Inspired by the J-Horror craze going on at the time, Monolith’s F.E.A.R. was a solid action fest of a shooter that entertained as much as it terrified. Yeah, the ending was clichéd, but dammit, the slow-motion ability, combined with some beefy weapons and slick graphics made for some fun times. And yes, this was also the time we were still afraid of mysterious long-haired girls with weird powers. So naturally, Monolith got to work and gave us F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin in 2009, which has quietly hit its 10-year anniversary. I say ‘quietly’ because like the series’ inspiration, people seem to have forgotten about it. It’s kind of a shame, since the title had, and in some cases, still has, a lot to offer. But that’s also despite having an overarching issue that ultimately led to it being overlooked in the first place.
Picking up 30 minutes before the end of F.E.A.R., you are Michael Beckett, a Delta Force operator whose squad is sent in to take one Genevieve Aristide into protective custody before Armacham Technology Corporation (the folks behind the mess in the first game) get to her first. Of course, things don’t go the way they should, as ATC gets to Aristide first. After Beckett and his crew fight them off, Aristide mentions that Beckett and several of his teammates are all part of a project known as “Harbinger”. Of course, before you get any more from Aristide, the ending to F.E.A.R. occurs, leaving you underground, fighting to get back to the surface with the ATC on your back, and Alma taking a special interest in you…
Impressively, even after 10 years, F.E.A.R. 2‘s graphics still look amazing. The original game, while looking marvelous for the time, was admittedly too contrasted and too “clean” in its presentation. Plus, this was just before Crysis hit, moving the bar for visual quality. As for F.E.A.R. 2, the game actually has color and style, rather than being bathed in the harsh lights that were everywhere in the first game. Damage done to buildings (particularly the school) still look realistic enough, though the texture work is again a little too clean looking in places.
Of course, if you played the original, you’re going to find some aspects of the graphics having taken a step back. The contrast in the graphics in F.E.A.R. had a sort of oppressive, harsh feel to it all, and made the game that much more intense. It also made damage done to the environment after a firefight stick out. The graphics in F.E.A.R. 2 now no longer have that contrast. Enemies no longer stand out, and their design has taken on a more “Call of Duty” look, which feels really generic. The blood effects had also changed. No longer do you have those clouds of red mist and other particle effects accenting the carnage as much as they did. They’re still there, but don’t stand out as much.
A bigger focus this time for F.E.A.R. 2 was its story. As mentioned, the ending to the first game was something you could see coming, but the overall story was kind of thin (it’s a first-person shooter, after all). And while you’re still getting an FPS-style story with side characters that don’t have much going on for them, you do have a bit more in terms of a “bond” with some characters rather than none at all. You now have something more interesting to chew on with the Harbinger project, its involvement with you and your teammates, the ATC wanting to clean up everything, and then of course Alma.
Alma’s goal, as the game puts it, is to consume you because you emit psychic energy as a result of Aristide performing experiments on you after the Point Man detonates the Origin Facility’s reactor. The same experiments that give you your Reflex Mode now have you on occasion having to fend off Alma’s psychic attacks in true “Mash ‘Q’ to not die” moments. Later on, it turns out that she’s after more than just your psychic energy.
Another big focus for F.E.A.R. 2 was its gameplay. A lot of what made the first game so great with the Reflex Mode, the weapons, the AI and the melee combat, is still here, but a lot has also been changed. Many of the weapons found in the first game are back, they feel kind of nerfed. For example, your standard pistol has been changed so that it requires ammo, but doesn’t feel like (or reflect) the damage that you could do in the previous game. You also can’t dual wield. The same can be said of your shotgun, which again doesn’t have the same punchy feel as the previous iteration. In fact, you probably will only end up using the assault rifle and one other weapon during your entire playthough, given how imbalanced everything feels. But, you do get to stomp around in a mech at a certain point, so that adds a bit of spice (even if you can’t do it from the outset).
The physics are probably the most noticeable change. In the previous game, you could ragdoll enemies to your heart’s content, and even stick them to the walls with the Penetrator. In F.E.A.R. 2, you no longer have that much of a ragdoll effect, which takes away a bit of the fun. It also makes the running melee attacks feel lame. Grenades no longer detonate on impact (though you can cook them this time), and bounce around like spooked rabbits, making their use limited.
As for the AI, they still do much of what made the first game so tense in their use of cover and attempts to flush you out from behind cover. This time, however, they feel more like a wave rather than a squad, lining up to get shot at rather than having you work to get them out in the open. In fact, you’ll do more remaining behind cover than actually rushing out and using your melee attacks while firing (as you did in F.E.A.R.). Again, it’s the whole “be like Call of Duty” thing.
If you haven’t gathered it by now, F.E.A.R. 2 suffers from being a game that was great on the PC, but in order to appeal to the masses (read: the console market), it had to be stripped of what made the original so good. Small things, like the HUD now resembling something you’d see on for a console game, bullets no longer having tracers to better pinpoint your shot, the down-the-sights aiming, the aforementioned graphical changes, the quicktime events, etc. all add up. In fact, if you watch the making-of videos for the game, you get the sense that it all was more or less taking a PC shooter and turning it into a console shooter, while not alienating the established fanbase. Needless to say, it didn’t work. You’re left with a game that while fun to play, satisfied neither camp enough to make it a surefire Call of Duty challenger.
There’s still a lot to like about F.E.A.R. 2. The game certainly was certainly boosted in the story department (as well as the horror), but admittedly took a few steps back when it came to a lot of other areas. It brought the series to console owners, which did open up the audience somewhat. It certainly wasn’t a bad game (despite me doing the constant comparison to the original), but the overall feel that Monolith chose to focus on taking out what was special from the first game in favor of homogenizing it, is disappointing. Still, the fact that the horror aspect was boosted with the story does make the game more appealing in that regard for some genre fans, myself included. F.E.A.R. 2 is one of the few older horror FPS games still worth checking out, despite losing some of what made the first game so great.