Wednesday, 27 May 2015

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Post-Launch Review
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (PC)
Developer: Monolith Productions
Released: February 2009
Played: story complete in 5h:36min (replay)


Shortly before the ending of F.E.A.R., an SFOD team was sent to retrieve Genevieve Aristide, president of Armacham, because of her knowledge and involvement in Project Origin. But the team encounters heavy resistance, and Aristide subjects Becket to an experimental procedure to fight back against the now-released Alma. Using his newly-enhanced reflexes, Becket tries to find a way to stop Alma before she overwhelms him...

At Launch

F.E.A.R. 2 earned average review scores of 79%. Reviewers loved the gameplay and reflex mechanic and praised the visuals, but felt that the story, level design, and A.I. were uninspired compared to the first game.

Post Launch 

A short DLC mission pack, Reborn, reveals how Paxton Fettel is freed and reborn in preparation for his role in F.E.A.R. 3.

So my review of the F.E.A.R. trilogy ends with the second entry in the franchise. Weird.

When I reviewed F.E.A.R. 3, I briefly compared it to the first and second games, mentioning that F.E.A.R. 2 was less about the horror and more about the action. On a replay very soon after replaying the first F.E.A.R., that difference felt even more exaggerated. But this time I'll actually break down why. This is a bit less of a review than usual, instead focusing on the tonal difference between two horror shooters.

The original game had very harsh, high-contrast lighting that helped create a surreal atmosphere, as if something is lurking in the shadows and the darkness is extra-dark. The sequel's lighting is mostly bright and soft, with much bloom and few very dark areas. The change in the lighting alone is responsible for a dramatic shift in the tone of the game, making it feel less oppressively spooky.

The environments you move through also contribute to the difference. Much of Project Origin takes place in recently (or currently) occupied areas that are neat and clean. There are fewer trips through abandoned ruins or grubby industrial or maintenance areas, reducing the feeling of isolation. Though to be fair, the elementary school level is damn creepy, and is the one time that the horror is actually enhanced by being in a modern, recently occupied environment - a kid's school full of blood, debris, and ghosts is pretty spooky when it looks like it was full of ordinary people just yesterday.

Probably the biggest change, though, is the larger focus on a military game style. Point Man in the first F.E.A.R. is part of a military unit, but the way the story works out, you're more of a lone wolf investigating and exploring while pursuing your target. In the sequel you're part of a larger team (the secondary SFOD team that was mentioned in the first game) who work together and chatter with you and each other throughout most of the game, again reducing the sense of isolation.

There are also some tropes from the big military franchises: a cover-your-ally-with-a-sniper-rifle level, an enemy paramilitary group complete with larger-than-life commander, a couple of turret sequences, and vehicle levels. But the vehicle is a giant mech with dual chainguns and rocket launchers, which is not exactly conducive to horror. Allies and heavy weaponry and robot battlesuits are empowering, which is the opposite of what you want when you're trying to scare the player.

As for the story, well, it's okay. You're part of an SFOD team referenced in the first game that's sent to find Aristide. She subjects you to some awful experimental crap that enhances your reflexes like Point Man, but with the downside of psychically linking you to Alma, who now perceives you like a beacon and wants to "absorb" you. But someone else calling himself "Snake Fist" urges you to instead find a way to amplify your psychic signature to overwhelm and kill Alma. This stuff, plus the creepy insane crawling-on-walls experiment subjects, are a little bit more out there than the first game (which was "only" about a vengeful ghost and a telepathic commander). But it ties in well enough.

The ending, though, is pretty bananas. (highlight for spoilers) I have to say, it took some colossal balls to end the game with a zombie ghost girl raping a suddenly-helpless male supersoldier and becoming pregnant with what's certainly a creepy evil zombie ghost baby. That last scene is legitimately disturbing, on a level with the evil of the first game's researchers.

The Reborn DLC is all right. It doesn't do anything new and is pretty short, but it's competent enough. It'll tell you how Fettel makes his return for F.E.A.R. 3.

I'm sure this all sounds quite negative, but don't get me wrong - F.E.A.R. 2 is a lot of fun. Combat is faster and even more brutal than in the first game with some tougher new enemies and nifty weapons. Everything feels slick and responsive. The mech levels may not be scary, but they're a blast to play, especially with the environmental destruction. And the visuals are surprisingly solid for the game's age - often not just "not bad", but actually good - even if the tone isn't right for true horror.

F.E.A.R. 2 is a departure in style from its predecessor, but that just means that instead of being a great psychological horror shooter, it's a great action-horror shooter.

Recommendation: play it.

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