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FEAR 2

I know, I’m talking about another game that’s years old by now. I’m sorry. I wish I could get my hands on all these new games that are coming out, but I can’t, at least not most of them. Bear with me.

I think it was last year that I played FEAR 1, and I wasn’t terribly impressed. It left a really good first impression, but as I got further and further I felt like it was swiftly running out of ideas and leaving me to wander through a long, dreary corridor of repetition. I found it pretty atmospheric and unsettling at first, but by the end it had really fallen flat for me.

I’d explain why, but since I’m about to talk about my problems with its sequel, FEAR 2: Project Origin, doing so for the first game too would feel really redundant.

Anyway, yeah, I got FEAR 2 on a Steam sale, as usual, and I’ve been playing through it lately. I feel inclined to like it, because it’s a first person shooter that’s going for immersion and atmosphere, and to a degree it does that pretty decently. But it’s also very clearly going for horror, and in that regard it completely fails.

The main reason why is because it’s trying to be two games at once — an action thriller game and a psychological horror game. I’m not saying that genres can never be combined, but Monolith doesn’t seem to understand how to blend different elements and concepts together. The result is that you end up switching constantly between “action segments” and “horror segments” and the transitions between the two are irritating at best and comical at worst.

This is a problem we see in most (if not all) mainstream “horror” games nowadays, from Resident Evil 4 to Dead Space. Dumping legions of easily killable mooks is not going to frighten the player. It’s probably going to either tire or entertain the player, and you don’t want either of those emotions to get in the way of the tension and the atmosphere of your horror game.

This is especially blatant in FEAR, since there’s hardly any variety between the different enemies that you fight from corridor to corridor to warehouse room to corridor. Eventually you realize that you’re not playing a horror game; you’re playing DOOM.

Every once in awhile the game remembers that it wants to be scary, so you’ll start to experience weird, trippy hallucinations. These are supposed to make you feel scared and vulnerable, but I don’t see how you can possibly feel genuinely scared when you just single-handedly mowed through several dozen super-soldiers in the last 5 minutes. And this sense of power is only made more prominent by the completely needless Bullet-Time feature (or “reflexes,” or whatever Monolith is calling it) which gives you constant dominance over the enemies.

I guess the only fair thing to do is to judge it both as a horror game and as an action game. So as a horror game it fails on very basic and fundamental levels, and as an action game it functions fairly well but is repetitive as all hell and brings virtually nothing new to the table.

So basically, it’s FEAR 1 but with better graphics.

To be fair, the game does have some interesting set pieces, but like the rest of the game’s features, those tend to repeat themselves a lot throughout the game, to the point where they’re no longer interesting. Oh, and like FEAR 1, this game lets you interact with environment objects, allowing me to continue my proud tradition of breaking every single computer I come across:

What can I say? Breaking stuff, it’s what I do.

There are differences between the two games…

1. There was one section where I got to pilot a giant robot suit and gun down enemies as trivially as a child would squish bugs with his mighty shoe. And the funny thing is, immediately after that section ended the game tried to hit me with another hallucination sequence. Honestly, sometimes it seems like Monolith totally forgot that they were making a horror game.

2. FEAR 2 now has quick time events.

OH GOD! SHE’S GOING TO… Oh… Press V? Okay, guess I’m safe then.

Something tells me this was them trying to make the horror seem more scary by making the surprise jump-out scares actually potentially lethal. Adding QTEs doesn’t make them scarier, Monolith. That just makes them more annoying.

3. In FEAR 1 you could carry up to 10 medkits. In FEAR 2 you can only carry up to 3. I guess I can see why they did this. Having 10 medkits can make some otherwise challenging areas very easy if you can just spam the heal button throughout them. Still makes me kind of sad, though. I’m a bit of a hoarder in games like this.

4. FEAR 1 had checkpoints and quicksaving. FEAR 2 only has the former. Fuck you, Monolith.

I think this game could have taken one of two directions in order to be less mediocre and more engaging. The first option would be to ditch the pretensions to horror and focus on the intense action, which would involve scrapping the hallucination crap and instead focusing on more enemy variety and interesting set pieces. Alternatively they could go for broke on the horror, which would involve tweaking the game quite a bit.

I still think that the best kind of horror involves no combat at all (like Amnesia: The Dark Descent) since the whole sense of vulnerability and oppression generally falls apart once you realize you can blow the enemies to bits, but I do think that you can make a first person shooter genuinely, persistently scary.

Firstly you would need very good pacing, which the FEAR series completely lacks. FEAR is pretty much the same few gunfights over and over and over again, with only marginally increasing difficulty, but if you were to constantly change the appearance and increase the perceived threat of the enemies throughout the game it would prevent the player from “getting used to it,” so to speak. It would be like a difficulty curve, but with scariness.

Secondly, you would just need less gunfights in general. The same has been said about both of the Dead Space games, and that’s because it’s true. Sometimes less is more. With each enemy the player kills the player will feel more confident and powerful, so cool it down with the mook spamming.

Thirdly, you’d need to change the way the enemies are portrayed. The enemy AI is really good, and it’s cool that you can hear the soldiers converse with one another, but the things they say constantly make it sound like you’re the killing machine, not them. When they say things like “Oh God, what do I do?!” and “He’s too fast!” it completely undermines the concept of horror. (Also, sometimes it seems really incongruous. Sometimes they shout that I’m too fast while I’m standing completely still, my head poking out from behind a crate.)

Fourthly, throw out that insidious slow-motion mechanic. As far as I’m concerned, getting rid of that would improve FEAR as an action game and as a horror game.

When I play FEAR 2 I see the potential for a really good game, but as it stands it’s just decent. Mediocre. Competent but bland.

Of course FEAR 3 is out, but it’s by a different studio that I know nothing about and I’ve got other games to consider spending $50 on.

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5 responses

  1. Honestly, I think the direction they were going for in F.E.A.R. is ‘You’re an amazing super soldier, who murders his fellow man with nary a sweat to his name; but this creepy girl can still take you down easily, so you should be afraid of her. Be very afraid!

    Now, I haven’t played much of F.E.A.R, because I dislike being scared and I loathe jump-scares in particular, but most of your comments apply verbatim to the Dead Space games as well. I personally thought that both games in that series were at their best when they just ditched all pretensions to horror and let you fight a horde of slavering, decidedly un-scary aliens. The gunplay, the weapon variety and the dismemberment mechanic were, for me, strong enough to stand on their own; I didn’t really need be all tense every time I opened a door, for fear of a cheap jump scare.

    Although there’s one bit in Dead Space 2 that actually does feel genuinly unnerving — because you run around in a creepy environment, yet you don’t encounter a single enemy, at least for a few minutes. That sense of anticipatory dread did actually work really well; at least, until it was interrupted by yet another horde of easily killable ugly monsters.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:19 AM

  2. Also, Alice: Madness Returns is an ok game, but if you’re even a bit like me, be prepared to rage at the insane checkpoint system something fierce.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    • JPH

      Really? Damn. That’s disappointing. Still, it’s got a gorgeous art style, and we don’t see many 3D platformers on the PC.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:51 PM

  3. Rayzn

    Hey JPH! I have a brilliant idea!

    Let’s you and me make a horror game. It’ll be awesome!

    June 27, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    • JPH

      We should finish SPROG first.

      June 27, 2011 at 1:22 AM

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