Reviewed by Ryan “Plagiarize” Acheson
Available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Developed by Monolith Games
Published by Warner Bros. Interactive
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin gives me mixed feelings. It’s a distinctive mix of horror and action, and it’s certainly a step up from the lackluster add-on packs that followed the first game, which F.E.A.R. 2 wisely ignores. But it’s also a sequel that plays it incredibly safe, and where the original was a PC game first (and one that really tried to push the best hardware of the time, making it one of the better looking titles of the time) and a console game second, F.E.A.R. 2 loses its bleeding edge beauty by releasing on PC, 360 and PS3 all at once.
Maybe that’s just the sour grapes of someone with a PC they spent four figures on, and F.E.A.R. 2 does certainly look a lot better than the original … it just doesn’t look three and a half years better.
And while the game takes on a ‘less is more’ approach to story which is admirable, it also completely forgets that it was three and a half years since the original and does nothing to introduce the world to new players or reintroduce it for people that can’t remember who Genevieve Aristide is, a character central to the sequel who is never seen on screen in the original.
My copy of the game came with a pre-order bonus that if anything should be required reading for anyone hoping to make head or tail of F.E.A.R. 2’s plot. There are a lot of ‘Projects’ and characters that get name dropped in F.E.A.R. 2. Heck, one of the great things about F.E.A.R. 2 is the wider variety of enemies. The interesting creepy back stories behind those enemies? Nowhere to be found in the game itself.
But then there’s that grin on your face … diving into the game’s kinetic action, easily where the game looks its best with bullets and blood and limbs and debris slowly flying around like a sick fireworks display.
Then there’s that chill running down your spine … edging down a deserted and derelict school corridor, water flowing from burst pipes above you, strange glows coming from around the corner and your heads up display flickering. There’s what made the original good. Maybe not advanced in anyway, but still effective, streamlined and more polished this time. Leaning is out, but aiming down the sights is in, so it’s really not that big a deal.
The enemy AI is as good as ever. Out numbering you and out flanking you at every opportunity so that you need the one edge you have over them, which is your ability to slow time.
At this point it’s probably worth pointing out that you are not playing as the mysterious ‘Point Man’ of the original game. Here you play as Michael Becket, a member of Delta Team, and events start off a short while before the events of the original game have finished transpiring. A short while before a huge nuclear explosion rips through the entire city in a failed attempt at destroying Alma. If you’re wondering whether or not there’s an explanation as to how Becket is able to slow time (as there was for Point Man) then you’ll want to make sure that you take the time to read the numerous files dotted around the world.
Most of the game then takes place in the ruins of the city gutted by the massive explosion and this is definitely the area where F.E.A.R. 2 surpasses the first one. Level design in the original was mundane and felt like one long slog through a long twisty corridor that visited offices and industrial areas.
F.E.A.R. 2 is still a linear affair, but even so the game is no longer one note over and over again. The game isn’t going to win any awards for its choice of environments (Hospital, School, Scientific Facility, etc.), but the fact these have all just been rocked by a bomb gives them enough of an edge, and it sure beats hours and hours of the same kind of thing like we saw in the original. Plus there is a tad more exploration this time. You’re going to be stepping off that corridor into side rooms with extra stuff to pick up for example.
The combat hasn’t really changed much. The weapons are mostly the same aside from a few changes. The crazy energy beam thing from the original is gone, and missed, but they’ve got a couple of new energy weapons that almost make up for it. The new sniper rifle is ridiculously powerful and satisfying, and again the guns feel powerful and solid.
It’s still going to be a cycle of taking cover while waiting for your slow motion to recharge, constantly under attack from a smart enemy that will be moving to try to negate your cover or flush you out of it, then charging out like a slow motion death bringer until your power runs out and you dive for cover again, but it was still enjoyable for me.
This one brings the horror more into the game play too. The ghost like enemies from the end of the first game have been reproached and replaced with something that serves the same purpose without being annoying. Most impressive are the Remnants which walk around an area reanimating the dead to attack you. Red ‘strings’ come out of them into the corpses, and the animation of their puppeteering is highly unsettling.
There is still a lot of intangible horror … stuff that neither hurts you nor you can hurt, though I’d estimate less than the original. I could definitely have done with more personally, though the school area was a highlight and one that actually haunted my nightmares.
The atmosphere isn’t as choking as the Condemned games which Monolith also developed, but one part of the team that definitely excelled again are the sound guys. The music, voice work and sound effects are hit the perfect tone, are believable and enveloping. I always feel bad talking about sound in a game as an aside and here I am doing it again, but don’t think that means that I was less than impressed.
And Alma? The creepy dead girl that is central to the series? Well she’s still around, and now fully aware that she’s a grown up (at least, she was when she died). Her plans for you are not what you think, and not I should stress what anyone in the game seems to think either. They are quite disturbing, though the reveal of what they are could have done with being a bit more in your face and to the point. It took me a while to realize what was supposed to have been going on in the closing moments of the game.
The last fight, the closest thing the game has to a boss fight, was unsurprisingly underwhelming as these things often are. I’m not sure why so many games fail to make their final confrontation entertaining, but here is yet another. The fights against the power armors and the Remnants were much more interesting.
And yes, the power armor is something you can actually get into this time. These moments throw tension completely out of the window. Letting you be an unstoppable killing machine for a few short minutes. The blood you’ll spill during these moments is something you won’t forget.
So F.E.A.R. 2, a sequel that left me with mixed emotions. There’s a fight between the fun game that I played and the imagined sequel that rose the bar as the original had. It’s a fairly typical first sequel. Improving the graphics a bit, but not so that they impress as the originals did. Adding a few weapons. Fixing the complaints of the original, but not really trying to evolve or improve the things that did work.
There’s a good story, but half of it is in a book that you probably won’t be able to get now.
Here I am, finishing up a disjointed review to a game that made me feel ambivalent not sure what to sum up with or whether or not to recommend it. I certainly enjoyed it, but I leave it feeling unsatisfied and looking around for something more like one of those 100 calorie packs of snacks.
3 1/2 out of 5
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