Monday, October 28, 2013

F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin

Capping off 2013's Halloween Month is none other than F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin developed by Monolith Productions and published by WB Games for Windows PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. As indicated above I will be going over the Xbox 360 version of the game.

F.E.A.R. 2 picks up a good thirty minutes before the ending of its predecessor, and you take point as Michael Becket, a member of the Delta Force unit, Dark Alpha. You have been tasked with retrieving Genevieve Aristide, the President of Armacham. Not five minutes into the game and you're already freaking out from hallucinations where you see the infamous Alma Wade in her child form, and once you get to Genevieve all hell breaks loose.

Let's begin with how the horror aspect has changed. In the first game everything was a lot more subtle, we were very much always in the real world, and when Alma appeared, or something else that wasn't really there, it made it extremely easy to be confused as to whether or not what you were seeing was real. In this game it's pretty much as if you're on acid. You're completely removed from the real world and placed inside a hallucination where regular people look like monsters, and Alma will appear before you, but there are still those times where she'll appear in the real world, and those are the moments that are without a doubt the scariest in the game.

Some fans of the series didn't like that as much. They preferred the more subtle approach that was presented in the first game. Fair, but had Monolith just rehash the same horror elements in the first game, would it really have been any better? Horror is hard enough to keep afloat as it is, but doing the same thing over and over won't generate the same result, and then people would just say it's rehashing the first game. Given the fact that you're playing a different character, and his relationship with Alma is also different, it makes sense that the way she approaches him, and mess with his mind is also different, and she's slowly getting stronger and stronger. So, from a story point of view, it makes sense and I think for those who haven't played it yet, you'll find a new enjoyable gaming experience that sets it apart from 1, because it really is fascinating when you're in those hallucinations.

Like in the first game, you have ample warning when Alma is going to appear, and this creates plenty of terror and suspense, and you don't know what's going to happen until it happens. Even when you do it proves to be even worse because you know what's coming.

The game is... brighter than the other one? In F.E.A.R the game sets a tone at the beginning and it sticks with that tone throughout, only adding more to the suspense. The environments were all mostly dark requiring you to use your flashlight in order to see anything. Here, things start out relatively normal, and you have the sun shinning down from above. You still end up in those dark places where you require the flashlight (which doesn't lose power and shuts off from extended use like in the first game) in order to see, and it goes through different tones depending on where you are in the game. What makes F.E.A.R.fear to me is the suspense and gameplay feeling longer than it actually is, and the series nails it yet again with everything it puts the protagonist through.

Interaction between teammates is a little better this time around. You'll start off a mission with your teammates by your side instead of on your own. The radio talks has been improved by showing a small visual screen of who's talking at the bottom left corner of your screen, and there are certain parts in the game where you can provide cover fire for your teammates. Don't get too comfortable though, you'll still find yourself alone before long.

There is more interaction you can perform with your surroundings this time around. As one example you can flip over a table, flower pot, and other objects to crouch down behind and use as cover. You can also move objects that block your path.

Let's talk weapons, something I sadly omitted from my review of the first game. We have sub-machine guns, we have pistols, we have assault rifles, we have shotguns, automatic shotguns, flamethrowers (better to give than receive), sniper rifles, hammerheads, LASERS, and a freaking missile launcher! But a weapon is only as good as the jack offs you get to use them against.

The first enemies in the game you face are Armacham Black Ops Soldiers equipped with sub-machine guns and grenades. They're good at getting behind cover and drawing you out into their line of fire. Their weapons aren't as good at a distance, but let them get too close and they can drain away at your health. They come in Light, Heavy, Hazmats, and Pyro crazy SOB that'll you want dead as soon as you meet him. The Light soldiers don't have a lot of armor and are easy to kill and the Heavy troops are armed with shotguns. Hazmats are only seen in the hospital level, and Elites the Ruin level and right before a boss fight with Richard Vanek. The Black Ops Pyro is equipped with a flamethrower and is first encountered near the beginning after you're trying to get out of an underground facility before the whole thing explodes.

After the Black Ops Soldiers we have abominations. Failed science experiments that managed to survive with a craving for blood. Their faces are bandaged, they have sharp teeth, and they only have on jeans and run on all four like a wild animal. They can also climb on walls and lunge at you. When one gets on top of you you'll want to tap B repeatedly to get him off, something to remember should you encounter Alma Wade invading your personal space. They have no weapons so you don't have to worry about them shooting you, just ripping you limb from limb.

Next up on our list are the Replica Forces, the clone soldiers that made their debut in the first game. Get used to seeing Replica Trooper (Variant VII) because after they first appear they're the most common enemy of the game. They're stronger and smarter than the Black Ops soldiers, able to take them out with no problem and even outwit the player. Instead of sub-machine they're equipped with the standard assault rifle.

The Replicas also come in many, many annoying forms. We have Heavy Armor units, stealth assassins that are barely visible and only appear so after jumping you, snipers, deformed Replicas whose faces has seen way better days, the Elites. which are the strongest of the bunch, and Heavy Troopers who are support for the standard Replica soldiers.

Another enemy that's going to prove to be a huge pain in the ass is the mech. That's right, the mech is back. Titled the REV6 it's equipped with missiles, an energy shield, and instead of lasers you have Gatling guns! In addition to fighting them you can also ride them in a couple of stages. Another weapon you get to fire during the game is an APC allowing you to provide cover fire for your teammates when surrounded by enemy soldiers.

Back on the paranormal side of things are Apparitions, ghostly figures produced by Alma that attack the player. Only this time instead of shadowy figures called Nightmares, we get physical imprints of dead people called Specters, which are white and phase in and out. They're easy enough to take out, but ignore them and they can end up causing massive damage when they hit. The amount of ammunition I wasted on those things, I hate them, I wanna kick them in the imprinted nuts!

Then we have Remnants, Remnants are mutated spirits influenced by Alma's psychic abilities, and are capable of manipulating the corpses of nearby enemies to attack the player. Once you get too close and they recognize you, they'll let out a loud scream and then repeatedly attack you with other dead beings. There are only three in the game, but trust me when I say they grow progressively more annoying per encounter.

And of course last, but certainly not least, the one and the only,

Sweetie? Sweetie, the camera is over here. Hun? That's okay we'll introduce you to the good people later.

Did you see the big-screen TV and all those videos up there? Okay, okay, moving on.

Unlike the previous game where Alma Wade mainly appeared to the player as a child, she only appears in her child form a couple times throughout the game, mainly at the start. For most of it she appears to the player in a young adult form, which is different from the old hag we saw in the first game. The reason for this accompanying her reasons for going after Becket in the first place. Each scene where she shows up is just as terrifying as ever, and this time around she'll directly attack the player requiring a lot of fast button mashing in order to get her off you, like so:

The world that you are repeatedly dragged into in the game has been dub the Almaverse which is how our dear Alma Wade sees the world. It's a red-orange dream state where everything moves slower. Technically, the Almaverse made its first appearance in the previous game as the visions the Point Man saw was from the Almaverse, though it's speculated that it's different because the Point Man was seeing her memories against her will, whereas in this game Alma is bringing on the visions in full force in Becket's view, and it's only because of his new psychic abilities that he's able to see them, although victims of Alma can also see glimpses of the Almaverse when being affected by her.

For the second time the game does an excellent job of starting you out with as little information as possible and putting the pieces of the puzzle together through character dialog and files you find in the game. It should be noted that neither the Point Man, Paxton Fettel, nor most of the characters from the first game appears in the sequel. Instead we get:

Michael Becket: The star of our show and the object of Alma's affection. He finds himself caught in the middle of Armacham's dealings and is experimented on giving him the same enhanced reflexes that the Point Man possesses. This made him a beacon for Alma, and the rest of Replica Forces who would later be awakened. It ain't easy being free pizza at an anime convention.

Keira Stokes: One of your squad mates, and the only woman in the game not trying to kill you. Keira is a communication liaison for the team and accompanies you briefly during some missions before eventually getting separated. Her position as First Lieutenant makes her the only known commissioned officer on the team, and she has no psychic abilities to speak of (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). She also shows genuine concern for Becket throughout the game which can be taken for romantic, but that's up to interpretation.

Cedric Griffin: The Commander of Dark Signal, he leads his team at the beginning of the game. Not much about his character is explored as he's depicted as your typical military leader who doesn't mess around, and is quite the capable soldier in his own right.

Harold Keegan: A good natured person who has a good relationship with his teammates, seen joking around at the beginning and comforting Keira when she needed it, though he has no problem with wiping his arm on yours after wiping his nose. His biggest role in the game doesn't occur until the end and his story is not a happy one.

James Fox: An old and respected veteran in Dark Signal, having the most experience in age, but is the lowest ranking officer on the team. Appearance wise he has a lot of similarities to Barry Burton from Resident Evil (I swear that franchise has been stalking me the past couple of weeks), but it's unknown whether this is intentional or just a coincidence.

Manuel Morales: Your resident APC driver, Manuel Morales will be a good man to have in a crunch. He is also just as capable at fighting off enemies on the ground as any of the other members of Dark Signal despite his wisecracking ways.

Redd Jankowski: In a nutshell? Whiner and possessing a low intellect. At the beginning of the game he complains about a number of things, like the nature of their mission, and the idea of going up a bunch of stairs. In fact, if you start climbing up stairs he'll ask “You don't want to go up all those stairs do you?” And I'm just like “Bitch, please. I played Final Fantasy VII AND Metal Gear Solid.” I'd shoot him, but the game doesn't let you shoot allies.

Richard Vanek: Commander of Armacham's forces and a former Marine. To put it simply, Richard Vanek wants you dead. He's as ill-tempered as you'd expect a military man to be, and when he barks, either at you or his own people, you can't help but laugh. His reactions to the fact you're still alive are hilarious. A shame that his boss fight is just one long Quick Time Event.

The reoccurring characters we do get:

Genevieve Aristide: The most influential person in the F.E.A.R. Franchise, appearing only as a voice in the first game. I call her bitch-face. She sets up the operation that makes you a radar for Alma Wade, and cares more about her own future with Armacham then, well, everything else. I have half a mind to replay the game and see what happens if I shoot her, probably nothing like with the allies.

Alma Wade: Wait, didn't I talk about her already? Oh well. I want to note that Alma's psychic abilities are extremely rare in the franchise and that her second son, Paxton Fettel, was a stroke of luck. Other psychics in the game are extremely weak by comparison, and could only dream of matching either in power. In this game, Alma's dramatic past has a little more focus making it even easier to sympathize with her, which was another thing some fans of the first game didn't like, but I don't know why. Alma was always a sympathetic character, driven into the monster she is today because of Armacham's experiments. The second game stretching it more where her father is concerned isn't that much of a surprise. Especially when she's trying to draw the main character to her. You could say she even uses sympathy as a weapon in order to kill a lot of people in the game.

F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin in my mind is a worthy sequel to the original game. It specific style of horror may not appeal to everyone who enjoyed the first game, but it still has plenty of legitimate scares to keep you on the edge of your seat, and it pushes the story even further If you enjoyed the first game then I'd definitely recommend trying out 2 for yourself.

Get it

Welp, we've made it to the end of Halloween Month. I hope you enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I have enjoyed writing them and will return next month as I begin ThanksgamingMonth. A month dedicated to the video games of our childhood. Until then how about a kiss?

Pucker up!

Happy Halloween!

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