F.E.A.R. was a first-person shooter that switched between fast-paced action shooting and bizarre psychological horror involving an insane psychic powerhouse named Alma. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is following up on the same idea, placing you in the shoes of an unfortunate soldier who has become the primary target of a very angry Alma. Admittedly, it's a bit difficult to do psychological horror in a multiplayer game. You can try, but scary images and bizarre flashes of otherworld situations don't have the same effect when another player is calling you names over your headset. In an understandable move, F.E.A.R. 2 forgoes this psychological aspect and focuses entirely on the action-packed gameplay. The end result is an experience that is both similar to and quite different from F.E.A.R. 2's single-player mode.
You begin F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer by creating up to three customized loadouts. You're given a specific number of points to spend on your potential loadouts, and each weapon, item and armor type uses points. For weapons, you're given a fairly hefty selection: assault rifle, automatic shotgun, combat shotgun, long-range rifle, pistol, sniper rifle and the Hammerhead, which is a high-powered weapon that shoots depleted uranium spikes to nail your enemies to the wall. The more powerful the weapon, the more points it costs, with the pistol being quite cheap and the sniper rifle taking a huge chunk of your points. You can select up to two weapons at a time, a primary and a secondary, although you don't have to take a secondary if you'd prefer to save your points.
Once you've chosen your weapon(s), you can select armor and items. You've got a choice between no armor, medium armor and heavy armor; the heavier the armor, the more points it takes and the less carrying capacity you have. If you want to sustain a lot of damage, you're going to be limited to weapons like an automatic shotgun and a pistol at very best. Heavily armored soldiers can't even equip a sniper rifle if they forgo all other items!
Beyond armor, you can also choose from different kinds of grenades. Frag, incendiary and proximity grenades are all fairly self-explanatory, but shock grenades are a bit unique. They're not as powerful, but they have a disabling effect that allows you to stun enemies for a brief period of time. More importantly, they're capable of disabling electronics, including the all-powerful Elite Power Armor (EPA), which makes them a must-have for certain game modes. You can also bring a med kit with you into battle, which allows you a one-time healing of all your hit points.
Not all weapons are available in the loadout screen, though. Anything that is considered "high powered" is not available for any number of points and must be picked up while on the battlefield. This includes the explosive missile launcher, the anti-armor laser weapon, and the always-fun napalm thrower. These weapons are the cream of the crop when it comes to defeating enemies, but since you'll have to find them to use them, you'll be hard-pressed to keep them in play during a frantic enemy assault against one of your capture points.
Once your loadouts are configured, you're sent into the game. F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer is a fairly by-the-book affair. You have two teams (the Replica and the Armacham Technology Corporation forces), and you battle for supremacy. The controls are FPS standard and quite easy to pick up and play, with the only real unique feature being that you can perform special melee attacks if you press the melee button while running or jumping. Beyond that, the game is your classic FPS, and anyone who is a fan of the genre shouldn't have a hard time jumping right in.
There were a handful of game modes that we got to check out during our brief time with F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer mode. Blitz is Capture the Flag, and Deathmatch is fairly self-explanatory. Control is F.E.A.R. 2's version of "point capture," where two teams compete to capture and hold a number of locations to earn points. Failsafe is F.E.A.R. 2 meets Counter-Strike, where one team tries to plant a bomb and the other tries to stop them. The big change here is that there is no respawning, in another nod to Counter-Strike. None of these modes do anything particular different from the FPS norm, although this makes it quite easy to pop in and start blowing the heads off your opponents if you're even remotely familiar with the genre.
The most unique mode in F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer is Armored Front, which is a fairly average "Capture the Point" stage, where two sides compete over capturing enemy bases, much like the previously mentioned Control mode. The major difference here is the addition of Elite Power Armor, which are gigantic humanoid robots that are armed to the teeth with guns and missiles. They showed up in a weaker form in F.E.A.R and have been deployed in response to Alma's awakening in F.E.A.R. 2's single-player mode. In the Armored Front mode, both sides have access to one of these EPAs and can use it to battle the other side. This may not sound too different, but the EPAs completely change the tone of the game.
The EPA is an absolute behemoth of a machine that's many times larger than a regular human, incredibly durable, and armed with regenerating shields and armor. As long as the armor isn't under fire, it will slowly regenerate health, and leaving the armor seemed to make it repair faster. Considering how durable the machine in the first place, being able to regenerate makes it a practically invincible monster that requires an entire team, or another EPA, to take down. It's equipped with two heavy machine guns and a swarm of targeted missiles, all of which have unlimited ammo and can be used with only a short cooldown period between attacks. It even has thermal vision, making it easier to pick out and utterly dominate targets. Even if the EPA is destroyed, a new one will respawn, allowing your side to keep up in the arms race.
The EPA is not without its weaknesses, though. It's powerful, but is also a huge, slow moving target, and constant fire from high-powered weapons like the laser or missile launcher will devastate it, especially from multiple sources. Even small arms fire can wear it down if given enough time. It's also vulnerable to shock grenades, which white out the sensors and make you completely blind for a good period of time, so it's easy for an enemy EPA to ambush you. Furthermore, the size prevents you from going through most areas that a human could easily traverse, and therefore forces you out into the streets, where missile launchers and lasers can strike from any angle. The EPA is a powerhouse, but it isn't a one man army, and whoever is piloting your side's armor will have to work together with the regular soldiers to avoid being quickly dominated.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin's multiplayer may not be the most innovative thing in the world, but it provides an interesting counterpoint to the single-player experience, and even though it uses many of the same gameplay mechanics, the focus is different enough that it is almost its own little game inside of F.E.A.R. 2. FPS faithful won't have a hard time jumping in, and most of the game modes are quite familiar to the genre. However, the Armored Front mode, which is sure to be the most popular, offers something quite interesting indeed. Who doesn't like getting into a giant heavily armed robot and taking the battle to your unfortunate squishy adversaries? Those interested in a taste of the gameplay can try F.E.A.R. 2's single-player demo, which is already available on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, while the retail game will be available next week.
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