FEAR 2: Project Origin (PC) Review

By SarcasmancerSarcasmancer


FEAR 2 is a solid shooter and decent sequel, but it improves the franchise by inches and ends up feeling very familiar. It’s a decent title, but by no means a must-play.

I never really planned on playing the first F.E.A.R. Only a few first person shooters hit me with that sort of ‘Got to get it!’ fever, and the forced, semi-nonsensical acronym of the game’s title (First Encounter Assault Recon) didn’t do it any favors. But its review scores demanded attention, so I checked out the demo. The part where you find yourself face to face with lil’ Alma after turning around to descend a ladder sold me. That moment still sits in my top five best game-given scares.

Unfortunately, the ladder part was the best bit and the demo gave it away. The squad tactics and gun play impressed enough to keep me hooked. The plot was a mixed bag in a lot of ways. Horror, Sci-fi, and Military are three genres which can work very well together, but they never really seemed to gel in the game. Perhaps intermittent phone messages are not the best medium for story-telling. At the same time, it was refreshing to see a first person shooter, make a genuine effort.

I passed on the expansion packs, and planned on watching the sequel go by too. This time word of mouth from friends convinced me to give it another go, and I found that FEAR 2 is very similar to the original. Once again, you assume the role of a commando sent in to investigate the weird shit surrounding the Amarcham Technology Corporation, only to be haunted by the series’ signature scary chick, Alma.

In the first game, she was the little Sayako-looking moppet who divided her time between giving you hallucinations and puppeteering a clone army to kill you. Her hair-in-the-face-hauntings continue, but, as the plot frequently points out to players she’s all grown up this time around. When talking to me about the game, a colleague of mine observed that the first FEAR was all about Alma finding her babies, while here she is hunting for a mate.The course of the game’s plot definitely proves him right, and its ending is one the ripest thing for controversy gaming has seen in a while.

Those looking to prove video games are source of moral bankruptcy and depravity could mine a lot of ammunition from FEAR 2’s dossier of miscellaneous plot information. Luckily, finding the files actually requires a modicum of effort so I think we’re safe from the Jack Thompson types. The game also features a dismemberment engine, so there will is plenty of gore to go around, but it never reaches God of War or SAW levels. Anyway, where I’m going with this is: don’t bring the kids. It’s an adult game for adult players despite the adolescent trappings.

That being said, there is some genuinely funny stuff to be found laying around the corner’s in FEAR, though you have to have a sharp eye to find it. Armachan's CPR poster struck me as especially amusing.

Yes, yes, but what about the actual gameplay?! Well, the first game’s Reflex Meter (read: bullet time mechanic), makes a return, allowing you to lay waste to fools with relative ease at the beginning, and eventually becomes a requirement for every firefight towards the end. If you liked the first game’s arsenal, you’ll be pleased to find it is virtually unchanged. The only noteworthy new toy is the Laser, which you get very late in the day. A robust assortment of grenades is to be applauded, but it is offset by the lack of a dual wielding system. At this point, there is no reason for shooters to go without it, and I was saddened by its absence. There is no reason to use the game’s pistol as soon as you are presented with an alternative firearm, save for ammo desperation, which is a rare phenomenon in FEAR. It also seems like the developers were initially toying with the idea of color coding each weapon, (with little fluorescent tips on some gun’s sights and grips), only to decide it was too much trouble. I wish they went the extra mile because it’s a cool idea.

Gripes aside, fire fights in FEAR 2 are tremendously engaging and satisfying by virtue of fantastic fundamentals. When people write or speak about the 'feel' of firing virtual guns, they will refer to qualities like Kick and Stopping Power, which must often be tremendously exaggerated in order to be appreciated in the digital realm. Not so in FEAR. Each shot feels tight and realistic, and the weight of that system helps ground the rather tenuous narrative as well. The AI’s squad based tactics are also impressive. The kung-fu kicks from the first game make a return, though I found performing the sliding kick to be much more difficult this time around.

The biggest innovation FEAR 2 brings to the franchise is the addition of Mech-combat sections. While these carnage sprees are very fun, they are ridiculously one-sided in your favor, and that mix of catharsis and godly power really works against the game’s horror atmosphere. When you are commanding the might of a modern day titan, it’s extremely difficult to feel afraid of an eerie naked woman. Shinji managed to do it in Evangelion, but he was something of a prodigy when it came to insecurity. Now, if the city you were rampaging through was not so obviously depopulated and you were confronted with the prospect of Alma possessing your character as he pilots his death engine, we would be dealing with a very terrifying situation indeed. A missed opportunity.

One major area of improvement is the game’s level design. The first game presented players with a sea of corporate office space and underground tunnels that managed to be stiflingly linear yet periodically unintuitive. For reasons which completely baffle me, the sequel starts of the same way, and really starts to hit its stride around the elementary school and ruined city levels of the game. Things are still extremely linear, but there’s a little more room for exploration, and the environment around you is more creative.

Enemy variety is also an area where FEAR 2 shows some substantial improvements, though again, you’re usually shooting at pallet swapped guards. ‘The controller’ fights were interesting, and I think there’s a lot more they could do with that enemy concept. That's FEAR 2 all around actually. It's a solid shooter but it's feeling ripe for a revolution. Giving the protagonist a name was a step in the right direction story wise, but having him speak is really a necessity for the next installment. When you hear your cardboard companions start talking about a mysterious woman, Becket's laconia isn't helping us resonate with the character, he just seems like a douche. Mute heroes mean dead comrades people! The Larger levels were nice too, but you still can't move around in them much. And while the gunplay is governed by great fundamentals, Monolith needs to mix things up next time, either by adding a new ‘power mechanic’ or throwing in a squad element with characters we actually care about. All in all, you can afford to pass on FEAR 2. But if you're yearning for some gritty fire fights in a dark world FEAR 2 is an adequate fix.

Check out Sarcasmancer's theories of criticism, which is commentary on storytelling in contemporary entertainment!

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