Defeat a bloodthirsty monster before she destroys everything in her path.
PC Release: February 10, 2009
By Ian Coppock
“Fear is my ally”. That statement is both the personal creed of Darth Maul and the main takeaway horror fans should’ve gotten from the F.E.A.R. review last Sunday. For all its repetition and condensed plot, F.E.A.R. is unusually self-aware for an action-horror game. It’s thoughtful, it’s pretty well-paced, and it’s a patient game. It’s content to let players stew in its atmosphere instead of inundating them with jumpscares. With such a solid formula in the works, developer Monolith went ahead and got to work on a sequel.
Like F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is a first-person horror-shooter, with elements of big-budget action films and stark raving terror rolled into a single production. Released a little over three years after the first game, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin also continues right where the last game concluded, in a dilapidated American city at the mercy of a psychic monster. Unlike the original game, F.E.A.R. 2 follows a new cast of characters, none of whom are actually members of the titular anti-ghost F.E.A.R. unit, making the title a tiny bit of a misnomer.
Anyway, F.E.A.R. 2 kicks off a few moments before the conclusion of F.E.A.R., and puts players into the boots of Michael Beckett, a Delta Force soldier. Beckett and his team have been sent to extract the CEO of the Armacham Technology Corporation, a company deep into researching psychic and paranormal phenomena. Before the squad can find their mark, a gigantic explosion shakes the ATC building to its foundations and knocks Beckett unconscious.
When Beckett and his surviving squadmates wake up God knows how much later, they discover that someone has surgically imbued each of them with the same hyper-fast reflexes that the Point Man enjoyed in F.E.A.R. With these abilities, the team can make short work of even the most elite enemy units. These powers are sorely needed; there are still quite a few clone supersoldiers from F.E.A.R. running around, and Armacham has also sent in a private black ops army to clean up after Paxton Fettel’s rampage.
After escaping Armacham and clone forces, Beckett gets a call from an anonymous man going by the code name “Snake Fist”, who claims that Beckett and each of his squadmates have vast psychic potential. Snake Fist suggests using this power to trap Alma Wade, the enraged ghost at the heart of F.E.A.R., before she can expand her destruction beyond the city of Fairport’s limits. With no other option in sight, Beckett and his team gear up to fight through waves of enemy soldiers and who knows what else on their mission to stop Alma.
If the original F.E.A.R.‘s gameplay was inspired by Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin feels like Call of Duty. Everything from the balance of guns to using grenades feels exactly like a Call of Duty title. That’s not a bad thing, but the level of fidelity Monolith had toward Infinity Ward is a little embarrassing, for how derivative F.E.A.R. 2 feels. Not all is for naught, though, as the game retains the old-school medkit mechanic instead of health regeneration.
As Beckett, players are able to use his enhanced reflexes to get the jump on enemy troops. These abilities are represented in-game as slowing down time. Players can use this power to shoot everyone in the room before they’ve even reached for their weapons, though it’s metered and needs to recharge before it can be used again. Even though F.E.A.R. 2‘s guns play differently than those of F.E.A.R., the slow-motion ability feels quite familiar.
To call F.E.A.R. 2 a Call of Duty clone is a bit unfair, because the game expands its rosters of both action and horror gameplay. To speak to the former, players can now hop inside giant mechs and tear stuff up from behind two miniguns. Sure, that sort of thing doesn’t exactly smack of horror game subtlety, but damn if it ain’t fun. Those clone soldiers really need to learn not to leave their expensive illegal private army black-ops murder machines lying around. Occasionally another mech will show up, ostensibly to perform in 2009’s greatest ever rendition of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.
The other nice improvement F.E.A.R. 2 makes over the original is a huge spike in enemy variety. F.E.A.R. had a small handful of enemy types, but F.E.A.R. 2 throws large mixes of different baddies at the player. Paxton Fettel’s clone troops wield more guns, while Armacham’s forces comprise a mix of shotgunners, flamethrowers, and other specialists. This forces players to be much more careful, especially since this game’s enemy AI is, especially for an older game, quite robust.
As for the horror gameplay, the darker half of F.E.A.R. 2, things are a little more visceral than in the original F.E.A.R. Sure, the first game put out a lot of things to jump at, but that was really it. Very few of the horror themes were more threatening than a simple jumpscare, popping out to spike some adrenaline before vanishing just like that. In F.E.A.R. 2, the ghouls and goblins are quite real. Alma’s paranormal activities have unleashed ghosts upon the city, and who knows what’s crawling around in the sewers beneath the condemned Auburn district. If F.E.A.R.‘s scares were just that, F.E.A.R. 2 upgrades from scares to scrambles for life.
All of that isn’t to say that F.E.A.R. 2 abandons F.E.A.R.‘s psychological moorings. As Beckett gets closer to Alma, he starts experiencing intense visions of her. To make matters worse, Alma begins telepathically screwing with Beckett’s teammates, driving some to madness and others to their deaths as she sees fit. This constant insecurity against an intangible threat makes the game feel tense. Unfortunately, each of these side characters are about as memorable as extras in an action film. The aforementioned Armacham CEO is especially uninspired, with awful voice acting to match. Like the Point Man, Beckett is a silent protagonist, so anyone who came here looking for more than guns and ghosts is probably in for a disappointment.
Indeed, the entire narrative of F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t that memorable either. F.E.A.R. was a linear run-and-gun with some ghosts thrown in, but at least it was a patient game. Its exposition was compacted, but it still had exposition. F.E.A.R. 2, by contrast, gives players a single goal to complete and then kicks them out the door to do precisely that. No plot twists. No character development. Just a light at the end of a ghost-infested tunnel. F.E.A.R. 2 seems to hold the idea of a decent story at arm’s length, choosing instead to focus purely on combat and ghost hunting. Writing and dialogue, not so much.
It also doesn’t help that F.E.A.R. 2 is short, clocking in at 5 hours. Even for a shooter, that’s a pretty stunted game. It causes no shortage of balking from fans of the original F.E.A.R., a game that easily takes at least eight hours. That’s also not counting the Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate expansions bundled with F.E.A.R. for free. As an aside, the Project Origin subtitle makes little sense. Project Origin is the subject of the first game. It should’ve been Project Harbinger, after the program that gave Beckett his new powers and is a focal point of the game. Or, y’know, just F.E.A.R. 2.
F.E.A.R. 2‘s saving grace lies not in its fun if conventional gunplay nor its undercooked narrative, but in its visuals. For a game that came out in 2009, F.E.A.R. 2 has some very sophisticated visuals. Graphics and textures are extremely sharp, character animations are fluid, and the game packs some of 2009’s most impressive lighting effects. Monolith forgot a few things when making F.E.A.R. 2, but luckily they remembered how important good lighting and shadows are to a horror atmosphere. The game also comes with a film grain, back before every horror game came with a film grain, but it doesn’t tank performance.
The visuals are another reason that F.E.A.R. 2 feels like a Call of Duty title. While the lighting is great and the textures are crystal-clear, some of the game’s environments just feel too clean. Too glossy. Even the war-torn areas of Fairport feel a bit sterile. This isn’t to rag on the game’s impressive sense of object placement and attention to detail, but even with rancid fog effects, some areas feel a bit too squeaky to be believable.
Despite retaining its predecessor’s brilliant lighting design, F.E.A.R. 2 feels like a major step backwards from F.E.A.R. Rather than being an atmospheric game that alternates between hot and cold pacing, F.E.A.R. 2 is a short, action-intense game whose faith in its players’ attention spans is nonexistent. It does a pretty good job at psychological horror, but the first game’s scares are better, which is pathetic considering that F.E.A.R.‘s scares aren’t even dangerous. The gunplay is pretty fun, but it’s in excruciating lockstep with every popular first-person shooter ever made, and so offers little novelty.
Finally, the narrative. Or rather, the lack of one. F.E.A.R. 2‘s story is so skeletal and scant on details that players will be left with little motivation to carry on through the game. The voice acting and writing are sub-par, and even the proliferation of diary logs throughout the game reveals little exposition or backstory. The $10 Reborn DLC adds a sliver of narrative for far too high a cost. The main game also ends on a true “wtf” note, with one of the most bizarre cliffhangers ever seen in modern gaming. Hopefully, F.E.A.R. 3 turns it around, but a sequel shouldn’t have to do that.
The bottom line is, players who like a well-paced horror-shooter should get F.E.A.R. Players who like a skeletal Call of Duty game wrapped in a sheet costume should get F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. It’s not uncommon to find a sequel that’s a step back from the original game, but it is unusual to find a sequel that feels like it was made by another studio… without actually having been made by another studio. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin leaves F.E.A.R. fans with little to invest in after the main game, least of all their money. Give it a miss and replay the first F.E.A.R. instead.
You can buy F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.