Recently the gaming industry has been flooded with horror shoot-âem ups such as Dead Space, S.T.A.L.K.E.R and Left 4 Dead. On top of this, we are constantly being subjected to horror and gore on the big screen with Hollywood producers attempting to scare the living bejesus out of us. Itâs little wonder that we are becoming a bit desensitised to the whole âheadless corpseâ or âdisembowelled childâ scenario. So itâs a credit to FEAR 2 that it still managed to cause minor cardiac arrest while playing.
This is largely thanks to the changes in tempo that occur all through FEAR 2âs gameplay. One minute you are in the middle of a gunfight, running for cover and being shot at by four heavily armed soldiers in a crowded room. The next you are completely alone, creeping down a flickering corridor and hearing nothing but creepy child-like whispers mixed with your own timid footsteps.
The first game introduced us to the First Encounter Assault and Recon (F.E.A.R) squadron, a classified strike team of exceptionally skilled soldiers. As a member you were assigned to a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound where a series of gruesome deaths led you to discover that it was home to sinister scientific experimentations on human subjects. These experiments had given way to a terrifying supernatural phenomenonâŚ and it was here that you were first introduced to Alma Wade.
Alma was only seven years old when she become a part of the experiments carried out by the Armacham Technology Corporation. Codenamed Project Origin, it involved researching telesthetic links between humans and the potential effects that could be produced from them. Alma, who had a severely troubled childhood, was gifted with tremendous psychic powers and therefore chosen as the perfect candidate for scientific research. She suffered horrific nightmares and had the ability to feed on the negative emotions of the people around her. Two days before Almaâs eighth birthday, she was put into an induced coma and locked in the Vault, a structure located deep inside the facility that blocked her psychic abilities. During the project, Alma was impregnated twice with clone embryos and gave birth to the first prototype when she was only fifteen years old, and then a second, Paxton Fettel, before the project was closed down and Alma terminated. For those who played the first game, Fettel will be remembered as being the main villain â who shared both a gift and a curse from his mother, Alma. Players who got to the end of FEAR saw Fettel being shot at point-blank range, ending his reign of terror. Now Alma is back to continue her revenge. Throughout the game we âseeâ Alma as both a young, innocent little girl and as an emaciated, naked older woman. Although every time you do see her you are always questioning whether she was really there or not. Clever visuals such as a figure darting past a window, or a slight shadow in the darkness before vanishing when you turn to face it all make for a very eerie experience.
A large amount of this sinister background story is cleverly told via intel that you pick up along the way â ranging from documentation through to electronic memos and emails that may detail experiments, mention research that was done and give you character backgrounds. Personally I often skip past screens of text in a game, but the plot that drives FEAR is so captivating that I found myself reading every single word. Youâll soon discover that your entire squad has been secretly monitored by the Armacham Technology Corporation and that you, and possibly your team-mates, might have a similar telesthetic link. The rest of the story youâll need to find out for yourself but if youâre a fan of the paranormal, youâll thoroughly enjoy the ride. Even previous players of FEAR can expect a lot more answers this time around.
The original FEAR did suffer slightly from repetitive maps and therefore gameplay. The developers have addressed this in the sequel and now you can expect some more variation from the identical corridors of research laboratories. However the confined spaces such as offices, hospital wards and elevators are still present and lend themselves brilliantly to nerve-racking gun fight encounters. Enemies will dive behind desks, push tables or beds over to form cover and debris such as monitors will fly all around the room as you exchange fire. Even when youâre not confronted by enemies, youâll be on your guard crawling through small ventilation shafts in the dark or jumping onto a creaking window cleanerâs platform forty stories above the pavement. FEAR 2 manages to keep you on your toes at all times â whether itâs a creepy flickering light, your own shadow that catches you off guard, a falling bookcase in a nearby room or a naked Alma suddenly appearing out the corner of your eye. This game is not for the weak-heartedâŚ in fact the game should have a collectorâs edition that includes adult diapers. Ultra padded. With wings. I made the mistake of eating a delicious biscuit whilst playing and just about choked myself to death on it.
Graphically the game is impressive. Perhaps not quite as detailed as some of the other games of its type out there, but the visual effects areâŚ well, very effective. The spectral visions that you will encounter are not only disturbing to witness, but are a pleasure to watch as well - as long as you donât have a dodgy ticker. Your screen will get splattered with blood, the lighting of a room will completely change, giving light to all forms of horrors within, and you will find yourself being thankful for the comforting voice of your team-mates from time to time. The animations of your allies, enemies and the paranormal entities are very realistic, with soliders vaulting over objects and zombified creatures clambering on all fours, scaling walls and ceilings with alarming speed. The game does utilise a blur effect that perhaps has been over-done slightly. Sure itâs realistic, forcing you to take a second to get things in focus â all clever tricks that can help raise your pulse slightly. But it can be disorientating and distracting at times as well.
Adding to the visual effects is your ability for enhanced reflexes that allow you to slow-down time. Itâs essentially a commonly used bullet-time effect but FEAR is one of the better games to harness it. Pressing the triangle button causes everything around you to slow down for a limited time and from here you can assess your situation with more time to consider your options. For example, with three enemies in front of you, you may choose to carefully line up your grenade before seeking cover. Or you may decide to shoot one enemy in the foot (yes, enemies respond to different wounds, causing them to limp around or fall over) and then go for a head-shot, before aiming at a nearby fire-extinguisher to take out the third thanks to your slow motion accuracy. Yet the bullet-time effect in the game never feels like youâre cheating as you will still do your share of running around madly, blind-firing at unseen targets and trying to find cover. The slow-mo ability is anything but infinite, but when used sparingly at the right time, it can add a feeling of accomplishment and skill to the usually manic action. Plus it just looks damn cool.
And there are times when you will thank your lucky stars you have the ability to slow down time. The foes in FEAR 2 are clever, lethal and varied enough to require the need to formulate different tactics on the fly. For example, flame-throwing grunts will explode into a meaty soup if you aim for their backpack of gas. So waiting for the right moment to shoot and hopefully take out three enemies around him would be the more efficient option.
The weapons in FEAR 2 are also varied. On top of your usual pistol and submachine gun, which will aid you through the first part of the game, youâll come across plenty of other fun tools of destruction. The shotgun is terrible at long-range, but can be life saving against creatures that charge you from the shadows with the intent of making off with your face. You can carry up to four weapons at a time, which is welcomed from the usual frustrations of having to constantly decide which ONE gun to take with you. And although blasting away with a standard old submachine gun is fun, you can expect a variety of armaments including rocket launchers, lasers, the ever-popular nail gun (you can literally pin bad guys to the walls by their legs) and experimental energy guns that cause satisfying dismemberment. Not to mention the Elite Powered Armour (EPA), which essentially is a giant mech-suit that allows you to blast away walls and pillars with gattling gun-like arms and rocket launchers inbuilt. Again this helps change the pace of the gameplay in FEAR 2, mixing in âseat-of-your-pantsâ survival horror with sheer devastating fire-power. However, donât assume you are invulnerable while in the EPA unit.
This talk of weapons leads us to the multiplayer aspects of the game. Unfortunately FEAR 2 multiplayer feels like any other FPS multiplayer out there. This is because the horror aspect of the game goes out the window and is replaced by a 16-player frag fest. But the gameâs formula does lend itself nicely to some brilliant map designs, with many of them leaving you feeling claustophobic and extremely vulnerable. There are several different multiplayer modes too that help spice up the gameplay. Conquest mode uses the EPAs, with two teams battling it out to take control of five points on a map. Each team is limited to only one EPA so you need to pray that your team-mate using it has the skills to warrant such awesome power. Another is Blitz which is a Capture the Flag clone but with a nice twist. The âflagâ is a canister that leaks a fluorescent goo that allows others to track you easily. Failsafe, however is an entirely new mode for the sequel (although we have seen it before in Counter-Strike). Failsafe involves two sides, where one team has to plant a bomb at one of two nerve-gas locations. If planted then the other team must find it and defuse it, otherwise when the bomb explodes the round is won by the attackers. Again like in Counter-Strike you only get one life per round so if you die, you can only watch your team-mates efforts as a spectator. Overall the online play is an adrenaline pumping experience, but it isnât going to replace Call of Duty 4 or Resistance 2 as the multiplayer game of choice. Players should pick this game up on the merit of it being a thrilling single-player game and treat the multiplayer as a sweet bonus.
FEAR 2âs core is essentially a heart-stopping first person shooter, filled with memorable scenes and terrifying action. It makes shooting people fun again, unlike a lot of FPS titles where it feels like youâre killing mindless drones over and over. But the game also has mystery, suspense, horror and a brilliant storyline driving the whole experience that takes it to a new level. Not a game to play with Grandma in the room, but certainly one to test out your pace-maker with. Surround sound and a dimly light room (preferably with blood splattered on the walls) are a must to fully enjoy FEAR 2.