F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin PC Review
It's been a few years now since the original F.E.A.R. smashed onto our PCs, stretching system requirements and combining a bit of scary stuff with a bit of Matrix-style first person shooting action. That year, Monolith also released Condemned, another first-person horror action game - this one on consoles - and I held the rather unpopular opinion that it was a better game than F.E.A.R. simply because the scary stuff could actually hurt you. This was apparently not as unpopular an opinion as I had thought, because in this sequel, the scary stuff can hurt. But it's not enough, and this game lacks just enough innovation and relies too much on cheap scares and more dull environments for its big moments that the whole experience is pulled down.
You play as a new character in the sequel, one who is linked with the whole Armacham project that created the Alma catastrophe in the first place. The game does an excellent job of slowly bringing you into the story, but to get the full effect you'll need to read the bits of "intel" scattered around throughout the levels. But with just a couple of paragraphs to read in each one and no voice work to add emotion to the whole thing, it's kind of a drag seeing the intel because you know you'll have to stop the shooting and read it to really get the full story. Later on in the game there is a bit of an info dump to make sure people who weren't reading or at least weren't paying attention can get caught up, but it's not delivered in the best way possible.
And the shooting is good, even if it's almost exactly like what we got in the first game. The weapons generally have a good feel and a solid "thump" to them when they fire, and your enemies - at first, soldiers sent by a company to clean up the whole Alma mess - are fairly competent if maybe not quite as good in the AI department as in the first F.E.A.R. Later, the enemies get a little scarier as Alma starts dreaming up some stuff that actually can hurt you, but these guys just aren't quite as scary as I think the developers intended. Mixed in will be slower moments when the developers do their best to set up something tense then surprise you with Alma going "boo!". The first of these in the game was probably my favorite, and I never got a better one (for me) after that.
One of the bigger complaints about the first game was that it seemed to take place almost entirely in office buildings and warehouses. Clearly Monolith has tried to address this, but the end result is that you get hospitals and schools instead. It's great being able to fight out in the nuked-out streets of the city, but these moments are too rare and you very often will find yourself staring at more linearly-designed corridors before long. Not that I'm expecting Fallout 3 levels of freedom to move here, but let's just say that Monolith's level design team needs a serious change in focus for this franchise - especially if a third game is going to get made.
Through most of the game you'll find that the cutscenes and overall production values are very good, and most cutscenes look fantastic. The whole game looks pretty damn good and runs at a surprisingly good frame rate on most decent-or-better PCs - this one doesn't quite push the system requirements for its time like the first game did. So after seeing quite a few buggy and difficult PC releases in the last several months, it is nice to see a game that runs well and doesn't present near the number of technical problems or limitations as its peers.
Of course, that's partly because F.E.A.R. 2 doesn't really push the envelope. Nor does it really try to go over the top with its horror or action elements, either; the developers clearly made a direct sequel to the first game, but it's almost like they did it while ignoring what horror/action games have been doing in the last couple years. At some point, even now that Alma can hurt you, she's not so scary once you know her story and are expecting what she brings. In the first game, knowing that she hasn't really hurt you yet - but that the game made it sound like she almost did - carried you through most of the game. Now, we know that she can and is trying to, and her attempts are, frankly, just not that painful or even very difficult to deal with.
F.E.A.R. 2 also introduces some new levels where you take control of a mech-type walker and use much more powerful weapons than your usual arsenal can handle. These sequences are very fun and refreshing at the start, but I quickly found myself wanting it to be over so that I could get on my own two feet again. And while there is one new element of moving world objects - like vending machines or tables - to get cover behind, this is not a cover-based game. This game has you diving out in slow motion, quickly taking several guys down with well-placed shots in bullet time, so the whole point of using cover in this way seems like it'd be much better in something like the later Rainbow Six games than this.
The somewhat disappointing result of all this is that F.E.A.R. 2 isn't different enough from the first game to surprise us, and with such a lack of innovation, even this polished horror shooter just won't get the rise out of players that the original did. The multiplayer modes avoid the horror element altogether and deliver an action experience that is great but also very similar to what we got in F.E.A.R., and hey, if you want that, Sierra did release the multiplayer portion of the first game for free. So it's back to the campaign, and while you will get a solid, mildly entertaining action experience out of Monolith's latest effort, it's not going down in the history books. Grab it if you have fifty bucks to spare and want some solid action and a few cheap thrills, but don't expect anything legendary.