Not a review: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
January 22, 2009

We'll do away with the ridiculous acronym right from the get-go. Fear was an interesting game. It started sublimely, but didn't move much beyond its opening hour. What was left was a fairly bland and particularly grey corridor shooter, saved by blistering action sequences and some genuinely surprising jump-moments.

Fear 2, from the half-hour or so we've been given access to so far, seems very much like more of the same, but executed in a far more exciting and interesting manner than its predecessor. It's still completely linear, but it's much more guided. It's still a straightforward mash-up of brainless Hollywood action and shades of Asian horror (though, in fact, the scares seem much more Western in their approach now). It still makes you jump a lot, but it also builds tension much more finely in between the individual scares.

It might lose its pace after the initial section, as the original did. But for now, it's really good fun.

Given the problems in the original, I'm extremely impressed by the level design. Monolith have evidently been playing a lot of Valve games. On top of the eerily familiar set-pieces, each area gives the illusion of reasonable freedom, but through a clever combination of audiovisual techniques, it carefully funnels you in pretty much a straight line from start to finish. You can go through that door to your left, sure, but the lights are out, so you really don't want to. Instead, you head for the well-lit area up ahead... only for the lights to flicker off there too, and the door to slam behind you, leaving you to fire blindly into the night like the kind of paranoid super-soldier you are.

The cinematics are wonderful. At the start of the game, I thought a pre-rendered sequence had frozen. Actually, the game had begun, dropping me into a phenomenal warped hallucination scene. These bits look staggering, with all sorts of special effects overlaying the view, contorting the environment into something truly unnerving. Outside of these sequences, it looks okay - quite similar, in fact, to Left 4 Dead, which the level design and artwork seem to take an awful lot of inspiration from. But, commendably, it runs astonishingly smoothly on my rapidly ageing PC, without sacrificing the quality of the visuals. It isn't that scaleable - the resolution is about the only thing you can alter - but it doesn't need to be. This engine is brilliantly optimised.

This opening section is split very definitely into two halves. The first is relentlessly tense, with long, spooky corridors and flickering lights, regular hallucination sequences, and a few genuine jump-out-of-seat moments. There's an appearance of Alma that caused me to literally shout "HOLY FUCKING SHIT" at my screen. There's also a staggeringly awesome part near the beginning that sees all normal vision go completely fucked, as doors thwack open and shut, ethereal enemies appear and disappear all over the place, screams emit from every direction, blood appears on walls, items fly around the room, lights strobe on and off, and all you can do is run, panic-stricken, firing randomly at nothing tangible. Delectably spooky.

Oh, and the sountrack for this bit is ludicrously good. Really adds to the atmosphere.

The second half, which takes place largely in carefully crafted outdoor areas (again, very much like Left 4 Dead's city missions), focuses more on the old high-speed, brutal gunplay, which is... a bit slower and less brutal than before. There seems to be less emphasis on the need for slow-mo John Wu combo action, which is a little disappointing, given how much it carried the original game. That I didn't miss it all that much is a fairly big compliment to how refined the rest of the formula is. This section of the game ends with a frankly ludicrous sequence that sees you climb inside a massive mechanised suit of armour, ploughing through hordes of enemies with double chainguns. It sounds out of place, and I suppose it is a little, but I still enjoyed it. Probably a lot more than I should have.

A few gripes. The world is a little too static. At one point, the game gives you a missile launcher. But it's pretty much pointless, as you can't destroy any of the scenery. You may as well just pick off enemies with the other blissfully powerful weapons in your arsenal. All collectable items are highlighted with big blue glowing boxes, which seems a little gratuitous and patronising. The HUD is basically ripped straight out of Invisible War, which seems like an odd decision, given how many people complained that it was intrusive and unnecessary. And at the moment, it only supports widescreen. I really hope they fix this for the final release, otherwise it's going to alienate an awful lot of PC users with its horrific letterboxing.

It's looking very promising. A lot more promising than I ever expected or dared to hope. Talk of a shift in focus towards blockbuster action left me rather sceptical, but actually, it really works in this context. It's not spine-chilling terror. It's Westernised horror-action - but, from first impressions at least, it's crafted extremely well. Roll on next month!

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Halon Halon - January 23, 2009 (11:51 AM)
I played the demo and wasn't impressed. Basically more of the same except better graphics and even more over the top. Keep in mind that I liked the first FEAR's demo and wound up thinking the final game is a 5 or 6/10.

Think I'll pass on this one.
Lewis Lewis - January 25, 2009 (06:46 AM)
Remember the demo is a thrown-together collection of various areas in the full game. I see it more as a taster than the true experience. I'm surprisingly excited about this one.

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