Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
My next editorial has been taking longer than I anticipated (sitting as a draft for almost a week, yikes), so in the meantime I just wanted to share my latest review, which was just submitted to Armchair.
Not much to say, especially since I’m all set to pick up Resident Evil 5 soon. Enjoy.
When the original F.E.A.R. hit the PC back in 2005, FPS junkies were caught off guard by the game’s innovative horror elements, adding hallucinatory effects and disturbing images of a demonic little girl that followed players at all times; it was a violent head-trip that was closer to the Silent Hill series of videogames, along with Japanese horror films like The Ring.
Now, 4 years later and under the umbrella of a new publisher, developer Monolith Studios has released F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, using a revamped engine and an extra dose of production values in order to teach console and PC owners alike to “fear Alma again.”
Taking place just mere moments before the first game’s explosive climax, we are treated to a new team of soldiers, with players taking the first person view of Michael Becket, a Delta Force operator tasked with the retrieval of an Armacham VIP, who is under fire from a team of mercenaries hired by her own corporation to give her one heck of a retirement party. Completing the first level gives players a window view of Alma’s immediate release, followed by her PMS-induced psychic nuke of the entire city. From there, corporate truths are uncovered, legions of Replicant soldiers are gunned down, fellow allies are picked apart in typical horror fashion, and the now teenage Alma parades around nude like Mardi Grad. Someone should tell her she’s not getting paid to go wild.
Monolith Studios had once stated that by giving the protagonist a name, players would be able to identify and care about him more than their previous, nameless soldiers. Unfortunately, they forgot to include a personality with the name, reducing Becket as yet another disposable, empty vessel for gamers to occupy. Becket’s squad mates, a rag-tag bunch of clichés and stereotypes, fail to do anything that’ll make us remember them once Alma starts psychically stripping off their flesh, and supporting internet shut-in Snake Fist, the only character with any semblance of personality, is also a caricature that we’ve seen dozens of times already (but on the upside, he’s nowhere near as annoying as F.E.A.R. 1’s fat bastard Norton Mapes).
Fortunately, the action and gunplay far outshine the drab personalities. Shootouts always result in destroyed debris and dismembered limbs, and the AI enemies can be quite tenacious in their attacks as well as their tactics. It’s just too bad the soldiers have a habit of shouting out their strategies before implementing them, always giving players time to take countermeasures. And despite the new cover feature, where nearly every piece of furniture and table can be knocked over to absorb bullet fire, it’s almost never necessary, as there’s plenty of walls and pillars to stand behind; while the enemy units try to take cover themselves, they don’t do a very good job of leaving their heads and limbs unexposed. In short, F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t very challenging, especially to anyone who mastered the original; With plenty of ammo, health packs, and armor on hand, the only times these elite soldiers might pose a challenge is when the slow-mo meter needs to recharge, but conservative players should rarely come across that problem.
The visuals, while not quite reaching the splendor of modern FPS hits like Bioshock, Call of Duty 4 or the recently released Killzone 2, still manage to impress with its combination of special effects and stable framerate. Unfortunately, aside from slow motion gore effects and bullet-ridden walls and furniture, the repetitive and stale areas give the graphics engine few chances to show us what’s under the hood. The most opportune moment comes during areas taking place in the middle of the city, fresh from its nuclear coating. Crumbling buildings, ash-covered corpses, and blood red skies make up the game’s most impressive location, but also makes its brief completion all the more unfortunate.
That just leaves the supernatural elements as the game’s last chance for creativity. For this sequel, the developers have decided to keep the slow motion strolls through illusionary hallways and paranormal fake outs to a minimum. Considering the monotony of such events from the first game and its expansions, this was probably the wisest choice to avoid repetition, but for horror game fans looking for memorable scares, they’ll probably be the most disappointed. With a couple of small exceptions, the horror elements in F.E.A.R. 2 never evolve past a few distant shots of Alma along with a battery-draining rumble effect throughout most levels. Any attempts to make the pissed off ghost girl still appear relevant are mostly obscured by motion blur and bloom. Likewise, the game’s final climax is meant to deliver one final chilling climax, but instead ends up as a brief and forced “twist” that offers no explanation or context other than that Monolith Studios wants to make F.E.A.R. 3. Likewise, the text-based intel, scattered throughout each area, have a habit of removing any tension from the action and aesthetics by forcing players to stop and read pivotal story bits. What’s worse is that these texts don’t contain any feeling of ominous dread like in Resident Evil, but merely explain the facts behind Project Origin, Alma, and all affiliated information like Wiki entries.
As for the game’s multiplayer feature, it mainly plays like more like a prettier Halo 3, but without the latter’s polish or balance. Camping becomes an all too common feature, players mainly have no choice but to stick to the optional heavy armor in order to avoid dying in under three seconds, and the much touted ability to pilot heavily armed robots becomes a serious balance issue when the opposing team has their giant robot handy, while having their members camp the other team’s machine so that they can’t pilot it in defense.
While F.E.A.R. 2 still delivers in its action and grim setting, especially for fans of the original, FPS games have evolved since 2005, and the very innovations that made the first game stand out have now become cliché and drawn out. A third entry is inevitable, but it will take substantially more effort and creativity before anyone could ever “fear Alma again”.