FEAR 2: Project Origin Review

Dan Webb

I think it’s safe to say that Monolith are the kings of first person horror games and have been for quite some time actually. This bold statement is pretty much reliant on two of their premiere franchises; Condemned and FEAR. Rather randomly, Condemned’s sequel last year went off on a bit of a weird tangent into the realms of David Lynch’s style of thinking, so the question remains, what fate was left in store for FEAR 2: Project Origin?

Hmmm ... did I leave the iron on?

FEAR 2 picks up about 30 minutes before the end of the original and takes place in the same district of Auburn. The premise of FEAR 2 is simple, stop Alma before she destroys everything. Ok, it’s not quite that simple and those playing the series for the first time may feel a little out of their depth, but the game does make some effort to fill you in on the who- what-when-where-why, with handy intel drops situated around the game. Miss them and you’ll be non-the-wiser but you’ll be hard pushed to miss enough to not be able to get some sort of grasp on the plot.

This time, you jump in to the shoes of Michael Beckett and your main task is to seek out Genevieve Aristide to get to the bottom of this Alma situation. The game will send you from one side of the city right across to the other side in order to seek your objective experiencing a diverse range of haunting environments. The environments on offer do include some open, action orientated sections, but expect tight corridors for the most part with low level lighting and some pretty solid textures.

The mood and atmosphere that exists in FEAR 2 is a testament to Monolith’s ability to create some of the best works in the horror genre. The title has that uncanny ability to constantly keep you on the edge of your seat and the psychological horror aspect in FEAR 2 has been raised to the nth degree. The little things will disturb you more than the more obvious things; whether it’s the rolling of a toilet roll from under a cubicle door or the slight movement of a chair, they’re pulled off to a pretty intense level. Hey, these little things like this will even have you questioning your sanity ... “Am I seeing things or did that really happen?” Part of the whole allure of the mood and tension is surely down to Monolith’s use of lighting, or lack of it sometimes, as more often than not, you find yourself having to rely on a either a torch or a flickering light in some of the most haunting places you can think of. There is something really disturbing about an evacuated and dilapidated junior school especially after you learn some of the deeper truths in the story.

Tornados inside!? Surely that's not right!

To compliment the mood and feel of the game, Monolith hit home with the audio aspect as well. The haunting screams and whimpers are a perfect fit in the game and the sound effects sometimes even go as far to convince you that someone is behind you when there quite clearly isn’t. When the action heats up, the haunting and chilling muffled tones are replaced with either a heavy techno beat with its heavy bass lines and synth which definitely ups the ante ... and the adrenaline.

FEAR 2 seems to have a perfect balance of all out action and horror with each aspect of the game alternating between one another. In fact, the transitions are pretty seamless. In the horror sections, the tight corridors lined with flickering lights, littered with eerie goings on, takes the main seat and just when you need a break from all that tension, the corridors open up and the combat commences. The blend and balance of the two genres is a great feat for Monolith and it’s been a while since someone fused together two genres so naturally.

FEAR 2, despite not taking the perspective of Point Man, does feature its well crafted slow mo which is great in combat. Whether it’s the slow motion blood splatter or the air parting for the bullets, it’s a great tool and a hell of a lot of fun. Speaking of fun, the whole range of weapons are pretty fun as well, of which you can carry any 4 at the same time meaning you can equip yourself with a pretty devastating arsenal. For the most part, the weapons may be fairly standard, but the whole list of weapons is brought back up to a level of “awesomeness” by the inclusion of a few beauties that make the world seem right again. A couple of notable weapons include; the disintegrating pulse rifle, the body piercing Hammerhead or limb severing laser gun.

Another huge positive in FEAR 2 is certainly the enemy AI; watch out, your foes are smart buggers. Many a time I found myself in instances where the Replica Soldiers had successfully flanked me and were attacking from two sides and it can get a little overwhelming ... in a good way though. It keeps you on your toes. They even spot your flashlight from a distance and ready up for your arrival. It’s probably what makes the combat so downright enjoyable ... either that or it’s the tonnes of blood that gets spilled during it.

The enemies come in various different forms throughout the campaign, with the usual Armacham Black Ops and Replica Soldiers making up the vast majority, but it’s the other enemies that really grab your attention. The Replica assassins are always good to make you jump out your skin, but they are no match for the Remnants that linger in the world stuck in a familiar behavioural cycle until you disturb them. It’s a shame that you only encounter these interesting and tough enemies on a very few occasions though as the potential is there for more of them.

Every so often, the game replaces the action aspect for an action aspect of epic proportions; of course, I’m talking about the mech style, APC areas. Pre release I feared that this may inadvertently break up the play and ruin the horror aspect but thankfully the aspect isn’t over used, so when it is used it makes a welcome change. Expect blood, destruction, bullets and a shed load of fun.

The game isn’t without its issues however and as far as the game feels, admittedly, FEAR 2 does seem a bit clunky and slow moving in some respects. So as long as the combat is in front of you and not all around you, coping isn’t that much of a problem so it ultimately depends on how you play. Then there is the degree of difficulty ... there is none. Even on the highest setting I found myself waltzing in to a room of Replica Soldiers and dispatching them without breaking a sweat. Pretty disappointing in actual fact as it really gives you no reason to go back to the campaign after your first run through; it’s like watching a horror movie the second time, you know what’s coming and from where.

I only wanted to see the latest Pixar movie!!

The FEAR 2's multiplayer as it stands is very ordinary, offering only slight variations of traditional modes, and not really offering anything new or even as gripping as anything on the market right now. Throw in to that some ridiculous wait times, sluggish movement and the lack of the whole horror aspect, and what you have is the makings of a very average multiplayer mode. Even the EPA mode in which your team with its own user controlled EPA takes on another team to gain territories, feels off balance with the EPAs absolutely dominating. What makes the single player so right; the slow mo and the horror aspects, are all but abandoned for what is a disappointingly lacking aspect of the title. You’ll be back on your Call of Dutys in no time.

The achievements in FEAR 2 are ... how do I put this politely ... garbage. The list is split 50/50 pretty much between single player and multiplayer and by now, you all probably know how we feel about multiplayer achievements ... especially in titles where the multiplayer is easily the weaker aspect. The single player achievements are pretty solid in all honesty, dropping achievements for chapters and some cool stuff like severing limbs with the laser rifle and pinning enemies to the wall with the Hammerhead. Sure the collectible achievements rear their ugly head again, but the objects are easy to find (I found 66 on my first playthrough without trying) and they do give you an insight in to the story. As for the multiplayer achievements though ... 3 kills when blinded by a flash grenade (way to reward luck), 8 hours of multiplayer (way to reward no actual skill), completing all multiplayer achievements achievement (way to get bored of it and think “sod it, we’ll stick the rest of the points on them unlocking the rest”) and problems getting them to unlock despite fulfilling the criteria, are just a few examples of their sheer failure. Definitely a Jekyll & Hyde list if ever there was one.

FEAR 2: Project Origin is undoubtedly one of the best horror titles we’ve seen in some time and is best played alone, at night with the lights off; only then can you truly get immersed in the world of Auburn. The game is good for frights and fights in equal measure and is a must own for shooter fans and horror fans alike. The great AI and jump-out-your-skin moments are all part of a solid single player experience that you just don’t want to end. The problem with the title may ultimately be its longevity, with the ease of the campaign meaning the lack of challenge rules out multiple playthroughs and the multiplayer seems light years behind what we have on our shelves now. Ultimately, the game should be viewed as a great single player game that must be experienced, but nothing more.

The audio is absolutely fantastic and everything seems right on the button; the sounds effects, the music, to the chilling background noises that haunt the city.

FEAR 2 does look great, everything from the textures right the way down to the lighting. No frame rate issues or anything to speak of. Top job Monolith.

The game despite feeling clunky and sluggish is easy enough to control in combat, especially with the fantastically crafted slow mo feature.

Easily one of the best horror games out. Solid pacing, balance and impressive enemy AI. It’s just a shame really that the multiplayer isn’t as epic as the single player and is more of your standard “tack on” multiplayer mode.

Jekyll and Hyde for sure here. A solid single player list is let down by unimaginative, glitch ridden and boring set of multiplayer achieves. For some you have to rely on either the opposition being useless idiots, or even your own team.

There’s no doubting that FEAR 2 will be setting the standard for horror titles this year and beyond. The title has a great blend of action and horror and they’re right on the money with the pacing and balance too. The lighting, the mood, the atmosphere ... everything is spot on. It could be defined as a must experience single player campaign with a less than inspiring multiplayer mode which fails to capitalise on what makes the single player so successful. Either way, a good start to 2009 for sure.

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