While the name and tank-style controls may suggest a Resident Evil-like Survival Horror game, Fear Effect in fact has more in common with the cinematic action games Naughty Dog likes to produce today.
This is a relatively short game that spans a massive four discs, and that's because of the vast amount of cutscenes and the fully voiced dialogue.
Normally, for a PS1 game, that would mean a game that aged terribly, with ugly polygonal graphics and cheesy voice acting. However, Fear Effect is preserved in its original cinematic vision, which was highly competent at the time, and still great to see today.
#64(S): Fear Effect:
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Eidos Interactive.
Developer: Kronos Digital Entertainment.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"That means we find her first... find her fast... and drop anyone who tries to stop us"
The central hook of Fear Effect is its cinematic experience, and that hugely depends on its story, characters, dialogue, and delivery. While it may have a basic action movie story with some supernatural elements baked in, the game nails the rest.
Set in a fictional futuristic Chinese protectorate, the game stars a trio of mercenaries that are attempting to find the daughter of a big Triad boss in hope of a big payday. Hana is the femme fatale of the three, and she is a strong-willed female lead with a gift for dual-wielding Uzi's and possibly a mysterious past. Glas and Deke are more straightforward cynical mercs with a penchant for one-liners.
You will get to know these characters really well
These characters, in both their design and dialogue, sell the setting of the game. This is really some well-done writing, which works really well when coupled with the expert scene directions for most CGI scenes. It may look normal now, but games in the year 2000 rarely looked as close to movies as this one did.
You can see the influence of movies, or more specifically, the influence of B-Movies with sexy leads in the almost juvenile way the game focuses on Hana's sex appeal. An entire chapter of the game starts with an impromptu shower scene and continues with Hana fighting zombies in nothing but a towel (a fact the game then smartly uses for a gag).
Hmm, what does this option do?
So, while the narrative and main plot may not be anything special, the characters, setting, and dialogue all combine to tell a really good cinematic story. Admittedly, that may not be much of a hook to today's gamers (who are pretty used to it), but it is a historical milestone nonetheless.
"Tick... tock... tick... Talk or you will start to tick, John"
Compared to its milestone storytelling techniques, the gameplay is a more basic remix of the tried and true fixed-camera tank-style shooters that flooded the PS1. Imagine playing the original Resident Evil but with significantly more ammo and some significant dodging capability.
Shooting is a simple matter of facing the general direction of the enemy and hitting the action button. If the enemy can be hit, a green cursor will appear in the status bar. Since most enemies can shoot back, movement becomes a key element in avoiding gunfire, but that throws off your aim.
As such, the game allows you to dodge roll in fixed directions while maintaining the direction you face, and also has a quick 180 turn button. In general, I rarely ever needed to master the movement to be comfortable with the game at normal, but they are a must to master in hard mode.
Movement is key in boss battles
In that case, the game's stiff tank controls would be more of an issue. In some ways, the game doesn't move as smoothly as Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, but that's not an issue until you raise the difficulty.
With three characters to control, the game missed an opportunity to make playing as each a little bit more varied. If not in movement, then at least with weapon selection. Unfortunately, there is no such variety here, and all characters play the same.
It is worth noting here however that sometimes the scenes switch at highly sensitive times giving you barely any time to react, so save often to avoid some of these cheap deaths.
"You must wash off the blood. It is the blood that drove them mad. The blood that makes them demons"
Other than the basic gun combat, the game also has some puzzles as well. These puzzles are divided into two parts: "Movement Puzzles", and "Clue Puzzles", with these categories sometimes combining.
Movement puzzles are based on observing the condition of the level and moving away from the danger. For instance, an electrified path has a pattern where some panels are safe to pass through. In this case, you can cross the path if you figure out the pattern and are able to navigate safely (which is a challenge in itself sometimes).
Apparently, escaping through fire involves learning its patterns
Clue puzzles are similar to the puzzles found in Survival Horror games or Adventure games. You find clues in the level, and then some puzzle requires your to figure out a number, a bomb deactivation sequence, or a key item usage location and order.
In general, these puzzles aren't too hard or unfair, nor are they particularly groundbreaking.
The same can be said about the game's bosses, who are fun to face most of the time despite not being especially brilliant. Hell, even the worst boss I fought was fun because of the ludicrous situation you fight him in.
"Head for the hotel... we will need to warn Deke, there's a shitstorm coming"
With its cinematic focus, the star of the game and its most important aspect is its visual and graphical department, which delivers in spades.
Forgoing an attempt at "photorealism", the game wisely tries to recreate a more comic-book style with its cell-shaded graphics. These end up aging much better than the polygonal nightmares of similarly aged games, with the added benefit of highly expressive faces.
Look at that grizzled mug
Of course, this is mostly seen in the game's many scenes, with the actual in-game graphics still showing their age. The cell-shaded character models still look good, but the animation is a bit stiff. Also, with fixed camera angles and 2D backgrounds, areas widely differ in visual perspective (with some really cool camera angles in some areas as well).
Back to the scenes, these not only look good but are animated really well, with some solid scene and dialogue direction thanks to some mostly good voice acting. Sure, there is some typically cheesy oriental VAs, but the end product is mostly good.
The sea cannot be said about the game's soundtrack, which is almost forgettable in its focus on ambient and atmospheric music. Actually, it is indeed forgettable and I don't recall any single track.
Two elements ensured that Fear Effect didn't age too badly. First, its cell-shaded graphics in the game's many scenes still look good. Second, the characters and voice acting still makes for a compelling, if basic, cinematic experience.
As such, Fear Effect is still fun to play today even beyond a historical playthrough, and that's something that not every cinematic PS1 game can claim to be.
1-Have a pen and paper handy to record solutions to puzzles.
2-Lear to duck and roll to avoid enemy fire and attack.
3-You must scroll to the blue (key) items to actually use them at the intended location.
4-Whenever the "use" command flashes, make a mental note of it. Sometimes, you need to hug a door to find it.
5-Ammo is plentiful, but don't waste too much of it.
6-You can use stealth attacks to instantly kill enemies from behind with melee weapons (if they didn't notice you).
7-Save whenever the option to save comes up.
8-Health recovers every time you clear a room from enemies, switch characters or solve a puzzle.
9-The true ending is hidden behind beating the game in Hard mode.
I am not sure if this supposed to be empowering or demeaning, I guess it depends on which wave of feminism we are talking about
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
What do you think?
Originally, I was supposed to play Future Cop: L.A.P.D, but it didn't seem to be my cup of tea despite being a mechanically solid game. Fear Effect was expectedly a better experience.
Now, I am looking forward to playing the sequel, which is actually the game that sits at #64 in the Retro Sanctuary top 100 PS1 games list.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: