F.E.A.R. is one of the games that defined my teenage years and helped shape the kind of gamer I am today, which is also why it was my birthday review this year. I remember reading so much about the game, all the stellar reviews and complaints from people who couldn’t get it running on their mid-tier gaming rigs. Even online I would often find the game mentioned in a positive light, years after its release. Meanwhile, F.E.A.R. 2 was left to be forgotten, safe for those who were shocked by its daring ending.
Armacham up to its old tricks
F.E.A.R. 2 takes a bit of a strange turn as far as the story goes. Rather than continuing the plot of the first game’s protagonist, after the finale of his game bombarded us with some juicy plot twists regarding his origin, this sequel puts you in the shoes of Becket, a special ops soldier. Becket and his squad are sent to imprison Genevieve Aristide, a questionable higher-up within the Armacham Corporation that was heavily involved in the events of the last story. Upon reaching her hide-out, however, the finale of the first game takes place and the explosion knocks everyone out.
Becket then wakes up in a hospital where he finds Armacham personnel making some… adjustments to his body and psyche. Afterward, he has the same powers as The Pointman did, but he begins to suffer hallucinations and begins to see the spooky Alma Wade more and more often. He quickly tries to regroup with his squad and this objective pretty much stretches out for so long it covers the entire game up until the ending.
The plot is definitely not a strong suit for F.E.A.R. 2. It has occasional highlights like the mission set in a school, but these are kept apart by long missions that are incredibly light on story developments or character interactions. You do find a lot of intel, but most of it is quite dry or serves to recap events from the last game. Meanwhile, the cast of characters is slightly improved yet not by much at all. Your team-mates are kind of fun, the supporting cast has its moments, but nobody gets any proper development and, without wishing to spoil, F.E.A.R. is not the kind of game where side-characters are afforded long and healthy lives.
The end result is that Alma steals the spotlight in a game where she is barely present and where all her character development has already happened. She is just kind of there to sometimes harass and sometimes help Becket, but these moments are rare and far between. There is the ongoing storyline about her being attracted to Becket and that could be interesting if the game actually brought it up more often. Sure, there is the shocking ending sequence and that is really cool; I just wish it felt more deserved and that the game build up to it better.
On a side-note, the game is called F.E.A.R.: Project Origin, all while Michael Becket is not part of the F.E.A.R. team and almost nothing in the plot relates back to Project Origin.
Story score: 3.5/10
Everybody in a line
The game is once again a first-person shooter with a focus on its bullet-time mechanic. You’ll explore mostly linear levels that allow for some mild exploration to find ammo, health, and armor, but before long you’ll be back to following the one path that advances the game. During all this, you are frequently attacked by squads of Armacham soldiers and replica forces.
Now, the enemies were a highlight of the first game, thanks to their spectacular AI and how fun it was to gun them down. Here, the battle arenas are all too large or too confined, meaning the AI is left clueless as to what to do. There are rarely opportunities to flank around and the enemy AI seems drastically dumbed down compared to before. They are perfectly okay with taking cover in ways that still expose their bodies or running straight into grenades that they have thrown themselves. They also have a fondness for standing next to exploding barrels, so much so that one enemy type just carries one on its back.
Enemies just feel the same as they do in every other shooter and most fights are easily won by waiting for them to come to you and just abusing the slow-mo feature. Battles just all feel the same, like you are fighting the same groups of 4-7 enemies in the same hallways over and over again. There are new enemy types, but these are really lame. You got these creepy crawly dudes that are probably just a horror game stock asset, you got ghosts that die in one hit, and different soldier dudes with different HP. Returning foes like the Heavy Weapons Replica soldiers, mech suits, and assassins are withheld till almost the end of the game and get rarely used even then.
The gameplay is serviceable. The weapons work well, there are a few quirky ones that are fun to use, and I encountered no bugs or anything like that. But remember, F.E.A.R. was a revolutionary game for the shooter genre, making it especially shameful that its true, canonical sequel is so basic. Sure, it has the slow-motion ability, but that was hardly iconic for the series, unlike the advanced AI systems that didn’t make a return. To add insult to injury, the game has these interludes where you wander around in a mech suit or man a turret, stock filler sequences found in countless other shooter games.
The horror sequences are still there, but take a backseat to the shooter action. The game will sometimes throw in a body falling from somewhere or objects that suddenly move, but it never recaptures the feeling of being haunted by Alma. She does appear from time to time and forces you to fight her off with a quick-time event, which I feel ruins the mystique. Other horror scenes lack subtlety as well and particularly annoying are sequences involving the ghosts that tend to aggressively flash the screen.
All in all, the game just feels generic. It brings back old enemies and weapons, but it never feels like F.E.A.R. did. It lacks the visceral impact, the weapons that tear apart the environment, the satisfying ragdolls and blood splattering everywhere. It does bring new mechanics to the table like cooking grenades, but all of it has been done by other games and those did it better. At the same time, highlights of the previous game are thrown out. There is no option to stealth, the areas you fight in don’t offer tactical nuance, normal is way too easy and hard just instant-kills you around every corner.
The biggest low point of the game is a battle with this military dude that the game keeps teasing for hours, often forcing you to battle a large wave of enemies instead whenever you think you finally got him cornered. When you really do get to him, you just do one easy quick-time event and win.
I’d rather replay the F.E.A.R. expansion packs, thank you.
Gameplay score: 4/10
Out of office
Visually, the game improves tremendously on its sequel in terms of visual detail. Character models look great, environments are more varied, and despite the many hallways you’ll have to navigate, it’s never as dull as the original’s endless office complexes. The mission set in a school is a highlight of the game, both for its story context and for the great level design. However, many levels do end up being very brown and I did find myself tiring of the underground labs and ravaged town settings.
Besides the characters looking much better now, the voice acting has improved a lot as well. Your team’s coordinator, Lt. Stokes, ends up being one of the more enjoyable characters in the plot and is voiced by Jen Taylor, famously known as the voice of Cortana in Halo. Genevieve Aristide and Sgt. Morales also sound good and the dialogue is well-written too. The sound design is generally quite good, safe for one perplexing scene where the pen-ultimate battle is accompanied by a cheesy hard rock song.
Many of my complaints I already listed in the gameplay section. The game looks better graphically, but feels a lot less satisfying and visceral. Weapons lack impact and less of the environment is destructible. Even punching people in the face or dropkicking them feels weirdly fake. You can still explode people under the right circumstances, but that just splatters some blood on your visor. On that note, the HUD is hideous and completely unfitting for a horror game like this.
Presentation score: 6/10
F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t too bad. Playing through it once for the story is fine, if a little disappointing, but it’s at least a serviceable shooter game with decent visuals and some good voice work. Fans of shooters or those who were really into the first game can probably get through it, but it really did feel like I was just doing this out of love for the original as opposed to the game’s own merits.
- The encounters with Remants are great stuff.
- Visually a major improvement on F.E.A.R..
- Good voice cast
- The school level.
- Your team is very underdeveloped.
- The story drags out to facilitate overlong levels.
- Confined spaces mean you just point down the hallway and gun down all the enemies.
- Overly large spaces leave the AI confused. Either way, combat encounters are incredibly boring.
- Much less impact, blood, and gore.
- Special enemies are rarely used effectively.
- The new “Abomination” enemies are the most basic, predictable horror baddies out there.
- Lots of reading to keep up with the convoluted plot.
- The awful HUD.