the first game plays out from Becketís perspective, and so FEAR 2ís story begins.
When first starting the game, the most apparent change is the presentation, most predominantly of which is the improved graphics and art style. Scenery is detailed and smooth, with the areas looking purposely polished yet gritty. The lighting effects are simply stunning, with deep shadows and harsh lighting effects adding to the overall experience. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game as the lighting enhances many of the moments throughout the game. A prime example of this is when the player has to investigate a derelict school. The flash light is disabled meaning that the only light source aiding your vision is quick jolts of light by a frequent power surge. This creates an effect much like the camera flash scene in Saw, and when finally something does momentarily flash up, it can be spine tingling.
Scares wise, FEAR 2 offers more overall then the previous instalment with both forced and passing scares used. The forced scares as I like to refer to them as are the ones that all players of the game will have to experience to complete the game. Some of the set pieces for these were amazing, with great build ups and unpredictable climaxes. Most notable of these was the one in the theatre featured on the demo. I was caught so off guard with this one, even though I had played it many times before, itís just brilliant. The fact you have just come out of a fire fight, your expecting more enemies and BAM, Alma all up in your grill. Other forced scares throughout the game are much much better and made me scream like a little girl, but I donít want to give anything away so you can experience them for yourself. Let me just say they are pant-wettingly awesome.
The other type of scares is where I think FEAR 2 shines compared to other horror titles. These Ďpassiveí scares are all down to the playerís actions, with them only noticeable if the player sees them themselves. Many of these scares are much the same, for example Alma stood behind you and then disappearing, or her silhouette just being in your peripheral vision, but when they happen and they catch you off guard, it is some of the best scares Iíve had with any form of entertainment medium for a long time. This however, leads me onto my other gripe with the game, which is not really a gripe but rather my obsession to see everything a games has to offer. As the game gives no real prompts as to when these scares will happen, Iím always left with the horrible feeling that Iíve missed something whenever I reach a new checkpoint or location. This is also emphasised when sharp music plays, and the HUD flickers, yet I see nothing. This degrades the experience somewhat, but is nothing game breaking in the least. For me, it has added replay value, as Iím now scouting levels for the scares to see what I have missed, however it would have been nice for them to be more highlighted so I could see where my eyes were meant to be focused.
Slow motion combat has also returned to the second instalment, and it is just as awesome and jaw dropping as it was in the first. Thereís just nothing like capping a miscellaneous soldier in the face with a shotgun, watching his head explode and his body tear and flop over, and then kung fu kicking his friend in the face, all at half speed, with every detail visible. It really adds a new element to the overall combat of the game, and toward the end of the game, it becomes a necessity when taking down waves of enemies.
Another addition to FEAR 2 is vehicles, or more precisely, Armoured suits. They are practically upright mechs with two large machine guns and rockets. I feel that this addition was not needed at all, and really can destroy the tension; however these areas are so small they can easily be overlooked on the grand scale of the overall game. The weapons have had a complete overhaul from FEAR, with all the weapons being different in some way. The arsenal is fairly uninspired when it comes to creativity though, with just generic representations of each type of weapon. This however is not a bad thing, as this is not the sort of game that needs masses of different types of the same weapon. The pulse rifle is also epic for the short time you have it, stripping all the flesh of someoneís skeleton is always a good thing.
Controls wise, the game makes no harsh changes to the current concrete FPS formula for console titles, following along the lines of Call of Duty and Halo. Everything feels responsive during game play, and everything seems to work how it should. My only gripe with the chosen system is the weapon select, which seems to cause more problems, rather then add to the seamless new layout. The player can now carry up to 4 primary weapons at one time, which is a nice element to vary gunplay and give the player more choice. However, it is how you navigate these weapons where I have the issue. Holding the Left Bumper brings up the weapons and the right stick highlights and selects the wanted weapon from the overall arsenal. This works when the player is stationary and not in battle, however when under fire, this can make things very haphazard.
Story is where I was most pleased with FEAR 2, as it took a completely different direction to what was expected, and pulled it off with style and grace. The story plays out from level to level, and never feels like it is dragging to purposely make the game feel longer or prolong plot points. It answers some questions left from the original, and poses some new ones. Its use of intel also to drop hints as to where the story is going is also well done, with it giving the player an idea, but not fully telling them what is about to go down. Monolith also took a leaf out of Valves book with its environmental storytelling, with notes on walls and other visual hints revealing other plot points. This works perfectly with FEAR 2ís overall presentation, and I can only hope that Monolith make a habit of this in future projects. The ending is also quite a shock for a fan of the series, totally unexpected for me. Some will find it rather abrupt, which I did, but this should not take away from its overall impact for most.
Overall, FEAR 2 is a well constructed, polished and scary package that really delievers on all fronts. Itís use of storytelling, scares and shooting elements all melt together to make an experience which really is breathtaking making it an early competitor in my eyes for game of 2009. If you can look passed some of its technical flaws, FEAR really should be in any horror/FPS fans collection.