First-person shooters comprise one of the most well-developed video game genres in existence. The number of high-quality games and franchises practically demands that any new entry must have an interesting concept and a rock-solid engine. Otherwise, it will quickly get buried under an avalanche of award-winning titles. When the original F.E.A.R. came out in 2005, a well-crafted horror theme, the AI, and a few gameplay innovations allowed it to succeed despite direct competition from established franchises, such as Quake 4 and Call of Duty 2, among others. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin draws on the strengths of its predecessor and adds a few improvements. The question that now remains is whether or not the additions make up for the fact that the game's concept is no longer new and unique. Read on for the rest of my thoughts.
- Title: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
- Developer: Monolith Productions
- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- System: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
- Reviewer: Soulskill
- Score: 7/10
The game starts out with a bang; the first act is extremely well designed. You begin in much the same manner as the first game, given little information and left to wonder what, exactly, is going on. You start in a military transport headed to pick up the president of Armachan Technology Corporation — the typical big, evil corporation developing things they really shouldn't. You're introduced to your squad-mates and then quickly separated from them while being taught some of the gameplay basics. The first serious firefight in the game is located within a room filled with antiques, ceramics, and vases stored in huge glass display cases. It's a brilliant choice in setting — priceless decorations shatter and glass flies everywhere. It's almost theatrical; like being a part of a high-budget action flick. As you shoot your way through the increasingly porous living quarters, hallucinations are induced by Alma, the deranged, telepathic, and telekinetic girl from the first game. The act ends when you witness a nuclear explosion far closer than is healthy, and shortly thereafter struggle to remain conscious as the corporation's doctors do something to you.
It's worth saying again — the first level is incredibly cool. Unfortunately, subsequent levels aren't able to match it. I suppose that's to be expected; after all, it's a horror-themed shooter rather than an epic adventure shooter, but the first level does tend to set expectations. For the next few acts, F.E.A.R. 2 treads mostly on familiar ground. You spend a great deal of time escaping an underground hospital/science facility, and wander your way through broken streets with crumbling buildings. That's not to say it's bad, or even unenjoyable ; the settings are still polished and full of detail, and the plot is continually prodded along in an interesting manner. It's just been done before, and often. If you've played a wide variety of first-person shooters, these levels will probably bring a sense of deja vu . Things pick back up after a while, though. You'll navigate your way through a school that was the site of much violence and destruction, go down into the subway, and even further into a high-tech underground tram. The less you know about any given setting, the more easily it lends itself to creepiness, so the more unique environments in F.E.A.R. 2 keep you focused on the horror aspect much better than the stereotypical science labs.
The visual effects that contribute to the horror theme are integrated quite well into the gameplay. The transition from your normal perception to hallucination is often gradual and seamless. Other times, it's sharp and distinct, using the shock of the immediate change to add an ominous vibe. Sometimes your flashlight will start to flicker in a dark area, and you'll begin to hear your character's panicked breathing and rapid heart rate. I'm on the fence about that; it's used to great effect in a few situations, but since fear in the character isn't mirrored by fear in the player, it also tends to serve as an indicator that something surprising is going to happen — thus negating the surprise. Other horror standards come in to play too. Every so often, Alma will flash into existence somewhere near you, and then disappear. Almost too often... but they find ways of keeping it interesting. The music and sound effects are very well done, laying the foundation for tense scenes, the foreshadowing of a terrible discovery, or giving your fight-or-flight reflexes a little boost.
The art team doesn't hesitate to try and scare you with gore, either. The scene I mentioned earlier where you see portions of a medical procedure being performed on yourself is interspersed with hallucinations of zombie doctors tearing out your insides, with gouts of blood flying in every direction. At one point, you sneak up behind a couple of enemy soldiers trying to decipher a huge section of wall that is covered with random words, symbols, and obscenities — all painted with blood. It really does look like something drawn by a psychotic killer, such that I wondered if they contracted the design from a local loony bin. (And presumably, your character feels no cognitive dissonance from gunning down those soldiers, which itself is kind of surreal.) Bloodstains are used liberally, as are all manner of brutal killings. This is definitely not a game for kids or people who faint at the sight of blood. Even aside from the violence and gore, the other artwork is also well done. The attention to detail is refreshing; rooms and objects are correctly proportioned to a greater extent than most shooters. A malfunctioning X-ray machine with throw a series of disjointed X-ray photographs onto a nearby computer monitor. You'll even see T.P.S. reports scattered about an office desk. Everything looks like a real environment, not just an approximation pasted onto an abstract level design.
One of the signature gameplay elements of F.E.A.R. 2 is "reflex time," an ability carried over from the first game. Press a button and, for a short duration, time slows down, giving you a massive advantage over your opponents in a fight. The intention is to make the player feel like an action hero, able to dodge and aim with supernatural speed, and it works. It also makes most fights very easy; I'd recommend going through the game on Normal if it's your first FPS, and on Hard if you have any significant experience. The weapons are another area where F.E.A.R. 2 sets itself apart. There really aren't any bad weapons. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but you won't spend much time wishing you had a different gun. Even the basic pistol and your melee attack are powerful enough to be interesting. There are definitely some weapons that are more fun, like the missile launcher, the napalm gun, and the laser, but in the end you just wind up switching weapons fairly often as ammo runs out, which does a lot to keep the fights from getting boring.
Another instrument they use to keep the fights interesting is the AI, which, as with the first game, is better than average. Enemies are constantly shifting position, finding new cover, and ducking out from behind an obstacle to shoot at you. It forces you to remain active; camping out behind a barrel will get you killed as enemies advance on you. That's not to say it's without flaws; sometimes a soldier will decide to crawl underneath some hanging metal — a very slow maneuver — while you stand five feet away holding a machine gun. The effectiveness of the AI also varies depending on the type of enemy you fight. There are quite a few different kinds, but you wind up fighting the standard soldiers a disproportionate amount of the time, and they handle the AI better than any others. Other enemies tend to be used for dramatic effect. You'll encounter zombie-like creatures that scuttle quickly on all fours, though they are much less scary when you can slow down time. Another type is almost invisible until they attack hand-to-hand. One of the tougher creatures reanimates dead soldiers, and then finds something to hide behind. They take quite a bit of firepower to kill, so you can expect to deal with the revived grunts repeatedly.
Scattered throughout the game are a few situations where you interact with the environment, and a few QTEs. Both are underutilized to the point where they don't really add anything to the gameplay. The QTEs just involve hammering on a button until you win; it's very simple and doesn't really require any effort or brainpower. Granted, most QTEs are added as a way to keep the player connected to a few mini-cutscenes, but the end result isn't very satisfying. The times when you interact with objects are also very shallow; hold down a single button to move an obstacle out of the way, or to close a valve, or to open a set of elevator doors. The added seconds don't really have any affect on what happens to you, so why take the extra time when you can open a regular door with a single click? I'm going to lump the new part of the cover system in with this as well. You can now flip over tables and crouch behind them to shield yourself from enemy fire. It's neat, but there's really no advantage to doing that instead of hiding behind a crate or the corner of a wall. Existing cover is plentiful.
F.E.A.R. 2 infrequently offers a few different ways of fighting. The vast majority of the time, you're on foot holding a weapon of some sort, but you occasionally get to control a turret or a mech. Turrets are very much an upgrade in firepower. Far more enemies swarm than you could normally handle, but the turret cuts them down with ease. Controlling the turret is very easy; some games put silly restrictions like very slow rotation or poor accuracy, but F.E.A.R. 2 gets it right. It's quite fun, and my only complaint is that there aren't more opportunities to use them. The mechs, or "Powered Armor" units are even more powerful, but still very fun and easy to control. You get a couple of mini-guns and a set of rocket launchers, as well as a thermal imaging mode (think Predator). Aside from those two scenarios, there aren't a lot of variations in gameplay. At one point, you're riding on a speeding tram, but you're just walking around on top of it while enemies come to you. There isn't much scenery, and you wouldn't have much time to watch it anyway. The sequence is still fun, but it doesn't hold a candle to similar situations in, say, Gears of War 2.
The game's multiplayer falls into the same trap as the early single-player campaign. It's good, it's fun, and it's interesting, but there's nothing to set it apart from the multiplayer mode of half a dozen other good, fun, interesting shooters. The horror aspect is, of course, completely gone, and the signature time-slowing ability doesn't work because it'd be impossible to code. It has all the standard FPS modes of play (deathmatch, team deathmatch, CTF), and a few other team games that focus on controlling particular points of the map. Armored Front has five such points aligned in a linear manner such that only one is in conflict at a time. You either push the enemy back through successive points or get pushed back yourself. You can use turrets andmechs as well. As I mentioned earlier, all the weapons are relatively powerful in F.E.A.R. 2, and this becomes quite evident in multiplayer games. Players die very quickly without studious use of cover. It may be the case that all the weapons are tuned to be more powerful than they should be. The fights aren't always decided by the first shot, but it happens often enough to be a problem. The maps themselves are, for the most part, very good. There are perhaps a few too many intersections, and a few to many directions you need to watch for enemies, but otherwise they flow quite nicely.
F.E.A.R. 2 is an entertaining game. It's almost exactly what you'd expect out of a triple-A first-person shooter — no more, no less. If you're looking for a quality game and have no problem putting yourself in a state of mind to be creeped out, it will do the job nicely. If you're looking for a title that will push the boundaries of the genre, you're probably better off waiting for another game. There are some great parts to F.E.A.R. 2, and Monolith deserves a lot of credit for making them work as well as they did. This game had the misfortune of coming out after a wave of other, equally compelling titles. It doesn't fall behind, but it doesn't really stand out, either. The bottom line is that if you enjoy horror and first-person shooters, you'll enjoy this game. If your tastes run elsewhere.. well, there's plenty more to pick from.