F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon has had a bit of a weird road. The original game, developed by Monolith, was released almost three years ago. However, after the release, Monolith and publisher Vivendi went their separate ways, and F.E.A.R.'s rights were split between the two. The end result was that Monolith could not make F.E.A.R. 2 using the F.E.A.R. name, while Vivendi released two expansion packs, The Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point, without input from Monolith, even as Monolith began to develop their own sequel under the simple name Project Origin. Corporate reshuffling has occurred, and the rights have all come back together to give us F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, developed by Monolith. It's worth noting for fans of the expansion packs that, as far as F.E.A.R. 2 is concerned, Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point never happened, so don't expect the story line to follow anything introduced in those games.
F.E.A.R. 2 opens up shortly before the ending of the original F.E.A.R. While the Pointman is at the Project Origin facility, busy discovering the truth about the Replica soldiers and the mysterious woman Alma, a second group of Delta Force soldiers has been sent to take Genevieve Aristide, one of the major players in the events at Project Origin, into custody. You play Michael Becket, one of the Delta Force soldiers, a man with tremendous physical and mental potential. Along with his team, he breaks into Aristide's penthouse and enters battle with "cleanup" soldiers who have been sent to take care of Aristide before she can spill her secrets. Before the team can extract her, Alma is freed and Project Origin vanishes in a tremendous explosion, knocking out Becket and his team. They wake up at a mysterious facility, and Becket discovers that he has, through the machinations of the amoral Armacham Corporation, been augmented into a psychic beacon to which Alma is uncontrollably drawn. If he can't figure out a way to stop her, she will devour his mind … and continue unchecked to the world at large.
All of the mysteries were answered in F.E.A.R., and while I'm glad the developers decided to not go over the top as sequels tend to do, this means that F.E.A.R. 2 lacks any real bite. The game's most interesting moments are revealed through optional data pads, and even those simply serve to flesh out ideas introduced in F.E.A.R. The characters are bland and predictable, lacking the disturbing Paxton Fettel or the pitiable Alice Wade to help balance out the generic Delta Force team. The only interesting character is the snarky hacker SnakeFist, who provides a much-needed human note among all the military machismo, even if his quips tend to dull the fear that should come from his exposition. The entire game is a buildup to the ending, which falls very flat. What should be an interesting sequence ends up becoming a mediocre boss fight followed by a brief and unsatisfying cut scene and the credits, so the title ends on an unfulfilling note.
F.E.A.R. 2 doesn't change up the gameplay too much from the original F.E.A.R., and if you've played the first game, much is going to feel similar here. Other than tidying up the interface and gunplay, the game remains almost unchanged; you have the same basic abilities, right down to your baseball slide melee move, although the melee focus feels a bit toned down from F.E.A.R. These similarities mean that if you enjoyed F.E.A.R., you'll also enjoy F.E.A.R. 2, although the game ends up feeling more like an expansion pack than a stand-alone sequel. Still, this means that the controls are solid and easy to pick up, and FPS fans and newcomers alike shouldn't have much trouble taking Becket through his paces. It may take gamers a bit of time to get used to having disposable medikits instead of the more common regenerating health bars found in most modern FPS titles, but F.E.A.R. is fairly plentiful with the health recovery. If you're damaged beyond a certain point, you'll regenerate a bare minimum amount of health to carry you through until you can find more medikits or health boosters.
Returning from F.E.A.R. is the slow-motion ability. Early in the game, Becket undergoes experimental surgery to help attune him to Alma. One side effect of this, much like The Pointman from F.E.A.R., is that his reflexes are boosted to a superhuman level. Once this surgery occurs, you can enter Slow-Mo at any time by pressing the Y button. As you would expect, Slow-Mo makes everything in the world slow down but you, giving you extra time to target enemies, avoid bullets or simply get the heck out of Dodge. Enemies also "glow" in Slow-Mo, which is almost more useful than the slow motion itself, since it allows you to pinpoint snipers or hiding enemies with ease, and then zoom in and pop them with an assault rifle burst. Slow-Mo lasts until your Slow-Mo bar runs out, at which point it slowly begins to regenerate, although you can increase the duration by finding Reflex Boosters scattered throughout the stages.
F.E.A.R. 2 has a fairly good selection of weapons, although most of them fit the FPS tropes to the letter. I'm sure I don't need to explain the concept of a machine gun, a sniper rifle, or a pistol at this point. However, there are a few unique and fun weapons to be found, such as a depleted-uranium bolt railgun, a napalm launcher, and my personal favorite, the laser, which functions as a long-range beam of cutting energy that tears through armor and flesh. Most of the weapons are fairly well-balanced, and there was never anything I picked up that felt particularly useless. Most people will probably default to the assault rifle, as it combines accuracy and power with plentiful ammo, but you'll probably find a use for every weapon in the game at least once. You can carry up to four weapons at time and switch between them, which is a good balance between carrying too much and too little.
The best weapon of all isn't quite a weapon, but the new Elite Power Armor (EPA). Anyone who played F.E.A.R. will be familiar with the deadly Power Armors, which were some of the toughest foes. The EPA is a Power Armor on steroids, but with one major difference: You get to drive it. You only use an EPA a handful of times in the game, but each time you do, it is like stepping into the cockpit of a mechanical deity. The EPA is equipped with two arm-mounted chainguns and body-mounted missile launchers, all of which have infinite ammo. The only thing slowing down your killing spree is the cooldown time, which is quite forgiving. The mecha is heavily armored and capable of regenerating damage, so even if you wade into a swarm of Replica soldiers armed with missile launchers and grenades, you only need to come out of it with a sliver of health. It's even equipped with a thermal scope, allowing you to pick out enemies by their heat signatures. With that said, the EPA isn't completely invincible, and too much damage will mean you have to eject and wait until it repairs itself, which is a rather dangerous proposition since the areas where you use an EPA are designed for your practically unkillable mechanical monster, not your squishy human form.
The gunplay in F.E.A.R. 2 is quite solid, but there isn't a lot of variation in the combat. You pop on Slow-Mo, shoot a few enemies in the head, duck behind cover until Slow-Mo recharges and repeat the process. Once you've got the basics down, the challenge is in figuring out how to best work around the current level, not the current enemies. The game tries to break this up by tossing in the occasional mix-up, such as ask you to hold off Replicas with a mounted turret or fighting an entire room full of snipers, which tend to be fun, if not particularly memorable. There are a few interesting set pieces like this throughout the title, but most of the game takes place in dull, identical corridors filled with roughly the same enemies you encounter in every other level, barring a few extremely rare encounters with supernatural enemies.
The part of F.E.A.R. 2 that most disappointed me is something that comes down to a matter of taste. To me, F.E.A.R. 2 just didn't match the tense feeling of the original title. There are a few things that contribute to this. First and foremost is that you know who and what Alma is, so random flashes of light and brief supernatural images don't have quite the same effect when you understand what they are and why they're occurring. The second problem is that the "scary" segments were a bit too telegraphed. When you see a keycard sitting on a desk in front of a giant glass window, you've got a pretty good idea of what is going to happen, and most of the "big scares" are similar to that. By the time I reached the end of the game, I was halfheartedly predicting each and every scare before it occurred. Everything felt just a touch more blatant than in F.E.A.R., and the end result was a more predictable title.
Finally, we come to the real killer: Alma. Unlike F.E.A.R., Alma is actually hunting your character in this game. However, almost every time that Alma shows up, it's in the form of suddenly appearing and grabbing you, which causes you to have to pound the B button while she examines you. It really feels weird and out of place, and it turns Alma from a hungry, unstoppable ghost into an occasional Quick Time Event mini-game. There are a few segments that use the idea of Alma very well — near the end of the game, Alma is stalking you through a maze of boxes, and her very presence causes the boxes to float, move and try to crush you — but they're few and far between. Despite being the primary focus of the plot, I never felt that Alma was a threat so much as an occasional nuisance. Every major encounter with Alma comes down to Quick Time Events, which involve pounding the B button and occasionally pulling the right trigger, which leaves these major plot points feeling distinctly unexciting.
Aside from the main story, F.E.A.R. 2 also offers online multiplayer. Multiplayer has a few differences from the main game; primarily, you don't have slow-motion abilities, and pressing the Y button brings up a map instead. You get to customize your loadout using a point-based system, which allows you to tailor your online avatar to your personal specifications. There isn't any particularly huge or innovative here. You've got Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Control (a version of Point Capture), and even a Counter-Strike-like bombing mode, but nothing here makes F.E.A.R. 2 stand out from other, and arguably better, multiplayer titles. F.E.A.R. 2's crowning glory is the Armored Front mode, which gives each team an EPA and requires everyone else on the team to function as support and assistance for your giant walking armor of death. This mode was fun, and the allure of giant robots may be the only thing that keeps it from wearing out its welcome in a few afternoons. The multiplayer is a nice touch, but F.E.A.R. 2 is a single-player game with optional multiplayer, and not vice versa.
Visually, F.E.A.R. 2 looks great. There are some amazing visuals to be found throughout the title, especially once things start going crazy and Alma's psychic powers begin altering the world. One of the creepiest and most effective scenes is where you emerge from an underground hangar into the city, ruined by the aftermath of Project Origin's explosion, and find the stone-like remains of humans, which crumble to dust. While there are some pretty impressive visuals to be had, the level design is rather bland, and although you get to venture outside for a little bit, much of your time is spent in seemingly identical underground bases and corridors. There are a few interesting areas, such as the school, but they're the exception instead of the rule.
The audio work is, as is to be expected, quite good. The voice acting is all fairly solid and natural-sounding, and the background music blends well with the action. The most important part is the ambient sound effects, with which F.E.A.R. 2 does a very good job. It's almost difficult to notice the few times you'll hear barely audible whispering or a slow soft noise of a Replica assassin moving toward you, but it lends tremendously well to the atmosphere and subconsciously affects you.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is a competent, if unexceptional, game. The gameplay is more of an expansion of F.E.A.R. than a full-blown sequel, and unfortunately, the plot and "fear factor" don't quite reach the heights achieved by the first F.E.A.R. However, it's still a fast-paced shooter with some interesting set pieces, useful weapons and enjoyable gameplay. The multiplayer isn't quite as tacked-on as F.E.A.R.'s was, but it isn't going to hold a gamer's attention for too long. All in all, F.E.A.R. 2's biggest problem is that it feels like yet another expansion pack to the F.E.A.R. franchise instead of a sequel, and gamers eager for something new may be a bit disappointed. The biggest and most interesting change involves the rarely used robot suit, and everything else feels like more of the same.
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