F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Review
I'll be candid and blunt when I preface this review by stating that I'm growing tired of all the horror-FPS games like Condemned, Jericho, and FEAR. They all feel largely the same, and generally play out similarly. They're also not that scary, and worst of all, the gameplay mechanics are never done well, either. I addressed a lot of complaints with the original F.E.A.R. port for the PlayStation 3 in 2007, but I honestly doubt I'd have like the game either way if it weren't for those issues. So when it came down to playing F.E.A.R. 2 (I'll refer to it as FEAR2, from this moment on), my expectations were low.
But my feelings quickly changed from feeling like I'm doing a chore, to being surprised. The story picks up from where the first game left off, and Alma is still the central figure of the game's plot. Paranormal activity is still all around you, and it continues to directly have an effect on your player. So FEAR2 continues to employ the one trait that made its predecessor so successful, but now it's got an additional quality to it that I found rather solid.
After playing Killzone 2, I've come to realize that very few first-person shooters are going to live up to its standard, for me anyways. One of my looked-for aspects in an FPS is how satisfying each bullet shot feels - this is usually done with a mixture of a boomy sound effect, slight in-game recoil, and the controller's force feedback. I find that the better the shooting feels, the more it adds to the game. FEAR2 accomplishes this aspect very well, as it may very well boast some of the best, most satisfying shooting in an FPS game, making it really fun to engage in combat.
Overall, the gameplay is more action than horror now, with more enemies on screen, complete with enemy A.I. that are much smarter than I expected them to be. Enemies will almost never stay in the same place, and will often run to find other areas to use as cover. Additionally, your opponents can even flip furniture to use as cover, which I found impressive. The A.I. definitely gives you the feel that they're being controlled by something other than just pre-determined routes and paths.
A complaint I had addressed with the previous FEAR was that it felt too confined and claustrophobic. Monolith has remedied this by offering larger and more expansive areas...more specifically of the outdoor variety. Also, the progression doesn't feel as linear as the first game, either, and thanks to this and the larger environments, you finally get to feel that missing sense of freedom the last game lacked. These new environments are also fully interactive, too. But the twist here is that not only can you take advantage of this environmental interaction, but so can the enemies. So just like you, enemies will also use walls or obstacles as a means of protection. But they can also prevent you from taking cover, by destroying the object. Like I said earlier on, the A.I. has been infused with an all new shot of intelligence from developer Monolith, as there are more aspects to their enhancements that remain to be witnessed in person.
Now, while FEAR2 is certainly head and shoulders a better game than its predecessor, it still has a few problems worth addressing. First, the headbobbing, which is both a visual issue and gameplay issue - it's a little out of control here, and not having an option to turn it off really sucks. I couldn't go on very long during each play session, as I was forced to take a break so that the motion sickness wears off. I hate headbobbing in FPS games, it may be "realistic" but it is extremely nauseating - and my game monitor isn't even that large or close enough to have caused this. The other flaw here is that the hand-to-hand combat still isn't great, and perhaps the series would be better off without it (like most FPS games). Additionally, while online modes and options are plenty, the overall experience is nowhere near the caliber of Killzone 2 or Resistance 2, so this isn't a game you buy to experience online.
As far as the visuals go, FEAR2 has made great strides over its original counterpart. First off, the framerate is smooth and solid, albeit not perfect, with the occasional hiccups noticeably present. The game makes use of some really nice lighting touches, but beyond that the overall visual quality isn't very exciting. Texture work is very flat and average in many areas, which creates a sort of dull look. Additionally, there seems to be some sort of visual filter that gives the game a hazy, Vaseline-like look. Honestly, the graphics engine simply isn't spectacular, but it's not ugly. The textures aren't grainy or low-res, either, just flat and lacking any real depth. There are some nice animations to be seen, your teammates look pretty nice in the cut-scenes, and picture quality is acceptable, but otherwise, the overall look seems a bit dull.
If you have a problem with dialogue that contains a lot of profanity you won't like FEAR2. Me, personally, I couldn't possibly care. And if you're reading this review, then chances are you don't either. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part, as timing and delivery is well done. But my favorite aspect is one that I mentioned much earlier on, and that would be the sound of gunfire booming through your speakers. Monolith has done a great job in that regard, and it helps, what is otherwise passable audio, earn a higher score.
All in all, if you were a fan of the first FEAR game, then chances are you've already copy of FEAR2 in your hands. But, if the first FEAR game left a sour taste in your mouth, the second one may sweeten that up a bit. FEAR2 makes use of some really good gameplay mechanics, such as very satisfying shooting and terrific A.I. that help make the game fairly enjoyable. On the other hand, the deal breakers could be the excessive headbobbing, the average multiplayer experience, and dull visuals. As a single-player experience FEAR2 is worth the playthrough, but beyond that you may not care about it once you're done. This one would make for a good rental.
3/1/2009 Arnold Katayev