Sunday, March 1, 2009

Video Games: PC :F.E.A.R. 2:Project Origin

Being a fan of Monolith’s F.E.A.R franchise thus far, there was no hesitation in picking up the official sequel to the madness that is Alma. The original F.E.A.R introduced us to this creepy little girl and her story, that of being a child of psychic abilities so strong that she was taken to a lab were scientists poked, prodded, and brought about the birth of her son, Paxton Fettel. Fettel could psychically control a battalion of soldiers known as Replicas. When Fettel starts attacking those who so woefully mistreated his mother all hell breaks loose. The game ends with a big, apocalyptic type explosion brought on by the release of Alma into the world.

Fast forward to F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin. The story now follows a group of soldiers sent into take the head scientist of the company into custody, and you play as Beckett, one of the squad. The events occur right after the explosion in Project Origin, and your thinking, well crap, Alma is loose. Your ready to indulge in the scares and horrors of the first… but that never really seems to happen.

Project Origin feels like a different game from its predecessor. From the gun battles to story line to atmosphere, there’s something sorely lacking in its experience. The game seems to be less about Alma and a little more about blowing Replica soldiers’ brains out, which is all good and well, but there’s no actual fear for a game that boasts it in its title.

What few experiences we do have with Alma are seen coming a mile away, and the scares have lost their innovation. Where the first made you slow down and take a deep breath before heading into the next room, Project Origin felt more like I could run in guns blazing, especially because the usual tell-tale sign of Alma being near (flickering of your HUD) led usually to, well, nothing. Where are the pools of blood, the hallucinations, and the voices in your head? They were there as of the E3 demo that was released in 2007, but since then many of the Alma scenes that stood out seemed to be removed.

Even the two shorter installments, Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point, which Monolith seems to cower in embarrassment over and blatantly said were not even canon, were scarier than this official sequel.

It also doesn’t help that you feel a lot less vulnerable. Normal difficulty is a cake-walk, and Hard is barely a step up. It really feels like a run and gun first-person shooter and less like the psychological horror game it was meant to be. The feeling of invincibility sure takes the terror out of the experience. They did take away the quick save feature of the first, which in a way makes your every move a little more important as you rely on only save points throughout a level, but considering nothing really kills you except for the occasional sniper bullet to the head, it doesn't do much to raise the tension.

They tried to add some elements, like adding mechs into the game. Before, you encountered a few to be blown up to pieces, but here you can actually jump in one yourself. The feel of walking around is really immersive and all in all awesome, but the moments when you do use them feel unnecessary, and don’t make much sense in the context of the game.

The fire fights don’t seem as epic as the original. The A.I. seems to actually have gotten dumber, even though the developers boasted for months about how much of an improvement it would be. Leaning was taken out of the game, so the A.I. can lean out from behind walls, but you can’t, which really makes taking cover difficult. You are able to throw objects over for cover, but there is no actual cover system, so you just have to hope that crouching behind some table will help, which it usually doesn’t as you are still far too exposed.

There is a new highlighting system when going into good ol’ slow mo that highlights the baddies with a white glow. I liked the effect, especially coupled with the slow mo graphical experience. The graphics are a step up from the original, but there are still games out there pushing processors harder than Project Origin will.

The game is also automatically letterboxed, which on a widescreen PC like my own is just fine, but could pose problems for those with smaller resolutions.

The story is fairly straight to the point, but maybe that’s because the game as a whole only offers about 7 hours of game play. Your squad mates have interesting personalities, and really are rather likeable rather than just random generic solider buddies. The big twist comes through at the end, which seemingly comes out of nowhere, but did its job in leaving me with a big “Whaaaat?” reaction. A reaction mostly for its insanity and disturbing yet nonsensical approach, and less because it was really compelling in anyway to the story. And, as with the first, it has left us with a big “to be continued” sort of ending.

The game is enjoyable enough, and there’s enough blood and gore to satisfy anyone. In fact, I wouldn’t be against giving it another run through. But the tension and fear is gone, leaving you with just another shooter. A well-done shooter, but nothing more. If you are a fan it’s worth picking up the sequel just to see where everything has led up to. But if you’re new to the franchise, forget Project Origin, and pick up the original F.E.A.R.You’ll have a much creepier, much more enjoyable experience.

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