F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin - Review
By Rory - March 14, 2009
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Nothing to fear but F.E.A.R. itself.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is the follow-up to 2005's paranormal shooter, F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon) centers around a government Special Forces unit which is sent into a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound after an infiltration by a paramilitary force. Along the way, radio communication is interrupted by an eerie signal and moments later the team is destroyed. That is when you and your squad, who specialize in handling that very situation, are sent in to take care of it. For its time, F.E.A.R. had some pretty impressive visuals along with some great scripted sequences that made for one truly frightening experience. At its core it's a standard first person shooter but the paranormal elements, along with some cool gameplay variants really managed to provide something fairly new. As far as visuals and gameplay go, F.E.A.R. 2 picks up right where the first left off. Unfortunately, F.E.A.R. was released nearly four years ago and as a result of minimal improvements since then and just plain laziness on the part of the developers, this game does suffer a bit.
F.E.A.R. 2 looks about as good as F.E.A.R. did when it was released back in 2005. The game tosses you into some creepy environments with lots of spooky effects taking place all around you, coupled with some eerie lighting to set the mood. Back then it worked wonders in making you feel an unnerving tension everywhere you went. Thanks to the dated style, that feeling has been completely lost throughout 95% of the game. Your surroundings are all too similar (with the exception of the elementary school level, which is by far the best in the game), the textures are bland and most of the time entirely unacceptable, and the lighting does little more than annoy the crap out of you almost everywhere you go.
Originality is key... or so I thought.
I'd say as a whole, it could certainly look worse than it does, and it's in no way unplayable, but when you start to notice each individual element it's easy to see just how lacking everything really is. There's absolutely no reason for me to not be able to read the labels on different items scattered around the environments, there's no reason that the backdrops need to look more flat and unfinished than in a high end PS1 title, and in case the developers were a bit confused on the laws of physics: glass does not bounce on the ground or float around the windowsill when shot out! This may seem nitpicky, but it's really just a small handful of things in a sea of cut corners and half-assery. This is something that may have been acceptable around the time of the 360's launch, but when it's released side by side with one of the best looking shooters of this generation, it really goes to show how little Monolith really cared.
In a game that relies so heavily on atmospheric effects, the audio is clearly a very important element. While F.E.A.R. practically nailed it, constantly giving you the feeling of imminent danger imposed by the supernatural beings all around you, F.E.A.R. 2 actually manages to take several steps back in that department. Besides the most bland and unmemorable soundtrack (which is however kept to a minimum) I've heard in recent years, the atmospheric effects are a laughable attempt. Honestly, you might as well be playing the game with the sound muted, because it adds little to nothing to the experience. The sound effects are pretty much the same deal. Guns and explosions sound weak and the voice acting and dialogue are just awful. It's really disappointing that they weren't able to at least carry over the things F.E.A.R. brought to the table, in terms of audio, but sadly it's gone completely missing here.
While the story in F.E.A.R. was certainly an interesting premise and did a good job of providing plenty of opportunities for genuinely creepy moments, I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't a bit of a mystery to me at times. While the minimal storytelling was obviously an intentional part of the experience, I still had a hard time understanding exactly what they were going for. That's still the case with F.E.A.R. 2, however this time I found myself caring quite a bit less, thanks to the completely lackluster presentation. In F.E.A.R. you're sent in for the first time and aren't sure what to expect. You're there to deal with a situation that no one else can, so obviously something out of the ordinary is bound to happen. For first time players, unraveling exactly what it is that's taking place was half the fun. This time around, the confusion is still there however now that the story has been pretty much been explained, it just comes across as... bad.
In F.E.A.R. 2 you take control of Michael Becket, a Delta Force operator whose squad is assigned to taking Genevieve Aristide into protective custody as Alma (the spooky little girl from the first game) is up to her usual tricks. The story picks up where F.E.A.R. left off although trying to explain every confusing plot intricacy would take days. There are plenty of surprising twists that you'll come upon, including a "what the hell was that?" ending, although these mostly just serve to drive it all into the ground. It's not a horrible story, but the way they present it turns everything into a bit of a jumbled mess that will leave you not caring very much after the first couple of hours.
F.E.A.R. 2 handles like your typical first person shooter and does succeed at providing an enjoyable experience most of the time. The shooting mechanics are pretty basic, although it handles well enough to keep things fun. The weapons are also good and there's a decent variation of them throughout the game. The sniper in particular was a lot of fun to use and there was also a pretty good vehicle segment, which I usually don't enjoy. One major complaint people had about the original F.E.A.R. pertained to the shotgun. It was way overpowered and while in your possession, it made the game pretty damn easy. It was a bit like Call of Duty: World at War's flamethrower, however the shotgun was more of a primary weapon rather than a fun break. It needed to be toned down, and they did just that. Unfortunately, the weapon is now completely underpowered and pretty much useless. It was still a fun weapon to use and it's a disappointment that they weren't able to reach a happy medium with it.
That aside, there are also plenty of issues to be found throughout the game. One of the big ones was a complete lack of cover throughout most of the game, only remedied by an entirely out of place slow motion system. You can flip tables and such in order to create cover, but it goes completely unused due to the fact that none of it seems to effectively protect you from enemy fire. It may seem like a ridiculous argument when referring to a twitch shooter such as this, however I did find it to be continuously troubling. That aside, there are also little bugs and glitches that pop up here and there but it's all fairly standard and shouldn't detract much from the game. The thing that does is its complete lack of polish everywhere you turn. They had four years to work on this yet it still feels completely unfinished. It's almost like they completed the preliminary design stages and then just got tired of it and decided to take the easy way out by rushing through the rest of it ignoring all the problems.
I feel like Bishop, except I can't get behind things.
The main problem with F.E.A.R. 2, however, is that it's just not scary. The whole game suffers from a "been there, done that" sort of feeling and the effort they've put forth isn't nearly what it was before. F.E.A.R. wasn't exactly the type of game that could shake you to your core, as it mostly relied on cheap thrills to get the point across, but in all honestly that was enough to at least provide an original and often exciting experience. Playing through F.E.A.R. 2 is kind of like watching a typical horror movie sequel; nothing new, nothing unpredictable and inferior in more ways than one. Before, Alma could pop out and give you a shock several times throughout the game because it's something that we hadn't really seen before. It was totally new in a sense and now you'll just be begging for a truly frightening encounter. Sure there'll be some creepy moments but now that you know what most of them consist of, they're just annoying rather than scary. "Oh hey, the lights are off there's blood everywhere and things are getting tossed around, but I know that in two seconds the lights will come back on and not a single thing will have changed". "Oh hey, there's Alma grabbing onto me for the 10th time because she's supposedly after me, but oops she's just going let me go once again and I'll be fine". That's pretty much what you'll be saying to yourself throughout most of this game as you know every one of their little tricks. It's like someone hiding in your closet and popping out to scare you every single day. Eventually it's just not going to work anymore.
Not only that but the level design and enemies are probably some of the most uninspired things I've seen in a while. The enemies are pretty much just recycled from F.E.A.R., although now they're completely out of place most of the time, and the level design is now as confusing as it is dull. Most of it is the same as before and many segments even looked like they were ripped straight from Monolith's previous effort, Condemned 2, however none of it actually plays out well here. The game in general is a pretty lousy attempt and although it's not enough for me to write off the series for good, the team desperately needs to go back to the drawing boards, refine the gameplay, seek further inspiration and try something new. This formula has clearly run its course and if they want to provide some genuine thrills once again, it's going to require a lot more effort than they put into this game.
The horror elements are what made F.E.A.R. worth playing, and without that it's just a typical shooter. Well, that's exactly what F.E.A.R. 2 is, because the originality and fresh elements are what this game really lacks. If you're a fan of the genre I wouldn't recommend against playing through the game, at least once, as it is a fairly enjoyable experience when it comes down to it. There's a standard tacked on multiplayer mode which will have you playing for at least a good 15 minutes, and the campaign mode is under 10 hours anyway, so if you are genuinely interested in it, it won't kill you to give it a try. Fans of the previous game, however, should not get their hopes up for this sequel as it's sure to be a disappointment to those like myself who were expecting much more from it.
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