A great American president once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Now let’s amend FDR’s famous quote for the 21st century. “The only thing we have to fear is F.E.A.R. itself.”
Monolith Productions’ F.E.A.R., or First Encounter Assault Recon, burst onto the gaming scene in 2005 and made waves with its intense gameplay and groundbreaking visuals. After numerous expansions, ports, and spin-offs, the true sequel is finally here. Let’s get right to it: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin plays better than its predecessor, but standards have changed drastically in the last four years. Since the original F.E.A.R. launched, we’ve played gems like Resistance: Fall of Man and Call of Duty 4. What does F.E.A.R. 2 offer that those games don’t?
Horror. Pure, unadulterated horror. F.E.A.R. 2 picks up 30 minutes before the conclusion of the first game. You’re Michael Becket, a member of a Delta Force team tasked with taking Armacham president Genevieve Aristide into protective custody. As it turns out, the mission doesn’t go according to plan (what a surprise, right?). As you approach Aristide, the psychotic and powerful Alma unleashes her wrath upon the city of Auburn, which culminates in a massive explosion that the Manhattan Project scientists could have never imagined. After waking up in an underground “hospital,” you’re left to pick up the pieces.
Be warned: F.E.A.R. 2’s tale isn’t very accessible to newcomers. Even with various Intel documents scattered liberally throughout each of the game’s 14 levels, you’ll be left in the dark most of the time – and not in the frightening way. That’s not to say you can’t still appreciate the horror aspect of the title. Although only a few of the horror “episodes” are genuinely frightening, they’re all fairly unsettling. When you’re walking along a corridor and the action drops off, you’re either walking into an ambush or it’s time for a supernatural ride. Through clever visual techniques and eerie audio effects, Monolith skillfully displays an Alma-altered reality where chaos and death reign. The issue with these events is that, as expertly crafted as they are, they inevitably become predictable. When events are foreseeable, they are significantly less frightening. And honestly, the name of the game is F.E.A.R. – it doesn’t get any clearer than that. As you saunter down an empty hallway, it becomes routine to expect some sort of paranormal occurrence. Still, if you play with the lights low and the sound high, F.E.A.R. 2 can be quite the thrill.
What’s not thrilling is how ordinary the rest of the game is. Not bad, but merely ordinary. In the end, all that matters is a game’s fun factor. If you can deal with some of F.E.A.R. 2’s outdated design decisions, you’ll undoubtedly have a blast. Here’s why you might not, however.
Some of today’s widely accepted first person shooter mechanics aren’t present in F.E.A.R. 2. Now, we don’t dislike that is it’s different – in fact, we encourage change and new ideas. But that’s just it: F.E.A.R. 2 doesn’t innovate; it falls back on last-generation play styles. Health, for example, is not rechargeable or regenerative. Instead, you can carry up to three Medpacks that you can use to recharge your health at any point. It’s not broken or overly unwieldy, it’s just unnecessary. Also, aiming and shooting are mapped to L2 and R2 respectively (rather than the generally preferred L1 and R1 combination), and controls are not customizable whatsoever. Still, the biggest problem with F.E.A.R. 2 is in the game’s actual environmental layout.
F.E.A.R. 2 is linear. Yes, most first person shooters are linear. F.E.A.R. 2, however, outdoes its competition. This is particularly evident during the game’s earlier chapters, where you’ll be driven along a single, tiny, unyielding path for what seems like eons on end. Monolith designed the environments to look like genuine places, and they are wonderfully detailed and gritty, but attentive gamers will immediately notice how restrictive the various settings really are. The explosion that occurred at the outset of the game apparently knocked debris and objects in front of or behind every potential path, except the one you’re intended to travel on, of course. When that one path is through a knocked-out pane of glass that’s hardly distinguishable from the filled-in panes, and you spend five minutes scouring a single room for that exit, F.E.A.R. 2’s initially irritating linearity becomes infuriating. It’s understandable that enclosed areas seem more frightening than wide-open locales, but proper gameplay trumps a few frights any day.
At the sixth stage, you finally get to experience the somewhat less cluttered exteriors for the first time. Even though you’re essentially taken from tiny corridors and placed on tiny streets, these larger areas are still more enjoyable to navigate, as firefights become more diverse. Out in the open (well, as “open” as F.E.A.R. 2 gets), enemies have greater opportunity to display their advanced artificial intelligence. They’ll duck behind cover, lob grenades to flush you out, and try to flank you when appropriate.
You’re not left without a proper arsenal to defend yourself, however. There’s a fairly standard variety of guns available to dispatch regular foes, including shotguns, automatic weapons, a sniper rifle, and a pistol. Then there are larger, more situation-specific weapons like the rocket launcher and a laser-like beam, among others. Paired with this quality weapon set, the game’s “SloMo” mechanic makes tearing through most baddies a cinch, and can serve to get you out of some otherwise tight spots. Four years since the original game, it’s still supremely satisfying to slow down time, take aim, and unleash hell upon all who stand against you.
It’s not with the standard weapons that you can really let loose, however. When you come across an EPA (Elite Powered Armor), it’s time for your foes to cower in their boots. When you enter one of these mech suits, your options — guns or missles — are actually pretty limited, but the simplicity works well here. When the roles are reversed and you’re facing an enemy utilizing an EPA, then you have to think creatively and act quickly to take it down. These encounters are always exciting.
Still, nothing is more exciting than playing against other real people, and that’s evident in F.E.A.R. 2’s surprisingly strong online multiplayer component. Just looking at the hard numbers, 16 players can play one of four unique modes (plus deathmatch and team deathmatch) on one of nine multiplayer maps. The best mode of the bunch is definitely Armored Front. Two teams struggle to obtain five layered control points. To win, a team must obtain all control points, or hold a majority of them when the time runs out. This may sound a lot like a mode in Call of Duty: World at War, but were there EPAs in World War II? Nope. The one issue with online play is that the game utilizes GameSpy’s servers for multiplayer matches. The games themselves seem to run just fine, but getting into a match consistently took three or four failed tries prior to a successful attempt.
So, you now know how F.E.A.R. 2 plays, but how does it look? Not as good as, say, Killzone 2, but still impressive nonetheless. Environments, as mentioned earlier, are incredibly detailed and dilapidated, character models are well rendered, lighting is dynamic, and motion blur and other effects are used well. F.E.A.R. 2’s visuals effectively convey an appropriately frightening atmosphere and tone.
In the end, that’s what F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is all about: fear. It’s meant to scare the living daylights out of you. The game is definitely decent, but without the somewhat successful horror element, it would just be horrible. As it stands though, F.E.A.R. 2 is a rollercoaster ride through a slew of carnage and chaos. It has a few loose nuts and bolts, but the final experience is undoubtedly enjoyable. Flip off the lights and buckle up, because it’s going to be one bumpy ride.