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If you designed a game about a Delta Force team who runs afoul of a crazed psychic woman and an evil corporation, what would you choose for a setting? If you answered, "Hallways, and lots of 'em!" then you probably work for Monolith Productions. They've taken a shooter with a solid technical foundation and decent premise and executed it in the blandest, safest way possible.
Fully understanding F.E.A.R. 2's storyline requires you to do one or more of these things: 1) play the first F.E.A.R., 2) diligently find and read all of the documents scattered through F.E.A.R. 2, or 3) look it up on Wikipedia. All you really need to know is that Alma, the creepy little girl from the first game, is now a creepy little woman and wants to eat/kill/consume/bad verb you. Meanwhile, a bad corporation with vast military forces (Armacham) is trying to wipe out your team in order to eliminate all evidence of the whatever. The game is split between fighting Armacham's shock troops and putting up with Alma's mind games.
The first time Alma jumped out at me, I got a good jolt. The next ninety times? Not so much. It's not only an overused effect, but it's completely harmless so it's not the least bit scary. You'll also experience hallucinations and see a lot of doors slam mysteriously but again, no harm so no fright. The supernatural elements of the game are largely cosmetic and it's a shame. Couldn't it have been better integrated into the normal action of the game? Why not throw some troops at us during our little acid trips? The shooter side of the game and the survival horror side don't really come together at all (save the rare ghost attack) until the finale and it's a shame.
For the bulk of the game, F.E.A.R. 2 is a very straightforward shooter. As mentioned in the opening of this review, it's set almost entirely in hallways, with the occasional passageway or corridor for variety. The game will tease you with an open environment sometimes. One level starts outside of an elementary school and makes you think, "Hey, I might get to do some stuff outdoors!" before you then notice the basement grate you need to enter. Rest assured that no matter how interesting a locale seems, you'll be running through very similar-looking corridors for most of the time spent there.
Monolith would probably argue that the game utilizes confined spaces in order to make the combat more intense and to force you to use the movable cover system. F.E.A.R. 2 allows you to slide or knock over tables, chairs, and shelves to create some shelter from enemy fire. It's a good idea on paper but you'll probably end up never using it. I only did so because I realized there was an Achievement for it; after every fire fight, I slowly walked around the room tipping over Armacham's tables and chairs. First of all, some of the cover just sucks; a three-foot tall table is even less useful for stopping enemy fire when it's laying on its side and only reaches my kneecaps. Second, you can slow down time so who the hell needs cover.
Yes, F.E.A.R. 2, like the original, has its own slo-mo, "bullet time" mechanic. It's not as much of an "I Win" button as, say, V.A.T.S. in Fallout 3, but it still removes the need for you to rearrange furniture in the middle of a firefight. It also reduces every fight to essentially the same routine: you'll activate slo-mo (whatever it's called) and head-shot a few enemies and then dive behind cover while you wait for the ability's meter to recharge. This, along with the fact that most of the combat takes place in drab hallways and there's only about a half-dozen types of enemies total (I don't count "Armacham soldier with a shotgun" and "Armacham soldier with an assault rifle" as different enemies) means that the combat gets very repetitive.
One of the (few) new features added in F.E.A.R. 2 is the ability to pilot a mech suit. At two or three times during the game, you'll be able to climb into one of these giant robotic monstrosities and plow through enemies with mounted machine guns and missile launchers. It's a thrill at first to have all that firepower at your fingertips but beyond that initial rush, there's not much else to these segments. They just fail to challenge you at all and it feels like a glitzy minigame. The same goes for the couple parts where you control an APC's turret.
F.E.A.R. 2 is perfectly fine from a technical standpoint.The character models look great, especially your squadmates, and the hallucinations can be quite trippy. All aspects of the audio design - the voice acting, ambient noises, and gunfire sounds - are strong as well. What's most striking about the game, though, is the lack of ambition in its design. It looks and sounds as it should and, hey, it's even got a pretty significant multiplayer segment (five modes, all of which are pretty standard fare but still) but the raw elements of the game are never pulled together to form a game you'll remember after you've finished the 10+ hour campaign. A F.E.A.R. 3 wouldn't be unsuspected and I hope that instead of simply churning out another installment using the exact same blueprint as the last two games, Monolith takes a step back to reassess the formula.
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
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