Review: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

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The original F.E.A.R. would be a tough act to follow for any game, not just a sequel. Between the intense, engaging gun battles and the kitschy but ultimately effective scares, it was a unique delight built from familiar parts. It would only make sense to carry over the incredible enemy AI and oppressive atmosphere and god-killing shotgun to build an even bigger, bolder game. And perhaps that was what they intended, but it’s clear right from the start that something was lost in translation. F.E.A.R. 2 never quite manages to rise above the basics of the genre the way its predecessor did, but that’s still enough to make a competent shooter.

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Let’s start with a spoiler alert for the original F.E.A.R., because it’s going to be impossible to talk about the weird shit that happens in this one without it. You play Michael Becket, Delta Force operator, on a mission to extract background villain Genevieve Aristide from certain death at the hands of an angry Armacham. This happens just a few minutes before the end of F.E.A.R. 1, meaning you get a front-row seat to the ghost nuke from the end of the previous game. The rest of your adventure is through the bombed-out hellhole Alma has turned the city into, murdering your way through Armacham troops, Replica forces, and wilder things in the hopes of somehow stopping scary ghost lady.

One thing I will give F.E.A.R. 2 credit for is running with the bugfuck ending of the first, Alma stinger and all. The spirit bomb not only hollowed out the city but turned the living to ash, leaving ghostly projections and even some reanimated corpses to battle. It’s a far cry from the mostly grounded foes of F.E.A.R. 1, leaving you in doubt of what you may encounter around the next corner. Several levels feature wall-crawling zombie test subjects that creep me out something fierce, while in other places you fight charging specters or scampering corpses that possess others like grim puppet masters. These encounters give the game some much needed tension, though at the cost of making it feel a bit cheesier.

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I say much-needed because the scares of the first game are largely absent here. Well, maybe not absent but not nearly as competent. Don’t expect any stand-out spooks like Alma in the vents or at the top of that one ladder. F.E.A.R. 2 happily ignores loads of prime opportunities to scare in favor of obnoxious new visual effects painted over your screen. Terror time is telegraphed with red flashes around your vision, followed by some flickering lights or Alma appearing for a second or something else subdued. The tension is further eroded by the presence of your team in a number of areas, fighting alongside you and quipping about dead chicks and sticking it to some motherfuckers.

It still tries though, and the same can be said about the combat. F.E.A.R. 2 is still built around a foundation of slo-mo combat, but some subtle changes have wiped away some of that immortal badass feel from the first game. You seem to move slower and engage enemies at greater ranges, eliminating a lot of fun melee opportunities. The weapons are balanced differently, with the standard assault rifle and submachine gun proving to be reliable but boring workhorses throughout the game. Meanwhile, the two shotguns take more hits to kill enemies and the exotic weapons are dialed down in power and impact. Supposedly the masterful AI of the first game was brought over as well, but if that’s true then I’d have to guess that level design holds them back from actually showing what they can do because they feel no different from typical CoD fodder.

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Hopefully I’m not giving too negative a vision of the game, but viewing it through the bloody lens of the first game makes it hard not to miss the omissions. This remains a quality FPS, just one that veers more towards something like Call of Duty or Medal of Honor than the grim and gritty horror shooter that came before. Kicking in slo-mo to pound bullets into heads and then returning to normal time as the bodies hit the floor is still a crowd-pleaser, and there are a few additions like turret battles and two giant mech rampages to help break things up. They certainly don’t help the atmosphere much but I can’t deny the fun in mulching waves of soldiers with a rack of chainguns.

The graphics also skew more towards modern shooters than the sharp contrasts in the first game, featuring plenty of brown-brick walls and rubble and gratings. It’s the icing on a purely perfunctory cake, one that does everything it needs to without owing too much to its predecessor. I’m sure you must be sick of hearing about the first F.E.A.R. by now but that’s because there’s never been a proper follow-up or competitor, just this functional successor with decent combat and a wild story. F.E.A.R. 2 is plenty fun as a shooter, it just lacks the magic which made the first F.E.A.R. a classic.

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