Saturday, September 17, 2011

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

FEAR 2 is an easier game than the original, and generally stuck out from the crowd less when it was released for the same reasons. FEAR was an early post-Half-Life 2 shooter that was notable for two reasons; its horror atmosphere, and the complex AI of the soldiers you fought, who seemed incredibly smart at the time, and worked together to flush you out and flank you. FEAR 2 maintains the creepy mood of its predecessor, but the combat seems much more straightforward, and designed to keep you constantly running and gunning rather than approaching every situation carefully. Weapons, ammo, health kits, and body armor are constantly being thrown at you, and the enemies seem less concerned with flanking you than they used to be. It's possible I'm just remembering them being a lot smarter than they really were, but I think it was a conscious choice to make the game a bit easier for casual players to handle. I'm no shooter expert but I almost never even had to use the ability to slow down time you gain that was so heavily featured in the first game, and I rarely died at all.

I've never thought extreme challenge was a particular asset in most games though, and I don't think I really liked or disliked the combat any more than I did in the first game. It's just a slightly different focus, and that's fine, especially when the game's setting is enough to keep you interested while the game lasts. The FEAR series isn't exactly what I'd call scary, because the plot is just sort of science fiction supernatural horror gibberish, and there's not much that's inherently terrifying about its premise. It's hard to be scared when you're constantly expecting weird, freaky stuff to happen, and the game has a couple effective jump scares, but they're few and far between. It's more what I'd call a spooky sort of atmosphere, one that's entertaining in the way it sets up horrific little scenarios for you to walk through. There's something killing people in this world besides just you, and it's almost amusing to come across the huge puddles and streaks of blood everywhere and try to imagine how it all got there.

The game bounces you back and forth between letting you explore these areas, uncovering packets of text that develop the back story and explain the characters a bit, and just throwing tons of enemies at you. There's a surprisingly good variety of enemies for a game known to be all about fighting endless hordes of clone soldiers. The different types of soldiers are immediately recognizable and have their own abilities to worry about, and the game will occasionally change up the pace by introducing heavy mechs or a couple kinds of more horror-themed enemies which require their own tactics. There's a pretty good variety of weapons as well, many of which are standard machine guns or shotguns, but the more exotic stuff is usually interesting. Once in a while you also get to pilot a mech yourself, which is pretty simple but fun for the few minutes where you're just blasting everything in sight with swarms of missiles.

It's something you miss when you don't play the previous game for a few years, but FEAR 2 is a nice step up in visual quality from its predecessor. That's sort of obvious when it came out so much later, but I still thought it was a nice looking game, both from a technical and design perspective. FEAR drew complaints for its environments being fairly dull, consisting mostly of similar warehouses and office buildings. Thanks in part to the story of the second game beginning with the nuke that goes off at the end of the first one, there's more of an opportunity for unique and memorable locations. You explore familiar areas like city streets and a hospital, but they've been turned upside down by the violence that's been happening, and there are a few other kinds of areas. I liked in the first game that the buildings you shot your way through seemed like real buildings, but FEAR 2 has a better balance between that and stuff that's still cool to look at. My favorite location was probably the elementary school, which definitely makes nice use of the juxtaposition between what it was before and what has happened to it. It also features heavily into the plot, which is generally standard horror fare, though it is pretty remarkable what pains the writers went through to make the corporation behind everything seem as evil as possible.

The game is fun while it lasts, which ends up being the length of a typical modern shooter. I was a bit confused at first about the difference between missions and "intervals", which are the only markings of story progress that you actually see while playing the game. The plot ends sort of abruptly, but it does so in a crazy enough way that it felt like a decent conclusion to a pretty wacky ride. When I bought the game on Steam the Reborn add-on was included, which I'm glad for, because I can't imagine it's length makes it worth whatever they were originally charging. It does give you another opportunity to check out all the enemies and weapons again, and tells a briefly interesting story involving an antagonist from the first game, but it's pretty spare otherwise and barely lasts an hour. It felt like a bonus mission more than a fully fleshed out add-on like other games have seen. Overall though, I had enough fun with the package for it to be worth it.

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