Thursday, March 12, 2009

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Review

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment.
The Good: Occasionally enjoyable mindless shooting with slow motion elements, nice graphics
The Not So Good: Completely linear and short campaign, heavily scripted and not frightening “scare” moments, unbalanced multiplayer modes with very few maps, no manual saved games
What say you? Simply not as good as the original: 4/8

F.E.A.R. came out in 2005 (has it been that long?) to “generally favorable reviews,” thanks to its spooky atmosphere, advanced AI, slow motion firefights, and enjoyable multiplayer. A couple of expansions done by personal favorite (here's why) TimeGate Studios were disappointing, so original developer Monolith has taken the helm once again with a true sequel. After a name addition, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin has hit the market with Samara…I mean Alma and all of her trademarked creepiness. Does this sequel enhance the qualities of the original while injecting its own sense of value?

Easily the most drastic improvement made in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is the graphics. This is done to appeal to the console crowd that is easily distracted by shiny things. Everything in the game looks like a reasonably upgraded version of F.E.A.R. 1. The character models are detailed and nicely animated, displaying a wide range of emotions. The combat graphics are gory as always, particularly enjoyable when viewed in slow motion. The levels are quite linear in their design and somewhat repetitive (lots of indoor environments), but there is a nice attention to detail with objects strewn across the locations. F.E.A.R. 2 looks like any contemporary top-level first person shooter should. Sound design is along the same lines: decent enough voice acting, appealing combat sounds, and spooky environmental effects round out a good package. I was quite pleased with the updated presentation of F.E.A.R. 2.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin continues the story of Alma, the creepy little girl, and people shooting each other because of her. The fourteen mission campaign is archaic, featuring very linear levels (doors are magically blocked!). Although not as obvious as Legendary, you do spend an inordinate amount of time confined in hallways with no room for improvisation. Things only open up occasionally when you encounter the occasional large-ish room containing several objects that could be used for cover. The game’s tutorial consists of pop-up messages that occur during the first couple of levels, introducing all of the controls gradually along the way. The console roots of F.E.A.R. 2 crop up early and often: there is no manual saving in the game, only checkpoints. I don’t like being told when to save my game, and the checkpoints are sporadic enough to be an annoying artificial limitation. This method also means you can only have one campaign going on at the same time, not a good feature for people who share the same machine (because sharing means caring). The game, of course, also helpfully informs you to not turn off your computer while saving. You can also earn awards as you progress through the campaign; although the console crowd might be motivated by these simple achievements, I certainly am not.

Since the multiplayer from the original game is freely available, F.E.A.R. 2 had better be significantly improved, and it is not. You will need to navigate through the console-inspired menus that take about five screens to actually join a game instead of two. Ranked and unranked matches are available over the Internet, a designation I never understood: just offer one to concentrate the player count. F.E.A.R. 2 offers up different game modes that we’ve seen before in one form or another: deathmatch (of course), team deathmatch, control (three points to hold), failsafe (defuse the bomb), blitz (assault), and armored front (deathmatch with walkers). None of these modes are terribly original, and the armored front mode is terribly balanced. The armored front walkers are too powerful and there are no hand-held weapons to counter them, so they just fight each other while everyone else scurries for cover: a potentially good idea horribly wasted. In addition, there are only nine total maps, three for armored front and six for the other modes. This is an extremely low count for a first person shooter; freely-available games easily have more content (that’s 12 for Combat Arms, for those keeping score). You will need to choose your loadout before each game, a system I do not like. You get ten points to allocate towards primary and secondary weapons, grenades, and armor. While this is intended to prevent people from using sniper rifles with heavy armor, it was a whole lot faster and easier before when all you did was choose a weapon. The game only features three pre-defined “classes,” which is woefully inadequate. Now, you are spending precious killing time tweaking your grenade count. No thanks. F.E.A.R. 2 also features less interesting scoring for multiplayer matches: the game does not penalize you for deaths like the original did (five points for a kill, minus one for a death), instead just doing one point per kill. I have no idea why the developers would remove this unique system; I suppose it’s because those console players can’t handle multiplying by five (math is hard!). The multiplayer in F.E.A.R. 2 is quite disappointing: it’s not a good sign when the sequel is uninstalled in favor of playing the free multiplayer component of the original.

The interface of F.E.A.R. 2 has its roots in semi-realism: information on health and ammunition are projected onto the cool glasses you are wearing. I like that nice detail. Unfortunately, the rest of the game is quite ordinary. You have the typical weapons at your disposal: sub-machine gun (complete with the memorable sound from F.E.A.R. 1), pistol, semi-automatic and automatic shotgun, semi-automatic and automatic rifle, sniper rifle, and the hammerhead (like a cross between a sniper rifle and assault rifle). You are also given access to grenades (shock, frag, and incendiary), mines, the medkit for healing, and armor. F.E.A.R. 2 also returns one-button melee combat, which can be combined with jumps and sprinting for nifty kicks. And, of course, it would not be a F.E.A.R. game without the slow-motion ballet of death: it’s still cool and executed as well as before. The AI seems to be the same as before (which is good): the enemies spawn from scripted locations, but they will use cover (a little too much, on occasion, making it easy for you to snipe a head or arm). They will sometimes make their own cover, but I suspect this is a scripted event: a very artificial artificial intelligence. The “scary” elements of F.E.A.R. 2 are not scary at all, never shocking, and totally predictable. Oh look, there’s that wacky Alma again, walking nude down the hallway (well, the nude part is OK). While the game is still enjoyable, it was enjoyable (and far more original) four years ago. Please note that every feature I just talked about was in the original game, as F.E.A.R. 2 does not make any innovations to the gameplay at all. Slow-mo? Already there. Weapons? Already there. I wonder what Monolith did since the original’s release, other than improving the graphics. In the end, F.E.A.R. 2 is identical to F.E.A.R. 1 (and actually worse in several aspects), and the same is not good enough for me.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin brings nothing new to the first person shooter genre; this makes it quite a disappointment. I would have thought something new would have been added four years after the original game came out, but we get the same not-as-scary moments, the same AI, the same linear combat, and actually less enjoyable multiplayer. The game has also been “consolized,” with checkpoint-only saves and a paltry multiplayer map count. The graphics have been improved, but this is a very small consolation prize in what otherwise is a deeply derivative product. Sure, F.E.A.R. 2 is fun, but F.E.A.R. 1 was fun in exactly the same ways; this is not how you do an innovative sequel. Innovative sequels like Dawn of War II completely change the game or at least significantly enhance the experience like Galactic Civilizations II did. F.E.A.R. 2? The same old stuff. There is no reason to pay full price for F.E.A.R. 2 when the original game offers the same thrills for a lot less. Retreading is for tires, not for $50 sequels.