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

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

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

Sergeant Michael Becket's squad was assigned to collect and protect Genevieve Aristide, president of Armacham Technology Corporation, an aerospace military contractor, when a horrible industrial accident destroyed most of the industrial area that houses Armacham's facilities. One of Armacham's projects relied entirely on the strength of a girl with abnormal mental abilities, and now it is up to Becket and his squadmates to sort out the apocalyptic situation and resolve things as best possible... using as many big guns as possible.

Kyle Ackerman

I remember that girl from second grade. The one who threw a tantrum over virtually everything. A "heads-down" could easily devolve into a symphony of kicking and screaming that would take both the teacher and her aid to contain. Give that girl psychic abilities equivalent in devastating power to nuclear warheads, lock her in a sensory depravation tank for most of her teenage years and force her to gestate multiple children, snatched from her while she sleeps and you have Alma, the driving force behind nearly everything bad that happens in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.

Variety Is the Spice of Unlife

There have been expansion packs for the original F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon, but those were from a past publisher, trying to milk a successful game for every available dollar. With F.E.A.R. 2, developer Monolith is telling the story they obviously planned since the ending credits of F.E.A.R.. Alma, a woman with the psyche of a little girl and the destructive power of the North Korean army, is on the loose and out for blind revenge.

F.E.A.R. 2 is a clever and entertaining, if extremely linear, first-person shooter. In many ways, it is a better game than the original. But it will be remembered less fondly, simply because it isn't breaking new ground. The game is a conventional shooter where you get the ability to slow time to deal with otherwise overwhelming opposing forces in which play is occasionally broken up by scary chords and seemingly supernatural enemies. The biggest failing of the original F.E.A.R. was the monotonous level design. So much of the game was similar-seeming office building, with sequences in monotonous warehouses and a monotonous underground complex. F.E.A.R. 2, on the other hand, offers a wide variety of settings that keep the shooting interesting, even if it's usually against waves of similar enemies.

The best thing about F.E.A.R. 2 is the attention to details scattered around the levels. In a game that strives to be disturbing, there's little more disturbing than the elementary school so faithfully rendered. I was particularly impressed (and unnerved) when I looked closely at a billboard covered with student essays, only to read one about a child's friend being taken away during lunch by men in white coats. More than brilliantly detailed, the various levels are also dramatically different, making the setting considerably more interesting than in the first game.

Creepy, Not Horror

F.E.A.R. 2 bills itself as a horror game, but it's not, really. It's a collection of "gotcha" scares that ultimately detract from the profoundly disturbing imagery that built a constant sense of unease. Regularly, lights will flash and faces will jump onto the screen, but these moments just forced me to hammer the "B" button out of annoyance. The most frightening areas in the game were those where nothing was happening whatsoever: a hidden video camera peering into an elementary school art room; a hidden log with the history of poor Alma; a waiting room scattered with grotesquely dismembered bodies and slick with blood; a container that jerks open, threatening a cloned soldier, only to hiss wide, empty. These sort of moments are why F.E.A.R. 2 shouldn't be played in short bursts, as tension builds the longer you play.

It's the setting that makes F.E.A.R. 2 horrific, not the things that jump from dark corners. There are other moments that really disorient and disturb, such as having the remnant of a man animating corpses like poorly-controlled marionettes to shoot at me, and bringing them back even once I've filled the corpses with lead. All of this is supported with amazing, atmospheric music and sounds that enhance the unease without distracting. But however creepy the setting, F.E.A.R. 2 just faces the player off against wave after wave of guys to shoot.

F.E.A.R. 2 is a good shooter, but it's just a shooter. For all the atmosphere, amazing sound and clever details, I spent a lot of time being herded through levels with a very clear path, shooting enemy soldiers under Alma's telepathic control. Those linear sections make for great pacing, but it's the pacing of a good shooter, rather than something truly scary. Occasionally, the game would dump a 'Mech sequence or turret-shooting sequence to change things up. These were pleasant diversions, but also a reminder that I'm playing a shooter, not being scared out of my wits by a girl whose psychic powers are so strong she can will herself not to die until she has her revenge.

An FPS Behind the Fright Mask

Most of the game's selling points are a continuation of the original F.E.A.R.. Objects in the environment, like fire extinguishers or electrical panels, can be used to eliminate nearby enemies, but these are just pleasantly camouflaged versions of the giant, red, explosive barrels found in other games. It's also possible in F.E.A.R. 2 to slide, tilt or flip furniture to create cover, but when you can slow time to run up and punch an enemy gunman in the face, it's hard to care about flipping a couch in the teacher's lounge.

Perhaps the one shooter convention I really liked was that the game restricted the number of weapons I could carry, but gave me access to four at a time. It's trendy to leave me with only two, but having four meant deciding which weapons would be the most fun, rather than trying to make a difficult tactical decision concerning my needs and the availability of ammo.

Also in the style of many shooters, F.E.A.R. 2 has extensive multiplayer options. But frankly, the servers are already depleting, and while the various multiplayer modes are entertaining enough, they aren't going to give the game longevity. Developer Monolith would have been far better served putting that extra time into making an even more impressive single player game, and possibly giving me an ending instead of stopping F.E.A.R. 2 as if someone had just unplugged my Xbox 360.

F.E.A.R. 2 does present a strong, single-player first-person shooter experience, but making me mash the "B" button every time a disturbed girl's face flashes on my screen detracts, just as first-person shooter conventions like overpowered 'Mechs detract from the fright. In games, most horror comes from being ill equipped to deal with a dangerous situation in a disturbing or incomprehensible environment, not from being able to instantly reduce every enemy to a red cloud of blood.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 2, 2009 9:41 PM.

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