Summary: Alma's back. Set around a new protagonist, does F.E.A.R. 2 live up to its predecessor? Find out in our review!
PC gaming has a long history when it comes to horror-action games, or as I've dubbed them, the scary shooters. Both Doom and Quake were certainly based around horror themes, while the System Shock series in particular is well known for its ability to get you jumping in your seat through an excellent use of ambient lighting and sound effects. Historically, these types of games have never been a favorite of this writer for a multitude of reasons, the most important being that I'm a huge wuss who jumps at his own shadow. System Shock 2, while a fantastic game in many rights, was played in 15 minute spurts due to the fact my mother was tired of changing my sheets every morning. So when Sierra and Monolith released F.E.A.R. in 2006, a game that featured an insane telepathic girl who makes Veruca Salt look like an overachiever, I was in no rush to replace the plastic sheets on my bed.
Thankfully, I eventually realized I did have a pair down there and decided to give it a go, lest my manhood come into question. What I found was an excellent action game that knew when to let you gun people down and when to scare the living....stuff out of you. F.E.A.R. was really well done in its execution, whether it was the slow motion abilities of the unnamed protagonist, the creepy as all heck visuals, wonderful sound design, and of course the graphics. We even used F.E.A.R for awhile when benchmarking GPU's due its excellent DX9-based Jupiter EX engine. The free F.E.A.R. Combat multiplayer component was also a lot of fun, even if level design and game types were somewhat bland in regard to variety. But now Alma is back and apparently upset about the whole 'trying to kill her thing', so Monolith and Warner Brothers have released F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.
F.E.A.R. 2 picks up about 30 minutes prior to the explosion that annihilates most of the Vault and downtown Auburn. Instead of the unnamed Point Man, F.E.A.R. puts you in the shoes of Michael Becket, a Delta operator who may or may not have connections to Alma. Monolith has decided that the expansions for F.E.A.R., Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate, are not canon and should pretty much be ignored. In F.E.A.R. 2, you guide Becket as he encounters the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown and release of the telepathically powered antagonist Alma on her quest for revenge.
The story in F.E.A.R. 2 plays out very similar to the original game, with you blasting your way through office buildings, schools, and hospitals all while trying to avoid Alma’s wrath. Along the way, you find memos, notes, and emails that detail just how deep the conspiracy is to create the perfect telepathic soldier goes, as well as your own questionable origins. The story is interesting and well told, although we were a little surprised that it did not pick up with the Point Man, instead focusing on a new main character. There is nothing wrong with Michael Becket or his team of Delta operatives; it’s just F.E.A.R. really drew us into who or what the Point Man really was. The Point Man reminded us of Gordon Freeman, with his story being told as you played through his eyes.
If you watched until the end credits of F.E.A.R., there was a small audio clip that hinted that the entire synchronicity event may have been merely a test of the Point Man’s abilities. So it’s kind of shame to see that entire line dropped and instead we are introduced to a new character that we have to get emotionally interested in. And frankly, there is no greater hook than when you learned that the Point Man was actually Alma’s own son. Ultimately though, Project Origin is a story about Michael Becket and his quest to stop the rampaging Alma from burning the world to the ground.
Other notable F.E.A.R. features return, such as slow motion and close combat. SlowMo is explained after a few levels as your character gets “activated” in a hospital run by Armacham. Hand to hand combat is still as fun to pull off as it was in F.E.A.R., especially if you find yourself reloading and facing an enemy at close range. You kind of feel like Neo in the lobby scene of The Matrix, when you charge a replica and round house kick him in the face. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to say hello.
Many of the weapons from F.E.A.R. return, along with a few new ones like the Hammerhead, which replaces the Penetrator. Weapon combat is satisfying and fun, especially in SlowMo where you can see bullet trails. A majority of the levels are broken up between scary and action-oriented segments. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell which is coming up, with frights usually prefaced by your HUD becoming full of static when Alma is nearby, and hard driving music kicking in just before you get assaulted by a squad of replicas. Which leads us to one of our biggest complaints with F.E.A.R. 2: it’s just not that scary after about halfway through it. The first few levels have some good jolts, but after that, they become pretty predictable and even annoying as you start to think, “Here comes a fright…” The first game had a nasty (and fantastic) habit of scaring us right after major combat, just when we weren’t expecting it. F.E.A.R. 2 lacks these moments, with the combat segments thoroughly disconnected from the horror segments, so it makes them easy to pick out.
While the original F.E.A.R. shipped without a multiplayer component whatsoever, a free add-on released later added basic deathmatch and team deathmatch support. While hardly groundbreaking, F.E.A.R. Combat was still fast-paced fun and certainly worth the download. For Project Origin, Monolith has built multiplayer right into the game thankfully and added some interesting game modes to keep players occupied. All modes allow you to configure your character to your tastes based on a point system. For example, heavy armor offers greater protection, but comes at a greater cost so you will unfortunately have to probably drop one of your secondary weapons. You can have up to 3 pre-defined configurations, which should be more than enough to satisfy any situation that arises. All the single player weapons are featured here, although some only occur as item pick-ups scattered across the various maps.
Game modes featured include deathmatch, team deathmatch, control, armored front, failsafe, and blitz. The deathmatches are pretty self explanatory, while control is a control point-based mode similar to Battlefield 2. Failsafe is F.E.A.R.’s take on the 'defuse the bomb' game play of Counter-Strike; while Blitz is simply capture the flag. Armored Front is a different take on control, with the big difference being both teams get access to a single deployment of powered armor controlled by a player. While it can be loads of fun, people tend to queue up next to the armor spamming the “get in vehicle” button, similar to the helicopters in BF2. It would’ve been better had the game randomly chosen the player who gets to control the powered armor, like how a Tank is chosen in Left 4 Dead. Otherwise, you end up with half your team trying to get in the armor, while the other half tries to grief the successful player.
Multiplayer is still as fun and fast-paced as the original games’, but we did not like the matchmaking method of play. Monolith has not included dedicated server support and according to a post on their forums, they currently have no intention to do so. A lack of dedicated server means you are at the whim of the controlling player and his connection. Also, you run into similar issues I’ve had with Xbox Live, searching for a game only to be disconnected once you try to connect.
The audio in Project Origin however is excellent in many ways, with full support for 5.1 surround sound. Whether we played with a surround system or gaming headphones, the positional audio is fantastic. Voices and gunfire come from all directions, while the music is loud and boisterous when it needs to be or skin-crawlingly creepy during the freaky moments. Even when Alma isn’t around, you sometimes hear small voices or screams or….something that makes you look around to ensure you are really alone. The sound design in F.E.A.R. 2 is some of the best we’ve heard in awhile and Monolith deserves lots of credit for it. Proper ambient sound can make or break a horror game, and they got it perfectly right with F.E.A.R. 2.
Sound Design: F.E.A.R. 2 features some of the best sound design we’ve heard in a video game in awhile, with excellent positional audio and creepy sound effects. The music works well for both the action and horror segments and really draws the player into the world. Voice acting is well done, as each respective character spouts expletives left and right in light of having some crazy telepathic chick assaulting them.
Really scary…at first: F.E.A.R. 2 drops the ball in the horror department about halfway through the game, where things start to get predictable. You begin to see the frights a mile away and they end up coming off as cheap and boring. While we know keeping the tempo of the first few levels would probably be an impossible thing to ask of Monolith, we weren’t prepared for the scares to become so mundane so quickly.