Review

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Review (PS3)

If you take a moment to briefly examine Hollywood’s recent record making horror movies, most have been inferior remakes of successful Japanese horror flicks like Ju-On: The Grudge, Ringu and Dark Water or vomit-inducing torture porn like Hostel and Saw. What’s remarkable about FEAR 2 is that it’s not only a highly effective horror game, but it does a far better job of providing scares than any of the piss poor Hollywood horror movies we’ve been subjected to in recent years. It’s not only refreshing to play a game with an intelligent – if slightly muddled – story, it’s also a sign that videogames have come of age as a storytelling medium.

FEAR 2’s single player campaign begins just before the original FEAR’s devastating epilogue, so you get to see the huge mushroom cloud once again but from the perspective of Sergeant Michael Becket, FEAR 2’s protagonist. Sent in to investigate the paranormal events of FEAR, Becket begins fighting Armacham soldiers before bumping into Genevieve Aristide and initiating his own descent into terrifying supernatural territory. Mere moments after your first encounter with FEAR 2’s bizarre happenings, you begin to see Alma who has taken on an alternative, more mature form and isn’t afraid to get right up in your face. Her behaviour towards you is completely unpredictable with her agenda remaining ambiguous for the duration of the game. Is she protecting you, leading you into danger or does she possess some other mysterious plan for you? Either way, from the very beginning, right up until the game’s final moment, FEAR 2 is a compelling ride that refuses to let up for a single moment.


FEAR 2's ability to take a familiar, innocuous setting like an infant's school and transform it into something darkly sinister is to be applauded
'Aaargh!!' These escaped test subjects can climb walls enabling them to strike from anywhere

You’ll find yourself tentatively walking down a claustrophobic corridor as the lights flicker leaving you in intermittent darkness, throwing shadows on mutilated corpses and pools of blood. And you’ll find yourself playing apprehensively, slowly edging forward because you don’t know what to expect around the next corner. What’s great about FEAR 2 is that you’re never sure what will be thrown at you next. The level design is a lively spook house of shocks and scares, your encounters with Alma getting progressively more disturbing and uncomfortably intimate.

Gunfights are always exciting and dynamic with bullets pinging off objects left, right and centre. Tables, vending machines and gurneys can be flipped, providing impromptu cover for you to cower behind when things get a little too heated. Luckily, FEAR 2’s weaponry ensures that you’re always well equipped to take on whatever comes your way. Ammo pick ups are perfectly placed so that even when you think you’re about to run out of bullets, there’s a strategically placed clip or loaded weapon. Same goes for armour and first aid kits that can be administered by pressing down on the D-pad whenever you find yourself on your last legs.

Your inventory has four slots for any combination of weapons, so choosing a weapon set to suit the way you play is crucial. You’ll quickly warm to your favourite weapon of choice and pray that you’ll stumble upon more ammunition for your baby. We couldn’t get enough of the sturdy assault rifle, but ammo for it was too scarce. The same was true for the brilliantly entertaining Hammerhead rifle which fires plutonium tipped nails that pin enemies to the wall - we just couldn’t find enough ammo to keep hold of it for more than a few minutes.


Enemy AI is even sharper than it was in the first FEAR, and that game was no slouch
The Hammerhead rifle in action. Nailing enemies to the wall never gets old

At certain junctures (two to be exact), you’re given the chance to pilot an EPA mech, which turns the tables massively in your favour. Contrary to worries that these sections would dispel the atmosphere, the EPA is actually massive fun with it’s missile launchers and high-powered miniguns turning enemy mechs into scrap and causing hapless Armacham soldiers to explode like jam-filled bags. Additionally these moments are short and sweet with the feeling of invincibility a welcome change of pace at exactly the time it’s required. This sense of pace is something that extends to the game’s entire structure with set pieces distributed throughout the narrative to pitch-perfection.

FEAR 2 also does a fantastic job of making sure that you feel deeply involved in the whole experience by not only providing a fantastically intuitive control system that allows you to switch weapons with ease, but by also making Becket’s limbs visible whenever he performs certain actions. It’s not quite Faith in Mirror’s Edge, but jumping and fly kicking through a window is still a hugely welcome dose of physicality to the FPS action that we’re used to. And we’ll be damned if it isn’t masses of fun to hit the slo-mo button, run towards an enemy firing off a few rounds before leaping into the air to finish the job with a boot to the face. Becket can also sprint and slide into cover if you hit the melee button – we’d like to see more of this kind of versatility in more shooters please.

The melee combat isn’t the only thing to make the transition from FEAR to the sequel. There’s a healthy amount of constant gore and viscera drenching FEAR 2’s environments, reinforcing the inescapable feeling that something truly terrifying lies in wait just ahead. Decapitated Armacham troops or eviscerated skeletal remains glistening with caked-on blood are a common sight as you trudge through FEAR 2’s hospitals, schools and ostensibly deserted office cubicles. This time the confined spaces of FEAR are portioned out in manageable stretches so that you’re stifled for just the right amount of time before being rewarded with a nice open expanse in which to run wild. Although the majority of Project Origin’s outdoor environments are a result of the fallout from the awesome explosion seen at the end of the first FEAR they are as equally troubling as any of the enclosed spaces you’ll navigate.

Ashes gently swirl in the air as you climb through the rubble-strewn streets, burnt out cars line the kerb as you weave between destroyed buildings gutted by the blast. The palette may consist mainly of varying shades of brown and grey, but there’re enough splashes of ethereal orange in the apocalyptic skies and perpetual flames in addition to cold blues, saturated reds and greens dotted in just the right places to make FEAR 2 simultaneously bleak and ominous without being drab and characterless. FEAR 2’s sound design is also worthy of special mention – never has the sound of a can being accidentally kicked across the floor instilled so much terror – the music too is a master class in making less into so much more.


Lighting is excellent throughout and the spot effects – sparks, electricity etc. – all look stunning
Towards the end of the game these quick enemies appear in stealth camoflauge forcing you to change your tactics to survive

Make no mistake, FEAR 2 is a highly polished game and while it may not possess the minute graphical detail inherent in Killzone 2 – FEAR 2’s main FPS contender due out in the same month – Monolith’s game is positively dripping with atmosphere. More importantly though, FEAR 2 is the most fun you’ll have had playing a single-player FPS in a long time. The controls are tight, the visuals are crisp, stylish and bold and above all else, playing the game is always surprising. There are always flaws however and FEAR 2 is no exception. While the dialogue is spare and efficient, there are still some fairly clunky lines and the multiplayer is solid if slightly unspectacular stuff. Multiplayer is still eminently playable though and will outlast the single-player mode once you’ve raced through the epic storyline.

FEAR 2 is not only a vast improvement over its predecessor; it’s an enormously superior first-person shooter, full-stop. Monolith have refined all of the elements that made FEAR such a great game to begin with, learning from their mistakes and building upon the formula to create the finest horror FPS we’ve ever played.


Top game moment: Clambering into an EPA seems like an obvious choice, so instead we’ll say that the top moments are the ones where something entirely unexpected happens. We won’t spoil the surprise by detailing them here.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 23, 2009
herodotus
"FEAR 2 is not only a vast improvement over its predecessor...". I don't agree there. As a console game it might be great, but as a PC sequel it suffers badly from being multi-platform. I'd give it a 6/10.
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Mar 23, 2009
Richie82
That may be the case, but the version reviewed was for Xbox 360. As far as FEAR and FEAR 2 on the 360 are concerned, FEAR 2 is the better game by far. I can't really comment on the PC versions, because I haven't played them.