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F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (Xbox 360) artwork

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (Xbox 360) review


"Refined, often impressive, yet ultimately empty, there's simply none of Monolith's renowned creativity on display here. Producing a more polished version of your four-year-old near-masterpiece doesn't quite cut it, in a world where the genre is rapidly maturing and evolving into a new beast altogether."



F.E.A.R. 2 is a paradox. On one hand, it's a brutal, weighty and magnificently polished first-person shooter, by far the most adept Monolith has produced. It ticks just about every box you could imagine within the action genre, and is going to leave a lot of its market very satisfied indeed.

But, on the other hand, that's all it manages to be: satisfactory. Fear 2 (sod that pesky punctuation) trudges over familiar terrain like nobody's business, guiding the player through high-octane violence and hyper-detailed environments with more panache than almost any other action title that springs to mind. Where it tries, it succeeds -- but the ambition is sorely lacking.

Rewind to Monolith and Vivendi's ludicrous cat-fight over Fear's sequel rights. Vivendi owned the franchise and set about making their own follow-up, but Monolith were unimpressed with their efforts and began work on their own game, a spiritual successor to their milestone release. After much pettiness, and presumably a fair amount of dollar, Vivendi backed down, Monolith took full control of the reigns, and the projects were merged.

Here's the review in a nutshell: it's Fear 2 like I'd have expected Vivendi to make it.

Refined, often impressive, yet ultimately empty, there's simply none of Monolith's renowned creativity on display here. Producing a more polished version of your four-year-old near-masterpiece doesn't quite cut it, in a world where the genre is rapidly maturing and evolving into a new beast altogether.

Fear 2 feels so antiquated. It's a game we could have been playing ten years ago, aside from the flashy graphics engine. It's an entirely linear journey through overused locales, shooting wave upon wave of grunts and ghoulies with a rather straightforward set of firearms. Its set-pieces are dazzling, but so were Half-Life's in 1998. Its action is balanced and refined, but Gears of War does it better. Its scare tactics are identical to those of its predecessor, but less prevelant and more expected.

It's sort-of-old-school, which leaves it cold. Fear 2 isn't quite hectic enough to provide the same cathartic experience as the FPS grandfathers did, but it's too straightforward to offer anything but. The result is an awkward middle ground, and a constant wish for it to commit one way or the other. It never does.

Even Fear would have felt like this, knocking on half a decade ago, if it weren't for the fabulously implemented melée combat. Fear 2 all but eradicates it. The increased size of the play area means enemies almost always attack from a distance, and getting close enough to kick or happy-slap your way through the crowd is rarely advisable from a survival point of view. Even if you do manage, it doesn't feel anywhere near as meaty. Bound to a single button, the close-quarters action varies between a rifle-smack and a ridiculous ninja-boot, with none of the slide-tackles or scissor-kicks of the original.

The result is that bullet-ti-- sorry, reflex-time is restricted to sitting patiently behind cover, activating the slow-mo feature, strafing out, aiming for a head-shot, and taking cover again. It's a fine strategy, but nowhere near as exciting as jumping around a room, slaying reams of baddies with martial art finesse.

What's left? Well, there's the AI, as clever and unforgiving as before. Enemies work in groups, pushing over objects to shelter behind, taking blind pot-shots, flanking you and generally making your life bloody difficult. There's a giant robot suit -- a great idea in principle, and admittedly a lot of fun, but disappointingly implemented as a generic vehicular-combat segment. And, of course, there's Alma.

This is an interesting one. The horror is remarkably less overt than before, which by all rights should be a good thing. Subtle screen-flickers, little glimpses of something in the shadows, long stretches of safety to lull you into a false sense of security. Fear 2 repeatedly ramps up the atmosphere, but it seems to get stuck before the final, climactic release. With only a couple of exceptions, as soon as the scares begin to impress, they disappear, and it's back to shooting big bad men with big bad guns.

Alma's specific implementation, expectedly, forms the basis of Fear 2's story, which wavers between interesting and confusing. The vast majority of the tale is told through collected PDAs, with occasional guidance supplied via radio messages. But, with a little too much reliance on your having completed the original, things can get quickly messy. I played through half the game before realising who I was supposed to be, and what connection I had to anything. If this was intentional, it was badly planned: how many people actually get to the later sections of games these days? If it wasn't, well, oh dear.

And Monolith's flagship girl plays an impressive role at times, but she's just not that scary any more. The whole point of her existence in the first game was to provide a sinister visual focus without rational explanation. But, by the end of Fear, she was explained. Now that we know who she is, she's distinctly less unnerving -- at least until the batshit-insane conclusion.

So we're left with the shooting. Excellent shooting, no doubt, but excellent shooting in a woefully uninspired game. Where other, less technically accomplished action titles will stand the test of time, their stories filling the minds of players for years to come, Fear 2 is destined to fade away into insignificance. Whether you care about that will likely be the defining factor in your enjoyment here. I did enjoy it, undeniably. It's agreeably thrilling and often exciting. But will I be talking about its moments in the months and years to come?

I doubt it. I've forgotten most of them already.

Rating: 6/10

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 05, 2009)

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Masters posted March 05, 2009:

This isn't only the best review I've read from you (and I've read quite a few), it's just about flawless. Kudos. I learned everything I needed to know and your delivery was slick, your transitioning, seamless. It's not often an author can wield deft analysis and polished prose both. You've done it here.
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Lewis posted March 05, 2009:

:| Wow, thank you! I actually wasn't sure what I made of this review. So that's very good, if surprising, to hear!
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JANUS2 posted March 05, 2009:

This actually makes me want to play FEAR 2.
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Lewis posted March 05, 2009:

What an odd reaction...
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JANUS2 posted March 05, 2009:

I know. Perhaps I should play the original instead. Is the 360 port any good?
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Lewis posted March 05, 2009:

I have no idea. Only played that on the PC.

Fear 2 probably is the stronger game, aside from the melée, but a lot has changed in four years, y'know?
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draculasrevenge posted March 05, 2009:

The 360 port crashed a few times on me, but it's good otherwise.

I seem to be alone in liking FEAR.
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bluberry posted March 05, 2009:

the 360 port would have been perfect were it not for the fact that some of the (RIDICULOUSLY HARD) achievements are bugged. that and the fact that you can only save at/restart from checkpoints, but they're placed really arbitrarily. didn't matter on the PC, but it hurts the 360 version.

haha, even you don't like FEAR 2 Lewis! I've heard nothing but "eh" about it, maybe I'll check it out when it comes way down in price.
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hmd posted March 05, 2009:

I played the demo for this and laughed at it. So hard. Man it was really bad amateurish shit. You'd think that with so many first person shooters around to glut up the creative spirit or whatever the fuck, that at least this game would at least handle shooting things well. And of course it fucking doesn't because christ enemies don't even notice me even after I've killed half their buddies and somehow shotgunned a ghost to death. I don't know. And the whole time I was thinking about the lead designer going on his blog and talking shit about Call of Duty again, like when the first Fear came out. This is also the same lead designer who worked on the Street Fighter the Movie game featuring a silent, digitized Jean Claude Van Damme.
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hmd posted March 05, 2009:

In other words I think Alan Noon is a piece of shit who should probably not do this sort of thing anymore.

"So with heavy heart, I now realize that this Street Fighter is not for me. The game play is geared for a style of play different than I would have liked to have seen. I guess I am old school, but I miss the days where victory depended on your knowledge of the priority, timing, and ranges of each character's move set. Used to be that if you knew that, you could win without ever throwing a hadoken. Now a days, standard moves are marginalized, and spamming specials, supers, and ultras is the path to victory. Sorry, just not for me."

"After that, if Street Fighter 4 drops to a price that justifies its quality level, I suppose I shall hadoken once again."

"Noby Noby Boy (PS3)

[video]

That, apparently is game play. I am dead serious. What do you expect though? It is by the same guy that created Katamari Damacy, another title I despise."

no really fuck this guy and his derivative fuck games.
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Lewis posted March 06, 2009:

Wow. Someone is angry.

Susprised at your claims that Fear 2 doesn't get "the gameplay" right. It's anything but amateurish, for me. I found the AI to be nothing but stunning throughout (and remember that your enemies are pre-programmed, brainwashed grunts who are designed not to care about anything but killing the opposition).

Aside from that, it should be pointed out that John Mulkey was the lead designer on Fear 2. Alan Noon had no involvement at all. Am I missing a link, or did you just fancy ranting about something else as well?
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Halon posted March 08, 2009:

Great review! This states pretty accurately how I felt about the first game. Since this one is supposed to be worse I'll definitely pass.
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Lewis posted March 08, 2009:

"Great review! This states pretty accurately how I felt about the first game. Since this one is supposed to be worse I'll definitely pass."

It's not worse as such. Stand them side by side and Fear 2 might even come out on top. But the FPS genre underwent some pretty serious changes in the last few years, for the better. And Fear 2 ignores them all.

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