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PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Monolith Productions

PUBLISHER: Warner Bros.

FEAR was an unexpected surprise, a first person shooter that managed to be both action-packed and scary at the same time. By balancing the two aspects of the game just right Monolith created a unique experience, something special for horror nuts and shooter fans alike.

The game was a huge hit, so big that it spawned a few mediocre expansion packs by another developer, but now Monolith is back to deliver the definitive followup.

Welcome back to FEAR.
 
THE PITCH

The story is just as fantastic as the first, although this time it’s mostly told through data logs picked up along the way. But I hope you’ve played through the first game, because you aren’t really given any backstory before jumping in to it. Here’s a primer!

(Warning, FEAR spoilers ahead. But it’s better if you know all this going into FEAR 2!)

The gist is that this company called Armacham has been doing tests into military uses of psychic abilities. Their biggest endeavor was Project Origin, an attempt to build “replica” soldiers that could be controlled by a psychic commander- effectively bypassing the slowness of communication on a battlefield. The only problem proved to be training a commander that was strong enough to psychically control them all. The project lead, Harlan Wade, found that person in his daughter, Alma. She proved way too difficult to control, and her psychic abilities fed on waves of anger and fear. Anyone who came near her started having headaches and insane visions and she ended up killing a whole bunch of people. So they sealed her off, put her in a coma and artificially inseminated her in the hopes that one of her children would retain her powers and be easier to control.

So yeah, Armacham really isn’t a big friendly company. The sickest part? One of the people who donated sperm to the cause was her own dad. Ugh.

In the first game, you controlled one of her two sons who was a member of F.E.A.R.- First Encounter Assault Recon- a covert government force created to combat against supernatural threats, unaware of your past and that Armacham had planted you in the group to test your abilities. It turned out that even in the coma Alma was able to control the replica soldiers, and you fought both them and her at the same time. The game ended with you apparently killing Alma by setting off the nuclear reactor she was housed in, effectively nuking the city in the process.


CHUDTIP- Nuclear blast? Duck and cover.


FEAR 2 starts about 30 minutes before the blast goes off. You’re part of a Delta Force team that was also investigating Armacham and Alma, and are soon thrust into situations you weren’t prepared for. But it could turn out that you have a closer link to Alma that you realized…

THE PLAY

Imagine melding an incredibly solid shooter with a horror game, and you’ve got an idea of how this game plays. The controls have morphed to Call of Duty standards (left trigger for gun sights, click in the left analog to run, etc.) so any shooter fan can jump right in and figure everything out. At a point in the game you gain the reflex time (bullet time) capabilities from the first game, which helps things enormously. You don’t automatically regenerate health in this game, so you’ll have to be careful of taking damage. You now have the capability to knock over any table or large object to provide cover for yourself, which sounds like a great idea but is somewhat flawed in execution. It’s much easier to just hang back till your reflex time regenerates and just come out blasting before they can get off a shot.


CHUDTIP- The melee combat is basically useless this time around. Keep a shotgun handy… for close encounters.



FEAR 2 boosts
the horror elements a bunch. Lots of times you’ll see visions and
apparitions at the corner of your eye, turning only to find out there
was nothing there. It gets you so jumpy at points that you’ll be
literally jumping at shadows and shooting at anything that looks vaguely like
a person.



There are a couple of welcome changes from the first game… new weapons and such, but the most
obvious upgrade is the flashlight. In the first game, despite having
futuristic weapons your flashlight died if you left it on for more than 20 seconds or so. It would recharge while it was off- something that
didn’t make a whole lot of sense but did wonders for throwing you into
dark environments without a light. But it got annoying flicking the
damn thing on and off and getting caught with the batteries dead at
inopportune times. In this game your flashlight stays on forever
(witness the latest in technology!) but at moments where Alma starts to
really mess with you it will dim, flicker, and sometimes go out
completely. Your whole HUD will start flashing and flickering and while
you KNOW how much you’re being manipulated to be scared, you still will
be.



CHUDTIP- Don’t worry, that sound you hear is just the military on its way.


It’s to the game’s credit that it’s so damn scary, because no other
game changes up between horror and action as frequently. It even bests
the original FEAR
in that regard… because as much as that game made you jump, it didn’t
get under your skin like this one does. The section in the school, in
particular, is pants-shittingly freaky. It’s amazing how they pull it
off too, because not 5 seconds before you were gunning down dozens of
soldiers in the schoolyard and having a fun time in combat. Amazing
what some intense lighting effects and a
soundtrack that keeps you on edge at all times can do.


The one big complaint is how linear it is- even more so than the
original, which usually gave you a couple of paths to the same
destination. The ending is also a bit of a letdown, although it’s twisted and sick. But the mood, story, and intense combat keep you going.
The firefights get a bit standard after a while but thankfully the
enemies change up enough that you have to change tactics to beat them.
The twisted Abominations (the failed psychic commanders of the
replicas) in particular are some frightening creatures.



CHUDTIP- These bastards take a lot of bullets to go down. Headshots are the way to go… try and get them before they start climbing all over the goddamn walls.


The much-talked about Elite Powered Armor (Mech) sections only happen
twice in the game, but they’re a welcome reprieve. You’re pretty much
unstoppable in the things since they self-repair if you don’t take
damage, so it’s all about shooting enemies into bits and pieces and
enjoying yourself. There are also a few moments where you’ll man a
turret. It’s a testament to a game that constantly keeps you on your
toes, constantly changes your locations and foes and situations.


FEAR 2 isn’t just a great game, it’s a great experience, one I see myself going back to in the years to come. Just like the first.


THE PRESENTATION

If Fallout 3 made you really feel like you were wandering a world 100 years after nuclear war ravaged it, FEAR 2 really makes you feel like you’re checking it out minutes after the blast. It’s horrifying when you step into the street and see former people in running poses, now simply clumps of ashes that break down and blow away when you touch them. The crumbling bricks and debris, the floating paper in the air, the scarred sky- it’s a scary world to visit. You don’t need to ask where the ghostly apparitions came from this time- this is a world that’s full of pain and anguish.


CHUDTIP- The plasma weapon doesn’t really need to be aimed precisely. Just point it at your enemies and watch it strip their skin off.

This is also the most colorful dark game since Bioshock, if that makes any sense. Monolith definitely listened to complaints from the first game. Gone are the drab gray office environments, complete with colorful (yet still incredibly dark) places that all feel completely different. It’s definitely not the best looking game around- there’s a strange lack of anti-aliasing and other technical wizardry, but the lighting and mood can’t be beat. This is one fine looking game.

The sound is unfortunately not as good as the first. FEAR had some amazing gun sounds and here it seems as if a few of them have been gimped. The shotgun in particular is much quieter and sounds a lot less powerful, which is a shame because that thing will blast someone to a satisfying chunky red mist with a single shot.

Having surround sound for this one is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, you can hear where your enemies are, but you can also hear doors slam shut behind you, children laughing off in the distance, and Alma’s intense screams of anguish.

Crank it if you’ve got balls.
 
THE REPLAY


While there’s not a whole lot of incentive to replay the single player game there is a fantastic multiplayer aspect. The original FEAR had some great modes, and this is just the same. The biggest inclusion is the Armored Front mode which allows you to jump in the powered armor from the campaign and just decimate your enemies with a gattling gun and missiles. Fun stuff. There’s also variations on the usual deathmatch and capture the flag modes. Sorely missing however are the SlowMo matches from the first game, which gave the powers of reflex time to whoever grabbed an orb on the level.


CHUDTIP-
In
the Elite Powered Armor, hit up on the d-pad for thermal vision to see
enemies hiding behind rubble. If you start to get a lot of damage just
back off till you repair, and go back in guns-a-blazing.


Rather than having you earn XP while you play to unlock new weapons and items, everything is available for you at the start… for a price. See, you only have a limited number of points to pick your equipment. So if you really want that nice assault rifle you might want to give up some armor or grenades. It’s a nice way to allow many different ways of play without making things unbalanced, and you can save up to three loadouts to swap through with the press of a button after each kill.

The matches are fast, brutal and just as fun as the first. I only hope there’s some DLC in the future to put those SloMo matches back in…

THE VERDICT

An upgrade in many ways from the fantastic first game, FEAR 2 is a thrilling time. It’s cinematic as hell, scary at all the right parts, and simply one of the most satisfying first person shooters you’ll play.

I only hope that Alma’s story doesn’t end here, because there’s so much that can still be done with that creepy little girl…

9.0 out of 10