F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin for PC Review

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F.E.A.R. is excellent first-person shooter and action horror title for a number of reasons. I consider it a classic. It has a great balance of action and horror, features fun and intense gunplay and showcases incredible artificial intelligence that remains impressive to this day. It was followed up by F.E.A.R. 2 which retains the core elements and introduces some new features. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was released for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in February, 2009. For this review, I played the PC version. I beat this game once before around the time it came out and only remember certain sequences. But I do remember enjoying what I played. However, at that time, I had not beaten the first game but now that I have, I was very interested in jumping back into F.E.A.R. 2. Plus, this was my first time playing through the Reborn campaign which was released as DLC.

The story opens during the final events of the previous game. A Delta Force team codenamed Dark Signal is deployed to find Genevieve Aristide, president of the Armacham Technology Corporation. On the team is protagonist Sergeant Michael Becket and shortly after they find Genevieve, the Origin Facility explodes and Michael is knocked unconscious. The team is unknowingly part of a new ATC project and when Michael wakes up he discovers he’s being operated on. He fights his way out of the hospital and then proceeds to locate Alma Wade, the undead psychic that is essentially the source of all the chaos. The plot in F.E.A.R. 2 focuses more on Alma and her backstory and her presence is felt much more than in the previous game. Michael will frequently experience hallucinations and even have to fend off her attacks a few times.

F.E.A.R. 2 is a first-person shooter and action horror title but unfortunately, the plot isn’t very compelling and the horror isn’t very effective. If you know what happened in the first game, the mystery is already revealed and a lot of the attempts at scares fall flat. The plot of the first game didn’t overload you with information so you could learn more and more about what was going on as you progressed. But not knowing was just one reason why the horror was effective. The plot in F.E.A.R. 2 didn’t really do anything interesting to keep me engaged. The core of the horror is simply recycled. If anything, the plot made me empathize with Alma because what happened to this girl is outright fucked up.

Now I’m going to discuss the Reborn campaign which really doesn’t deserve much attention because it’s pretty forgettable. Players are put in the shoes of Replica Soldier Foxtrot 813. Paxton Fettel, the psychic commander in the first game, realizes he’s different and guides him to the Origin Facility blast site. If you’re waiting to hear me tell you how this ties into the main campaign, you’re going to be disappointed because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t. I don’t mind side stories that are unrelated to the main plot but there’s seemingly no point to this expansion and it can be completed in under an hour. I know the GoG version comes packaged with the DLC and I guess the Steam version does as well. This is good because I didn’t remember what it used to cost but I found it on the Xbox marketplace going for $9.99 and I honestly feel it’s not worth the money. It’s just ridiculously short and lacks substance.

F.E.A.R. 2 is a solid action game and a very disappointing sequel. If it didn’t have “F.E.A.R.” in the title, I probably would have been able to appreciate it more. The gunplay is great, there are some really cool action-packed encounters, and the weapons are fun to use. But it lacks everything else that made the first game great and an effective horror title. At a certain point in the game, I fantasized about meeting the developers so I could simply ask “what the fuck did you do?”

Most of the mechanics from the first game return including Slow-Mo. At the press of a button, you can enter Slow-Mo to temporarily slow down time and you can find Reflex Injectors in the environments that will permanently increase the duration of your Slow-Mo. You can no longer lean around corners and dual wield pistols but you can flip over objects to be used as cover.

The gunplay in F.E.A.R. 2 is quite good and watching enemies get blown apart in Slow-Mo is always fun. You can blow off body parts, shotguns can obliterate foes, and blood will gush out of bodies. You’ll get your hands on many traditional firearms which all feel satisfying to shoot. They have good visual feedback and muzzle flashes are often big and bright. Bullets will rip through the environments and smoke and particles will fill the air during firefights. The most interesting weapons in the game are the Napalm Cannon and the Pulse Weapon. The Napalm Cannon fires flaming projectiles that will set enemies on fire and the Pulse Weapon fires a slow-moving orb that will electrocute any enemies near its flightpath.

One of the biggest problems with F.E.A.R. 2 is that it lacks scares. I think one reason why is because of the story and I can forgive the writing somewhat because I imagine it would be difficult to write an effective sequel to F.E.A.R. while retaining the mystery and horror elements. Despite the issues with the story in general, I honestly don’t know what the developers could have done to create something just as effective, let alone build upon it without writing a whole new story unrelated to F.E.A.R., because the mystery surrounding Alma and all the events is the core of the narrative and horror in that game. That mystery is gone in F.E.A.R. 2 and, ultimately, it makes me think the first game should have been one and done.

Another reason F.E.A.R. 2 lacks scares is because it’s simply not scary. What made F.E.A.R. creepy and terrifying was all the little things. The subtle horror. Things inexplicably moving in the corner of your eye, seeing little Alma in a red dress staring at you from a distance and hearing random noises and voices. A lot of that is gone here. You’ll see ghosts and hear things, there are several scripted sequences with Alma, but a lot of the scares feel staged and forced upon you and as a result, don’t work.

F.E.A.R. is an effective action horror title because it excels at both action and horror and they compliment each other nicely. The action in F.E.A.R. 2 is fun and it looks cool but it doesn’t excel. In fact, it feels like a regression in some ways. For one thing, on the Normal difficulty, I felt no sense of danger. Most enemies don’t feel like much of a threat and can be taken down rather easily and many encounters felt like shooting galleries. There are points in the campaigns where you’ll get to enter Power Armor and gun down a shit-ton of foes which is actually a lot of fun and these sequences are easily the most memorable parts of the game. In fact, these are the only sequences I remember from my initial playthrough years ago.

You’ll engage different types of foes including Armacham Black Ops forces, Spectres, armored units, and Remnants which can take control of nearby enemy corpses. You’ll also face Abominations which are just annoying. They’re quick, they can run along walls, and they perform a lot of hit-and-run attacks. Several enemy types from the previous game return like Replicas except they lack intelligence. They’re your typical first-person shooter enemies now. They don’t do anything super smart. They will flip over objects to use as cover and you’ll hear them communicate but the AI is not like it was in F.E.A.R. You don’t have to worry about them surprising or flanking you and I’ve seen them get stuck in the environments on more than one occasion.

Firefights in F.E.A.R. 2 go on for a bit longer than those in the previous game and that’s because most levels have you running and gunning for long stretches. But the action doesn’t even attempt to compliment the horror. There’s basically no tension. At best, F.E.A.R. 2 is an action game with an unsettling atmosphere. Enemies don’t typically arrive in small squads. You enter an area and must eliminate a ton of foes. That’s most encounters. And any points where the action slows down don’t contain anything particularly scary or will force a scripted sequence upon you as mentioned earlier. The horror wasn’t as effective in the first game’s expansions either but at least the action was still fun and intense. The action in F.E.A.R. 2 can be fun but I wouldn’t say its intense or makes you think on your feet all that much.

The smart AI in F.E.A.R. made enemies actually dangerous. They were unpredictable. That combined with all the subtle horror kept me engaged and always on the edge of my seat. That’s not the case in F.E.A.R. 2. Firefights lack intensity because enemies aren’t smart and aren’t as dangerous and combine that with the lack of scares and there’s simply nothing to fear or keep me on edge.

The average artificial intelligence is one of my biggest issues with the game. As you may or may not know, the first game showcased excellent AI which remains impressive to this day. F.E.A.R. 2 feels like the developers abandoned that technology in favor of how enemies behave in almost every other shooter out there. And I seriously question this design choice because this is from the same developer, Monolith Productions, and I assume they still have the technology. So why fuck with it? Even if we look at this from a game design perspective, one would think you would want to make your sequel better or at least just as good as the first game. And one would also think the developers know the first game was praised for its AI. So I ask again, why fuck with it?

Even if the developers lost or couldn’t use the previous AI architecture for whatever reason, it’s like they didn’t even try to get enemies to behave with the same intelligence. It’s noticeably dumbed down. That’s the problem. The enemies in F.E.A.R. are actually enjoyable and interesting to fight. It’s one of the game’s greatest qualities. Knowing that, I seriously question why this quality wasn’t carried over. I refuse to believe Monolith didn’t know how great it was and how it helped make F.E.A.R. stand out. But alas, F.E.A.R. 2 is the opposite. Not many things about it stand out and the Power Armor sequences certainly don’t carry it. So, yeah, I guess I just don’t understand how this happened. It boggles my mind. I think I played through a good chunk of the campaign with a confused look on my face.

The variety of environments is one of the game’s highlights, at least when compared to the first game and Reborn features several vertical and open areas. There’s a lot of branching paths and rooms off to the sides and many of the open environments let you use Power Armor, a turret, or a sniper rifle to easily gun down the foes that appear. Just like the base game, Reborn lacks scares and it seems to be more focused on action. As mentioned earlier, the action in F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t bad. It’s flashy but pretty standard stuff. Reborn just throws more enemies at you and they come from all different directions but they’re clearly spawning that way. It’s not like it was in F.E.A.R. where you engaged small squads and enemies could take different routes and surprise you.

You might argue the change to the AI was to accommodate the new level design but the levels are mostly linear like those in the first game. Honestly, I didn’t have any issues with the level design in either campaign. I had issues with everything else. The repetitive environments were an issue in the first game but the small areas and small scale encounters made for some really tense situations and it worked well with the horror elements. Funnily enough, the expansions for F.E.A.R. featured larger and more open areas but the smart AI still made encounters fun. My issue with them was the balance leaning more towards action than horror. Ultimately, the big problems with F.E.A.R. 2 is it lacks the scares and dumbs down the action.

I can’t say F.E.A.R. 2 is a bad looking game. I like the visual style. Lights and flashes are often bright and the gunplay has a chunkiness to it mainly due to the visual and gore effects. Seeing bodies get blown up and bloodied, heads explode, and blood splatter is always satisfying. The soundtrack is full of moody tunes and some dramatic stuff that kicks in during certain encounters but I didn’t find the music as creepy as the tunes heard in the first game. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter any major issues. I did consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page before playing and learned the game does have mouse sensitivity issues and the page does offer a fix which I applied.

I’m very disappointed in F.E.A.R. 2. It’s not really a bad game but it is very average. And it’s upsetting because it fails at much of what made the first game so great. Playing up the action in Reborn was probably a smart move on the developers part because the flashy action is all the game really has going for it and I can see its appeal. I admit it’s cool seeing bullets rip the environments apart, enemies get blown to bits, and things explode. I like that stuff as much as the next guy but the real problem is there’s no substance to it. It’s more or less a shooting gallery and that’s not what the first F.E.A.R. is. That’s not why it’s fun. On the surface, F.E.A.R. is a flashy action packed horror title but under the hood is a creepy, atmospheric, and tense experience with intelligent and dangerous enemies that make for some intense firefights. The game does an excellent job at keeping you on your toes and the enemy AI forces you to think on your feet. It’s all these things working together that made the experience fun and effective. That’s all gone in F.E.A.R. 2. What the developers made is an uninspired action game.

I would only recommend F.E.A.R. 2 if you can get it on sale. On it’s own, it’s a decent action game and has some good qualities. As a sequel to F.E.A.R., its perplexing. Almost nothing that made the first game great is carried over. That’s what’s puzzling. It lacks scares, it lacks tension, and it lacks intensity. On the plus side, you get to shoot a lot of baddies, enter Slow-Mo, and it all looks cool. If that sounds appealing to you, check it out.

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