FEAR 2 Review - March 23rd 2009

Just when you thought it was time for developer Monolith to switch gears and move away from the horror genre, along comes F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. Fear Alma again! No, really!

The first game was something of a revelation. Critically acclaimed and hugely popular, F.E.A.R managed to strike a balance between FPS gunplay (complete with requisite slow mo abilities), and make-you-jump scares. Although not particularly original, the combination of genres to such great effect left you feeling like this was something worth keeping your eye on. Despite the simple premise and almost copy and paste corridor environments, there was something irresistible about a game that constantly kept you guessing. F.E.A.R had a great way of throwing you a curveball when you least expected it. Whether you were facing down a really tough adversary or having a nasty encounter with the supernatural, you couldn’t help but be drawn in. And when you add into the mix a competitive multiplayer that was fast paced and challenging, you’re left with a fan base that’s as loyal as it is hungry for more. Although the story was confusing (and even less original than much of the gameplay), that didn’t stop two expansion packs, plus console re-releases, from hitting the shelves. However, by this point, you got the impression that Monolith was just milking a past success. The add-ons were not so well received, and the future of the series was put in serious doubt.

Fast forward to 2009, and Monolith has delivered the first true sequel to their original effort. After a long running “Name your FEAR” contest produced the title Project Origin, Monolith managed to re-secure the rights to the original game name (after a complicated lovers quarrel with Warner Bros.) leading us to the more sensibly titled F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.

Some of the set pieces are really gruesome.

It’s safe to say that a fair amount has changed since 2005, and rightly so, given the intense competition within the shooter genre. From a visual standpoint, Monolith have focused more on varying the player’s surroundings than setting their sights on matching the graphics of Far Cry or Killzone. This was in direct response to heavy criticism of the original's reliance on office or warehouse spaces. This time, the action has spread outdoors, and while the levels remain linear, the increased sense of scale is impressive. F.E.A.R. 2 has also taken the psych-out horror moments to the next level, with some creative use of an expanded physics pallet. One memorable encounter takes place in a school building during your first confrontation with Alma (the creepy girl who looks like that thing from The Ring). As you make your way down towards your exit, the lights flicker and an incredible, invisible force pushes its way down towards you. As lockers open and slam beside you, and objects are hurtled aside, the game teases you with glimpses of Alma before slowing things right down and letting you catch your breath. It’s not the graphics themselves that stand out in segments like this, it's the combination of physics and audio that give you the wow factor. That being said, the low-key use of lighting should not go un-noticed. In fact, F.E.A.R. 2 has managed to get away with being a fairly average looking game by having such an atmospheric and scene setting array of lighting effects.

On top of that, the enemies you face are also refreshingly varied. When you take control of a mech during vehicle sections (the weakest new element to the series), the sheer amount of enemies on screen and their varied methods of attack, helps to create much less predictable combat scenarios. Your standard “Replica” soldiers also appear less frequently, allowing some truly horrific creations to take the limelight. One in particular, abominations, are limited to close quarter melee blows, but remain one of the toughest adversaries to be introduced into the F.E.A.R. universe (especially on the harder difficulty settings). They can climb across walls and ceilings, and are incredibly quick. What makes them so impressive from a technical standpoint is the fluid nature of their movement. Everything has been painstakingly animated, and to great effect. The best moments involving these savage creatures are often the scripted moments, where you see them crawling across glass or popping out of vents just to make you jump.

It is a chilling game.

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