When FEAR launched on Xbox 360 several years ago, it was met with mixed reactions as it basked in the shadow of its PC older brother. Then the subsequent FEAR Files was released as a separate entity for the series, which shared the game’s namesake, but offered a series of side missions not truly relating to the main story. The story of course being what had captivated the shooter audiences. FEAR offered, an eclectic mixture of fast paced shooting, skulking around in the shadows, and an element of bullet time that would make good old Neo of the Matrix rather proud. It all seamlessly gelled together to make for a highly engaging entertainment experience. With some issues over the rights of the name, and a subsequent turn around for the game’s title Project Origin was born. Although as we all know, that moniker changed and became the fully fledged FEAR 2: Project Origin. It was kind of confusing, but Monolith’s horror shooter found its way home and is now firmly placed where it belongs.
The game continues the story from the original, which ended on a cliffhanger and left a lot of unanswered questions. After battling various mind controlled super soldiers, frenetic apparitions and a semi-naked jail-bait leading villain, gamers were left perplexed and gagging for a little more closure. Well I certainly was, especially after the incident in the facility which lead to the rather massive town leveling explosion. Her name is Alma, and she’s somewhat had a tough time of things being a conduit for experimental technologies and megalomaniac desires. She’s the girl with the ‘Emo’ looking hair style and those piercing eyes that tell a thousand tales of misery and debauchery. In a nutshell, she’s back, because the ending of FEAR (and sorry for the spoilers here) she was very much alive and kicking. To the point where she was able to attack a helicopter and cause it, and your character to crash. I described the original game as Condemned on crack (Condemned being Monolith’s other first person action game), of which I still firmly believe it’s a fitting description. However, having seen and done the spooky corridors, slow motion combat, and those funky melee attacks before, how well does FEAR 2 hold up some years later when perhaps the exploits of the original are far from forgotten?
Make no mistake, FEAR 2 is pretty much identical to its predecessor, albeit with a new set of dandy looking threads. The core gameplay remains the same in that you’ll go from point A to B with little deviation. A mechanic to emphasize the story and get the player deeper into the realm of the game’s chilling villain. You’ll be presented with a similar feeling of claustrophobia, although this time round, there are some more open areas, (and I say ‘open’ in the loosest sense) to break up what is essentially an old school shooter type game. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, because for the most part, it seems that Monolith have streamlined the level design to suit a more casual audience. I distinctively recall the levels in FEAR to have multiple pathways, which complimented the game’s impressive AI routines, but also induced some moments where you could get lost. Although this was in part due to the fact that the levels were very ‘samey’ by design. FEAR 2 changes this aspect and I think for shooter fans looking to be drawn into the combat as opposed to navigating corridor like levels, it works in its favour. However, those of you after something more taxing might be left a little underwhelmed.
Armed with an assortment of real world weapons, such as the usual suspects, including Assault Rifles, Sub-Machine guns, Shotguns, Pistols, Sniper Rifles, Missile Launchers etc. etc. Then some more intricate fantasy weapons, and a whole arsenal of grenades and mines. You are thrust once more into the fray, but this time you’re teamed with a more cohesive unit, rather than the almost solitary team you had in the original. This time the story seems to be more fleshed out as opposed to you tracking down one individual, and what starts off as a seemingly routine personnel retrieval mission, soon turns into a hot bed of flying debris, piercing bullets, explosions and a bloody mess. Thank god, you’re not in control of the cleaner, as you could spend 12 hours of gameplay simply mopping up the mess left by your gun toting secondary characters.
FEAR 2 introduces some minor gameplay tweaks in that you’re able to interact a little more with the environment, although shuffling a table or chair to form makeshift cover might look good, it certainly isn’t something that has been well thought out. Sorry guys, I was left feeling it was more a tacked on feature as opposed to a tactical gameplay mechanic. There’s enough cover in the game, regardless of the player needing to do their own version of ‘house makeover’. There are also some mech sections which frankly are quite forgettable, although I did like the thermal vision mode. Luckily, you’re given the choice to progress on foot or use the not so subtle machines. There were only two moments where these featured and so thankfully you’ll pass them by quickly and efficiently. I think their inclusion was merely to spice up the basic game, but seemed once again to be a contrived addition for the sake of being different to what’s expected.
Gunfights are typically fast and furious affairs, which only lessened in pace when playing on the Hard difficulty setting. Which for most gamers, isn’t going to be their first port of call. As with the original, the bullet time powers totally re-arrange the play style and make for entertaining, but rather simplistic face-offs. The AI is once again of a very high standard, as they take cover, lob grenades and generally work as a team to bring you down. However, as mentioned already, the rather linear level design, does not do them any favours, as rarely (if at all) would you be getting flanked from behind. This made the combat feel a little contrived and I kind of missed having to keep tabs on my rear as opposed to constantly pushing forwards for my next encounter.
The return of the game’s surreal imagery and solitary moments are here in full effect, and once again show off some impressive imaginations at Monolith. However, ‘spooky’ does not really describe the experience (unless you’re underage and shouldn’t be playing the game) as these moments are more akin to being annoying than anything else. I felt they nailed the jump out moments in the first game, but this time it was just over-familiar turf that lacked substance. Impressive, yes, pant wettingly frightening, not.
The game’s graphics have been vastly improved and offer a far more recognizable playing field. The penthouse suite, The hospital, the elementary school and the city streets being the main stand out moments. It seems Monolith listened to criticisms leveled at the first game, and made sure that each area has enough diversity to remain interesting throughout. So, I can’t really fault the game’s graphics in this respect. There’s a return of some impressive lighting and shadow effects, and the enemy design seems fitting enough considering the game’s content. Beyond this I can’t find any true faults bar the fact that there are some lower resolution textures, and the odd glitches here and there – although nothing to lose any sleep over. I’m not sure if it was just me, but I felt the bullet impacts had been toned down. I remembered the first game offering a little more collateral damage than what’s on offer here.
The sound is actually of a very high standard, with some well-rounded performances from the voice over cast. The radio chatter in particular has been devilishly crafted and compliments those all out action sequences. I loved hearing the enemies discuss tactics momentarily, only to be blown into smithereens in an instant. There’s some clever use of situational audio cues that draw you into the game world that little more readily. I wish more games would use similar features.
The music is pretty nondescript, neither imposing or memorable. In fact, something that is probably better turned right down or off entirely. I guess it’s personal taste as to whether you enjoy having a driving soundtrack during the more intense moments.
The game offers a reasonably lengthy campaign for the first play, although with distractions such as intel and reflex injections to scavenge for, you could increase the game length by a reasonable amount if you’re a completionist. For those gamers who just run and gun with gay abandon, you’ll probably need to up the ante on a subsequent play to get your just deserts. You can replay completed levels – and I admit that there are some well worth revisiting, but generally expect around 6-8 hours of solid play. As with the first game, there’s the addition of a multiplayer mode, (and sadly no challenge missions) which should offer some longevity beyond the story. However, having played some games, the multiplayer seems to be a by numbers experience with nothing truly outstanding to make it a permanent fixture on your online playing. It’s welcome to have it, by all means, but just not something that is going to appeal to the masses when frankly there are better online experiences available.
For Achievement hunters, there’s a reasonable amount of stuff to grab, but the reality is the multiplayer is where you’re going to have to spend the bulk of your time if you want to grab them all.
FEAR 2 is a welcome addition to the series, is an enjoyable single player experience and well worth the price of entry. It’s well polished and has some quirks that help provide a lasting impression. Naked girls, weird but humorous enemy banter aside, you’ll find FEAR 2 to be a game that is quite accessible, not very spooky, and somewhat limited in its design. If you were a fan of the original, then I see no reason for you to duck out of the experience, as it fills in some blanks, and provides that oh-so familiar formula that worked so well in the original. A lackluster multiplayer doesn’t help the game, but certainly adds something different to sink your teeth into once you’ve bested the story. I’ve enjoyed playing the game, and on technical level am left somewhat enthralled and impressed to a degree. But with so many shooters available now, I question whether FEAR 2 has the staying power, and for shooter hungry gamers always looking for the next fix, whether they’ll remember the experience and what it offered in years to come. In this regard FEAR 2 is more no-nonsense than epic or inspiring. I would recommend a purchase of the game if you’re into shooters and like wandering around surreal but familiar looking levels. For those of you with more defined tastes, then perhaps you’ll not be taken in by Alma and her entourage, so I would recommend a rental.