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Alma makes a creepy return as very little changes in the four years since F.E.A.R burst onto the scene...
Monolith helped to push shooters forward with the 2005 release of F.E.A.R. Drawing influence from Japanese horror, F.E.A.R's tangled yet gripping mix of supernatural shocks and intense action provided the allure, but it was the stunning visuals and sophisticated AI that put the title on the map for FPS fanatics - that and a creepy little girl named Alma.
Following a split which originally found F.E.A.R's publisher, Vivendi Games, retain the name and set to work on F.E.A.R 2, Monolith Productions began work on what they considered the canonical sequel with Project Origin. Activision's purge of former Vivendi titles following the Activision-Blizzard merger, however, allowed Warner Bros. and Monolith to reacquire the rights and fuse the two names together as the definitive sequel.
With the premise of explaining the origins behind Alma, F.E.A.R 2 is certainly a sequel for fans of the original. Although there's a solid shooter experience to be had, an understanding of exactly what's going on and the significance of the overall plotline is required to gain the most enjoyment from the sequel.
Rescinding both expansion packs that emerged during the period of uncertainty (they weren't particularly great in the first place), F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin casts players as a new protagonist Michael Becket, who forms part of a Delta Ops team sent in to capture Genevieve Aristilde shortly before the conclusion of the original F.E.A.R.
From the first mission Project Origin is unmistakably F.E.A.R, perhaps a little too much at times. In many ways F.E.A.R 2 matches what Monolith created back in 2005, but that's half the problem, there appears to be very little progress in the four years since and in many areas the sequel fails to match the style and flair established by the original - Half Life to Half Life 2 this certainly isn't.
Despite getting off to a familiar start, Project Origin's problems soon begin to surface. The overall pacing and direction of the game suffer in comparison to the original F.E.A.R. Admittedly the intense action is present in all its slow-mo glory and the gunplay is up there with the most extreme examples in the genre, (although the switch from the piercing devastation of the Penetrator to the pathetically feeble Hammershot is a considerable disappointment). Equally there are the 'fill-yer-pants' moments that are expected from a F.E.A.R title whenever Alma pops up, however the direction behind these largely fails to match that of the original. F.E.A.R fans will instantly recall moments such as Alma appearing when you turned around to climb down a ladder or walking on the ceiling in the hall of blood; unfortunately there's very little in F.E.A.R 2's visions and hallucinations to match these. Alma's apparitions fall short of what Monolith crafted in the original and ultimately fail to provide the spooks. It's difficult to say whether this is a natural issue because of the nature of a sequel, but our overall feeling is one of slight disappointment when it comes to the balance this time around. The plot also really misses a character to match the original's antagonist, Paxton Fettel, while the mystery behind Alma is sorely missing and fails to provide the intrigue that propelled the original - it all feels a largely routine affair in comparison. We were also left slightly underwhelmed by the obvious influence drawn from a certain Japanese horror film behind the explanation of Alma's origins. The original F.E.A.R drew heavily upon the likes of Ringu and Ju-On, however the outcome to F.E.A.R 2 ultimately feels like a cheap cop-out.
The concept that F.E.A.R 2 hasn't evolved as much as it should have in the four years extend into the visuals and technology. Admittedly the AI is still pretty effective and puts up a good fight, but it doesn't really push anything by today's standards and fails to meet the standards that F.E.A.R achieved back in 2005. Less excusable are the visuals and physics. We're quite dismayed to find F.E.A.R 2 largely looking identical to its 2005 predecessor, with primitive character models, environments, and outdated visual effects. Physics in particular are a source of considerable disappointment with many objects failing to respond to the sheer forces at work during combat, while little touches such as wooden pallets failing to splinter up and break is unforgiveable by today's standards. It's strange considering that Monolith's Condemned 2 managed to look visually superior last year.
It's also fair to say that shooters have advanced beyond what F.E.A.R 2 offers. Running through largely linear levels while bringing painful death to a relatively limited number of opponents, with the occasional valve to turn or computer to access feels rudimentary compared to other recent shooters. The lack of any map or GPS is undoubtedly designed to create a sense of tension in the player without the comfort of directions, but it does also lead to occasional situations where you're aimlessly wandering around. Still with Becket's hyper-reflexes and slow-mo, F.E.A.R 2 manages to provide a visceral shooter which fans of the genre will enjoy. The arsenal of weapons provides a fair spread, while the slow-mo function continues to provide a tactical element to the action as well as making everything look much more dramatic. We would however suggest that the console controls highlight that Monolith appears to be at home on the PC. The setup on the joypad just doesn't feel as effective as a mouse/keyboard combination, and fails to provide the smooth experience compared to other console shooters.
Making a return from the original, Becket actually manages to get his hands on a mech during a couple of sections. Traditionally we're pretty adverse to these types of sections in shooters, but we've got to say the mech is well implemented and provides a satisfying break from the standard shooter action. Less effective are the on-rails turret sections, which feel thoroughly dated and a grind just to get through.
Unfortunately when F.E.A.R 2 escapes outside the corridors of Armacam's complex further problems become apparent. Without wanting to spoil any of the surprises as to the reasons why, the simple fact remains that the game doesn't particularly feel like F.E.A.R when stepping outside, the lack of confinement removes the sense of tension.
In terms of multiplayer, F.E.A.R 2 offers a reasonable selection of modes that initially sound original, but ultimately rest upon the standard game types that the genre has been peddling for the last decade. There's reasonable fun to be had, but the magnitude of variations on control points soon gets a little tiring and we can't imagine F.E.A.R 2 to stick around in the most played lists for too long.
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