Review: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (Microsoft Xbox 360)

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
Genre: First-person Shooter
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
Release Date: 02/10/09


So a little over two years ago, the original F.E.A.R. (henceforth referred to as FEAR because all those periods are annoying to type) graced the Xbox 360, and the general consensus of the gaming world was that it was a good, solid game, even if the multiplayer was only novel at best and the game was about a year late to the party, so to say. At the time, parent developer Monolith had not yet announced a sequel to the game, because Vivendi still owned the FEAR license and Monolith was busy working on Condemned 2 anyway, so most folks simply took the game for what it was and left it at that. The single-player experience was suitably atmospheric, the gameplay was quite solid, and the presentation of the game was generally well done, and while the multiplayer wasn’t exactly stellar, it was fine for what it was. What with all of the weird dealings surrounding who owned the name of the game and everything associated with that, it was pretty much assumed we weren’t going to be seeing a Monolith-created sequel anytime soon, unfortunately, because most folks felt that, given the chance, Monolith could have made a sequel even BETTER with some more powerful hardware to work on.

And now, a little over two years later, we have FEAR 2: Project Origin, the official, canonical sequel to FEAR. To say that this was a heavily anticipated game is an understatement. To say that it carries on the traditions of its predecessor is an obvious but welcome assertion. To also say that it’s a good bit underwhelming, all things considered, is a sad, but mostly accurate, observation.

So in this chapter of the FEAR saga, you play as Michael Becket (AKA “Bucket”), a member of Delta Force and unfortunate buttboy of the universe, as it were. Your squad is called into action to liberate Armacham president Genevieve Aristide from her penthouse and take her into custody, presumably to question her on her role in the events of the first game. As this game starts up about twenty minutes prior to the end of the first game, your attempt at liberating Genevieve goes somewhat awry when, well, something blows up rather spectacularly (fans of the first game will know what’s going on there). Needless to say, you wake up in a hospital some several hours later alone, unarmed, massively outgunned, and oh yes, with a pissed-off ghost chasing you down. The events of FEAR 2 are essentially meant to continue the events of the first game from a different perspective while also keeping said events in mind as the experience goes, which mostly works as well as you’d expect. Taken as its own storyline, FEAR 2 is reasonably solid, all in all, and the narrative certainly isn’t bad, even if it is mostly text-based; while many of the scenes in the game are dialogue-driven, all of the documents you’ll find that fill in the gaps of the story are text-only, and while they fill in a lot of details and mostly help the player understand the game better, one can’t help but think of Bioshock and Doom 3 and how they offered the player these same sorts of nuggets of storyline, only with voice acting instead of pure text. Taken as a sequel, however, FEAR 2 doesn’t really answer many of the questions the first game asked, and leaves a whole bunch of questions unanswered as well, which is generally not a good thing for a sequel to do. Further, this game, much like the first, ALSO ends with an ambiguous “to be continued” ending, which is annoying, partly because the FIRST game did this, and the only thing that continued was Alma’s reign of terror (you never see or hear from or about any of the surviving FEAR team in this game), and partly because of ALL people, Monolith should realize the dangers involved in ending a game with a “to be continued” ending when you have no idea if you going to be able to continue said game.

Also, while the ending sequence is definitely something I can say I’ve never seen in a video game before, I don’t think I NEEDED to see it in a video game, either. I understand that the FEAR franchise takes its cues from Japanese cinema, but there’s a difference between “scary” and “weird”, and that ending? DEFINITELY the latter.

Visually, FEAR 2 alternates between being visually impressive and technologically inept depending on the circumstances and the level of lighting. The character models and level designs are certainly solid, and most of the special effects are quite nice all in all, though there are some occasional lighting problems in some sections of the game. The game still suffers from glitchy death syndrome (IE where someone will die, clip into the wall, and begin to shake violently forever), however, and there are very odd textures in some locations that just seem lazy in a “players will never look at this” sort of way (two instances of which can be seen in the demo, oddly enough; the wheels on rolling carts look like they were hand drawn, and the wheels on the bus in the broken down city level are octagon shaped). This, unfortunately, does not help the game very much. Aurally, on the other hand, FEAR 2 shines. The voice acting is all spot-on and each actor/actress takes their assigned part and brings it to life beautifully. The music is either ambient and creepy or driving and exhilarating when it needs to be, transitions neatly when needed, and in general is very well done. The sound effects are powerful and appropriately convey the destruction and death they are associated with. While the visuals might not sell the experience as well as they should, the audio sells the product fantastically, so all in all, the presentation is pretty good.

FEAR 2 plays like you’d expect it to, mostly… which is to say, it plays like most FPS titles, ever, though it does have a couple of surprises built in. The left stock moves, the right stick aims, the right trigger shoots, the left trigger aims, the right trigger tosses grenades (or “cooks” them if you hold it, allowing you to throw them closer to when they will detonate), the A button jumps, the B button performs melee attacks (three types, depending on context) and the X button interacts with the environment and reloads your gun as needed. All of the above is pretty much old hat to FPS fans, if not by layout, then by existence, so anyone who’s played an FPS ever should be able to jump in and play immediately. The game also allows you to switch weapons as needed, either by pressing the left bumper to flip between your present and last equipped weapon, HOLDING the left bumper to switch between weapons and grenades (you can carry up to four of each), or by pressing left or right on the D-pad to cycle your weapons. The game also provides you a flashlight, which is accessible by pressing up on the D-pad, to see in dark spaces (which are frequent) and medpacks, which are accessible by pressing down on the D-pad (and are also used automatically when your health bottoms out), of which you may carry three at a time to keep yourself in the fight as needed.

FEAR 2 also features its own unique twists, of course, to help it stand apart from the pack. The most notable feature the game offers is Slow-Mo, which, as we’ve noted before, is essentially Bullet Time: by pressing the button, the game world slows to a crawl, allowing you to carefully choose shots and more readily avoid incoming fire. Much like in the first game, the gimmick works well enough, though for different reasons; in the first game, Slo-Mo was vital because enemies would often camp out choke points and properly taking them out often relied on the gimmick, while in this game, there are often floods of foes, and properly taking on multiple enemies in a pitched firefight requires the breathing room the gimmick offers. FEAR 2 also allows players to tip over and shove around environmental objects to make cover, and while the cover mechanic isn’t as advanced as it is in, say, Gears of War 2, it works well enough to keep you alive. The weapon variety is also a little more diverse and interesting than it was in the prior game as well; aside from the standard weapons one would expect from these sorts of games (pistol, various machine guns and shotguns, sniper rifle, etc), there are also a few energy weapons, a Napalm Cannon, and a couple of interesting specialty grenades to play around with, offering you new and more interesting ways to kill things. The game also features a couple of additional mission types to fool around with as you progress, where you will either take control of the turret on your APC to frag foes or a gigantic mechanized combat suit to frag everything in sight. Of the two, the mech suit sections are significantly more enjoyable than the turret sections, but both types of missions offer their own charms and are amusing enough for what they are.

You’ll also find yourself confronting more than just the expected goons with guns that the first game was stuffed with. The clone soldiers from the first game make their return, of course, and there’s also an opposing faction of regular troops to contend with, but aside from them, there are also enemies of a more supernatural bent to contend with this time around. From angry, violent specters to insane genetic mutants to weird monstrosities who tether the dead with energized puppet strings, the game makes good use of its bizarre concept to innovate its enemy types, and the results are mostly interesting and fitting to the concept. There are fourteen stages to kill these abominations through, and a couple of difficulty modes to do so in, so for those of you who love your single player campaigns, you’ll have a lot to tear into.

FEAR 2 also includes a reasonably functional multiplayer component for those who enjoy online fragging. The game offers LAN and online multiplayer across various mission types, including Blitz (Capture the Flag), Control (King of the Hill), Armored Front (Control with mech suits), Deathmatch, Team DM and Failsafe (one team plants bombs, the other diffuses them) available. You’re allowed a maximum of sixteen players in matches, and online play features the standard Ranked and Player match options, depending on whether you want to rank up or goof around. Once you’ve chosen a game mode, you’re allowed to customize your loadout as you see fit, so long as you don’t exceed your point count. You’re allowed points to spend on various pieces of gear, each of which costs a different amount, meaning you can load your character as you see fit WITHIN REASON, so you can pick, say, an automatic rifle and body armor, or a shotgun, a grenade, and a pistol, or whatever. Weapons picked up in the combat maps don’t violate this total, of course, but you won’t respawn with said weaponry either, so it kind of balances out. The idea here is to forcibly balance players from the start while still offering them options, meaning that they’ll be able to customize their loadout as they see fit, but they’ll still be playing by the same rules as everyone else, and as concepts for online play go, it isn’t bad.

Unfortunately, FEAR 2 just isn’t as exciting as its predecessor, no matter how many new single and multiplayer concepts are crammed into it. Part of this stems from the fact that a lot of the things that FEAR 2 does to spook the player have already been done in the last three horror FPS titles Monolith has released, which is unavoidable, but needs to be mentioned; one can only keep making the lights flicker so many times before it becomes passé. The fact that Monolith’s answer to “how do we make the game more unsettling?” seems to amount to making people explode in columns of blood, nuking an entire city and making the player fight through it, and having the player confront a naked dead girl who may or may not be in love with you? This thing does not really help the experience any. Further, while the normal troopers are perfectly fine enemies to have to deal with, as they were before, the new enemies are often annoying in comparison, with the marionette enemy mentioned above being the worst; takes thirty or forty shots to kill, runs away constantly, flash-blinds you at close-range, and summons dead minions to shoot you while you chase him? No, thank you.

FEAR 2 is also executed differently from its predecessor, and this is often not to the game’s benefit. FEAR worked as well as it did because the design was fairly unsettling in a dark and claustrophobic way, and the sound of enemy radio chatter often gave the player goosebumps in anticipation of another hectic, pitched firefight. FEAR 2 often avoids this thing entirely, either by forcing the player to confront said bizarre enemies, by forcing the player to fight in open areas that aren’t terribly atmospheric, or in most cases, by sending ten guys to screw with the player, none of which is terribly frightening. This is a problem because it forces the player to consider the game not on its atmospheric merits, but on its GAMEPLAY elements, and unfortunately, the gameplay here isn’t strong enough to hold the experience together. For one, your character feels a little sluggish when moving around, and whether this is due to the game or the system, the end result leaves the player struggling with the controls at certain times. For another, the gunplay isn’t terribly exciting; while there’s a wide variety of guns to choose from, many aren’t particularly exciting or useful, leaving the player to rely on the same handful of guns with a few changes across the stages as needed (IE you need a sniper rifle for one section, a missile launcher for another, and so on), which is kind of boring. If the atmosphere were stronger, this would be less noticeable, but it isn’t, so that doesn’t work. The AI also isn’t terribly strong here either; while enemies will still attempt to trap you and pin you down, they don’t always respond well to grenades, and will tip over cover they never intend to use on more than a few occasions. Many enemies will also just charge you without considering that you’re more than likely to shred them to pieces, and while that makes sense for heavy, well-armored enemies with large guns, this makes significantly less sense for the poorly armored grunts you spend most of the game facing down, which makes their insistence upon doing so all the stranger.

The worst thing, though, is that the game just isn’t very interesting in most respects. Players looking for a good horror-themed FPS will have seen all of the tricks on display here in any one of a number of other games, several of which have been published by this same developer, meaning that fans and those receptive to such a product will find this to fall flat. Players who AREN’T looking for a horror-themed FPS might find a scare or three here, but odds are good they won’t even look at the game in the first place. It also doesn’t help that the multiplayer, while not bad, doesn’t really add much to the experience, and while the loadout gimmick is interesting, it isn’t enough to make the component better than any one of a hundred other online-capable FPS titles on the system at this point.

Ultimately, FEAR 2 is less bad and more disappointing; while Condemned 2 was a MASSIVE improvement in nearly all respects when compared to its predecessor, this… isn’t. It’s not BAD, certainly; you can play it and have plenty of fun with it for what it is, the visuals are serviceable, the audio is fantastic, and the game is entertaining enough to keep you interested for a while, at least. There are some fun sections in the game, the ending is worth seeing at least once if only for the WTF-level response you’re going to have, and the multiplayer is enjoyable to a point. The game doesn’t really do anything you haven’t seen before, unfortunately, and this combined with odd visual problems, odd AI, and a story that doesn’t work as well as it should for a number of reasons makes the single player campaign less than it should have been. Further coupling this with a multiplayer component that, while enjoyable, ALSO isn’t anything special, makes the game hard to recommend, frankly. FEAR 2 is worth a look if you’re a fan or if you’re itching for a solid FPS to pass the time, but it’s just not strong enough to be a “must-have” title, unfortunately.

The Scores:
Story: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
FEAR 2 is essentially FEAR with a little more content and a lot more of naked Alma harassing you, and while that was fine two years ago, now? Not so much. It looks fine, sounds great, plays fine, and is generally able to hold your interest about as well as one might expect as a single-player game, and there are enough multiplayer options and modes to keep you interested for some time. However, the game doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, the story isn’t executed particularly well, there are odd gameplay and AI flaws that diminish the product a bit, and the game just feels like more of the same in most respects.FEAR 2 is certainly worth checking out, as it’s still good enough to be worth playing through if you’re interested, but it’s hard to recommend the game as a must-have title simply because if you ARE a fan of the genre, you’ll have played better games than this, and if you’re NOT a fan, it’s hard to imagine this is going to capture your interest when other, better games have failed.

3 Comments
  1. Mark B.

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