After two unofficial expansions from TimeGate Studios, developer Monolith Productions returns to the series they made famous with F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.
F.E.A.R. 2 ignores the two TimeGate expansions, instead picking up more or less exactly where F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon left off, with the creepy psychic entity known as Alma understandably angry after a gigantic explosion failed to destroy her at the end of the first game. Players take control of one Michael Becket, a Delta Force military operative that Alma takes a rather special sort of interest in.
The original F.E.A.R. was lauded for blending together elements of psychological horror with first-person shooter gameplay, creating a game with a pleasantly different vibe than most other shooters on the market. Does the second game maintain the delicate balance?
Exploring The Story: A bit more straightforward than the original game, F.E.A.R. 2 can be as shallow or as deep as you want it to be. Players can run and gun their way through the title on their way towards a relatively confusing ending, or they can take their time, collecting data strewn throughout the levels in the form of email logs, office communications, or even letters to a school principle in order to understand what's truly going on. The ending was a bit abrupt, but definitely something you'll want to experience late at night with the lights out and the sound up.
Fear Itself: F.E.A.R. 2 is almost two games in one. On one hand, you have a relatively vanilla first-person shooter. On the other, a psychological horror adventure rife with terrifying images and twisted creatures, rattling about in the darkness. Staying true to its name, the game excels at creating a frightening atmosphere, weaving sound and imagery together with such expertise that by the end of the game you'll start seeing things out of the corner of your eye that aren't really there.
A World Gone Mad: While F.E.A.R. 2 certainly has more than its fair share of darkened corridors, several of the game's environments truly stand out amongst the title's peers, particularly the section set in the ruins of an elementary school, where bright, colorful pictures and children's furniture provides a macabre counterbalance to the horrific visions plaguing the main character throughout the story.
Supporting Cast: Unlike many hybrid horror titles on the market, Monolith has actually managed to instill a great deal of personality to the characters in F.E.A.R. 2, giving them a kind of life that you're actually a little sad to see slip away during the game's more tragic moments. Despite the odd cliché that seems to work its way into any game containing a military squad, the dialog can actually be quite brilliant, thanks to some clever writing and equally clever voice over work. One particular line involving pizza and anime conventions will stay with me for the rest of my days.
Going By The Book: F.E.A.R. 2 is a capable first-person shooter, but only just that. It delivers a standard shooter experience, with all of the features we've come to expect from the genre. At one point in the history of the genre hopping into a turret or shooting enemies on a moving platform was innovative, but not anymore. It's not bad, it just doesn't distinguish itself from other shooters, outside of the odd trip around town in a giant robot or the slowing down of time - and even that last one has been used again and again. Multiplayer suffers the same way, playing well enough but only offering the bare minimum in a market filled with outstanding multiplayer experiences.
Button Mashing Boss Encounters: After spending a long series of battles being goaded, insulted, and attacked by an enemy, I'd like to spend a little bit of time killing him. What should be major battles in the game are reduced to button-mashing affairs. One "boss fight" in particular simply consisted of me hitting the B button one time. One time. I wanted blood, dammit, not a mildly sore thumb.
Giant Mech Battles: Wait, shouldn't this be a loved? While I do enjoy any chance I get to hop inside the cockpit of an enormous robot, the experience feels completely out of place in F.E.A.R. 2. In a game that places a high value on trying to instill a sense of dramatic tension, suddenly finding yourself inside a mechanized killing machine tends to take the edge off. The mech combat is definitely enjoyable, if a bit simple, but it just doesn't seem right here. Save it for SHOGO II.
While F.E.A.R. 2 excels in several areas, taken as a whole the game falls slightly flat. The game has two faces - horror and shooter - and when the two meet the game truly shines. Unfortunately the instances where humanoid enemies and monstrous ones share the same screen are few and far between, leaving you basically playing either one game or the other.
Perhaps if the two sides of F.E.A.R. 2: Project origin were better balanced the experience as whole would be much more satisfying, but as it stands, Monolith has delivered an excellent psychological horror story tucked inside a first-person shooter that merely gets the job done.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. It was released on February 11th, for $60 console, $50 PC. Played Xbox 360 version to completion on normal difficulty, and participated in several multiplayer matches via Xbox Live.
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