"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.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 05, 2009)
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