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

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F.E.A.R. 2 Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Monolith Productions

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 2.4 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, Video card comparable to an NVIDIA 6800 or ATI X700, 12 GB HD space

This is one of those rare moments where a game's sequel is better than the original. The first F.E.A.R. garnered mostly positive reviews, with the expansion packs almost universally getting kicked to the curb. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin starts just a few minutes before the original game ended, and fills in a lot of that game's story holes. While not as "gotcha" scary as the original, F.E.A.R. 2 builds tension and suspense subtly, almost sustaining that suspense throughout the entire game. While the multiplayer is a little blasé, the single-player game satisfies on many levels.

Kevin Rice

The Real Ending

As mentioned, F.E.A.R. 2 begins just before the ending of the original game. A major explosion has just rocked the city, and as a member of the First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R.) team, you are tasked with investigating what happened. While you're supposedly a member of a team of highly trained special-ops-type people, you'll rarely spend any quality teamwork time with them, as they manage to get themselves isolated, they go off to investigate various places, and they otherwise leave you to your own devices. This turns out to be a blessing. For the few fleeting moments you are teamed up with a teammate, they either need your help or fire randomly. They cannot be killed, so they aren't a liability, but at the same time, we could've just gone with the radio chatter, of which there's plenty.

Throughout the roughly 8-10 hours of single-player game, you'll be kept up to date on what happening through radio contact, a few actual people, and many pieces of Intel that explain the back-story more thoroughly. Without spoiling things, it turns out that the Armacham Corporation has been experimenting on children via genetic mutations, which in turn allows a leader of sorts to telepathically control a group of these zombified mutants. They might look and act human, but they are soulless and without emotions. That's a good thing, as nearly all of them are trying to kill you, and it easily explains their single-minded pursuit of your death. Much like the original, the enemy AI is quite good, and they will flank you, flip tables for cover, and do whatever they deem necessary to hinder your progress. Nearly everyone and everything is controlled by Alma, the creepy girl from the original, and she has her sights set on you and your team.

F.E.A.R. 2 pulls off the same trick that the Call of Duty series handles extremely well, in that it's quite linear with the mirage of being an open environment. While there may be more than one way to get from point A to point B, there is only one major entrance and one major exit per area. As Becket, you happen to be a strong candidate for mind control, and throughout the game, you're subjected to some bizarre events, strange visions, and a few scare-the-crap-out-of-you moments. Additionally, and in classic FPS style, you'll collect new weapons, armor, ammo, and other toys throughout your exploration.

Fighting the Good Fight

Earning its mature rating at every turn, F.E.A.R. 2 is one of the bloodiest games I've seen in a bit. It's also chock full of colorful language and even a bit of partial nudity. However, nearly all of the language and gore work well in the context of the game. If you really were investigating a suddenly devastated city and paranormal events were rampant, I doubt "Gee, that was peculiar!" would be your first thought. Just as if you shot someone at close range with a shotgun, you would expect of smattering of innards to paint the walls, floor, and everything else nearby.

For all the shooting and swearing going on, there are a lot of ways to cause even more mayhem. In addition to the usual arsenal of guns, you'll also get access to some experimental weapons such as a super strong pulse gun, a laser, and even a giant 'mech suit. While in said suit, you're almost indestructible – you really have to try to die while in it. You have unlimited machine gun and rocket ammunition. The suit will even repair itself over time. Some will inevitably not like the sections of the game where you use this suit, but I found them a welcome respite from the intense and sometimes claustrophobic nature of the majority of the game.

In addition to the enemies that populate nearly every Interval (F.E.A.R. 2's name for "Chapter" or "Level"), you'll see a lot of unexplainable things happening. Visions of people, nearly invisible enemies with amazing physical abilities, doors and lockers all flying open and closed on their own – it's enough to make you nervous and a little uneasy. This is part of why F.E.A.R. 2 works so well. There are just enough weird events that you are expecting them around every corner. The game waits just long enough for you to stop expecting them, and then it throws more at you. You are almost always on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next creepy thing to happen.

Did You See That?

Like nearly every game to come out on the PC for the past several years, the graphics end up being a major selling point. Not only is it a very good game, F.E.A.R. 2 also boasts one of the most powerful graphics engines I've seen to date. If you have the hardware, this game may very well justify the $300 you spent on the video card. My system isn't an extreme top of the line machine either. It's a lower-end Intel Dual Core and 4GB of RAM running 64-bit Windows Vista Premium. The kicker here is the NVIDIA GeForce FX 260 (and the requisite enormous power supply). This isn't an advertisement for them, but that card muscled through this game at 1920x1200 with everything turned up with nary a hiccup. The results are astounding.

The game really comes to life in the details. Although the entire game has a little bit of a grainy filter on it (you're wearing a helmet that has a HUD, and that's probably the source of the grainy appearance), the game will take advantage of HDR, motion blurring, amazing smoke, fire and water effects, and numerous particle effects. That's only a partial list. Many objects are physics-enabled, meaning they'll fly around during an explosion, and a lot of larger objects can be flipped or moved around to provide you with cover. The "bullet-time" like feature is back as well, whereby you can temporarily slow down time to make it easier to pick off enemies. It doesn't last long, but it recharges quickly and can be extended with pickups found throughout the game.

It would be a disservice to not mention the sound design in F.E.A.R. 2. Again, if you have the equipment, this game gets that much more immersive. Using a nice 5.1 setup with the volume fairly high, my entire computer desk vibrated and rumbled during explosions and other low frequency events like being in the 'mech suit. (My neighbors love me.) The frequent background music is appropriate with its occasional dissonant industrial clanks and synthesized staccato stabs, mixed with orchestral scores. The weapons both feel and sound appropriate, giving you a certain amount of satisfaction. When you're freaked out (and it will happen), you can literally hear your heart racing. Even the voice acting is decent, convincingly sounding more and more frantic throughout the game.

Bring Your Friends

Although it can't really be called a low point, the multiplayer in F.E.A.R. 2 is a little trite. All the usual suspects are here, although some have different names. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are just that. Control is a "hold this point and defend it" game style, similar to Domination in the Unreal franchise. Failsafe is a clone of Call of Duty's Search and Destroy mode, where one team tries to plant a bomb while another tries to prevent and/or defuse that bomb. Blitz is a one-sided version of Capture the Flag, with one team trying to catch PHLAGs (PHosphoLuminescent AGent, get it?) and the other side attempting to prevent the capture of said PHLAG. This mode is played in two rounds, with each team switching sides halfway through the game.

One somewhat unique mode is Armored Front. This plays similar to Control mode, but with a few unique twists. First, the control points must be captured in a specific order, similar to Onslaught from Unreal, but without multiple branches. Second, and perhaps more importantly, each side has one of the 'mech armor suits (called Elite Powered Armor) found in the single player game. While this is great for coordinated teams, most public matches seem to end up in a mad dash for this suit, along with a lot of bitching and complaining. Since both sides get one suit, these things aren't as daunting as they are in the single player game, but most matches (at least public ones) quickly turn into one-sided slaughters and fill with even more inappropriate language than the game's offline story.

There's nothing inherently wrong with F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer. Rather, it's that there's not really anything that makes it standout. Most FPS fans probably already have their favorite online game, and F.E.A.R. 2's offering simply isn't compelling enough to draw you away from whatever you currently enjoy online. It's fun in small spurts, but once the newness of the levels and graphics wears off, you'll soon realize that this is pretty much the same online game you already have, but with a new coat of paint.

Parting Shot

There are a few other features and quirks that should be mentioned. First, a few of the game's design decisions scream "console" louder than a fan boy on Xbox Live. There aren't many of these, but there are times where you'll have to press Shift multiple times as quickly as possible, the equivalent of the carpal tunnel inducing button mashing found on some console games. Also, and this is strange, you cannot map the side buttons on your mouse (if your mouse has them). I usually like to map these to the flashlight and perhaps a grenade toss. Most FPS gamers take their mice seriously (the $10 no-name doesn't cut it), and nearly all FPS gamers use mice with five (or more) buttons. I would think this will be addressed in the first inevitable patch, but why it wasn't there to begin with is a mystery.

On the positive side, F.E.A.R. 2 is a Steam game. In fact, if you don't have a Steam account, you'll be prompted to make one. (Steam is Valve's online game distribution and maintenance tool where you can launch games, get updates automatically and a lot more. The account is free.) This means you can also buy F.E.A.R. 2 online through Steam, if you don't mind downloading two DVDs' worth of data. It also means that if you use Steam to launch the game, the DVD doesn't have to be in the drive, which is quite nice.

In closing, F.E.A.R. 2 is actually better than the original game that started the series. Monolith seems to make a habit of doing this, as the same thing happened with No One Lives Forever 2 versus the original. (My fingers are still crossed for the next Tron game from Monolith, since it never got a sequel. I'm not holding my breath though.) From the fun, well-paced play to the beautiful graphics and sound, to the jump out of your seat moments, F.E.A.R. 2 offers enough bang for your FPS buck. There is replayability in the single player mode as well, since the built-in achievements let you know that you didn't find a lot of the things the game has to offer. Maybe in a future patch or expansion, the multiplayer will become more compelling instead of the "me too" vibe it currently has. Even without that, the game is a technical and graphical tour de force. And, without giving anything away, the ending is just begging for a sequel.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 2, 2009 7:52 PM.

Two More Downloadable Games Available for the Wii was the previous entry.

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