F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
There were times when I was playing F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin where I would become incredibly wrapped up in the experience and truly felt dread and panic as I approached impending scares or battles. These moments were incredibly gripping and offered fantastic gameplay, but beyond these few times, the rest of the game was fairly vanilla. Project Origin is not entirely boring, but nothing particularly spectacular, either. So as I write this, I have to resolve two very different feelings: amazement that parts of the game could capture my attention so completely and disappointment that the rest of it couldn’t. While Project Origin offers a handful of tense and memorable moments, the rest of the experience is rather dull.
Like in the original F.E.A.R, you again play as a super-soldier with a special connection to the series’ psychokinetic antagonist, Alma. But instead of climbing back into the armor of the nameless hero from the first installment, you take on the role of Sgt. Michael Becket in a timeline that begins shortly before conclusion of the first game. Becket and a squad of fellow soldiers are dispatched to “collect” the president of Armacham Technology Corporation after it becomes clear that the company is up to no good, but their mission soon becomes one of survival after Alma is freed and destroys much of the city.
On first impressions, the game does attempt to offer much more of a storyline than in the original game. Your fellow soldiers stay with you for much of the game and there’s constant radio chatter as team members uncover clues that help explain the strange events that are occurring around you. While there seems to have been at least some emphasis at creating a better narrative this time around, the story isn’t well told. Though a few cutscenes and the aforementioned radio chatter do move the story along, most of it is hidden in data files scattered throughout the game’s levels. This means you’ll have to scour every level to complete the story and you’ll have to read a lot of text in order to get it all, since none of the various e-mails and memos that you’ll encounter are narrated.
I wouldn’t have minded all of the reading if I were at least compelled to explore the levels more carefully. Unfortunately, the level design leaves something to be desired. At times, Project Origins detailed environments feel like little more than a still life painting, offering no interactivity for the player. And while the levels are littered with junk, like plastic cleaning bottles and mop buckets, nothing feels real. Unloading a full clip of an automatic rifle into a plastic bottle does nothing but make the bottle jump around a little, with no damage at all. Some objects may show some signs of damage, like bullet holes in walls, but the rest of the environments are non-reactive and sterile.
Making matters worse, the environments themselves aren’t very well designed. Only a few particular scenes stand out, and even those aren’t enough to save the overall experience. A trip through a heavily barricaded elementary school offers perhaps the biggest scares in the entirety of the six hour adventure and the most intriguing level design. The school is eerily empty as you explore classrooms that were obviously full of bright-eyed pupils shortly before Alma’s awakening. The hallways of the school become a playground for Alma as she tortures you throughout the level, filling nearly every moment with terror as you hesitantly turn the next corner, expecting her to be standing there in wait.
The school was easily one of the most satisfying parts in the game and perhaps one of the best that Monolith may have ever produced in this series. But it’s sadly one of the few levels that really did anything for me. Most of the game is set underground, in subway terminals and military complexes. These portions of the game seem like never-ending ladder climbs and elevator rides as the player moves from one generic metal room to the next. I played through these areas far faster than I should have, sacrificing tactics in the hopes of moving on to more interesting levels. Unfortunately, the next level was almost always equally bland and disappointing.
But if there’s one thing that will compel players to push forward through the game, it’s the combat. While you’ll shoot at the same generic enemies throughout the game, the gun play in the game is incredibly entertaining. The weapons selection from the first game has returned, giving players enough shotguns, sniper rifles and machine guns to saw through their enemies. Some new weapons have been added to the game, but I mostly stuck with the core arsenal and imagine other players will too. New to the series is the ability to flip tables and roll carts, which gives opportunities for cover and makes the combat much more dynamic in the previous games. The various enemies that you’ll encounter (both normal and paranormal) offer stiff resistance, particularly in the later levels, making battles challenging but fair.
Combat in the game is made even better thanks to a visually impressive graphics engine. Though the environments are static and boring, the trade off is that the action is frequently chaotic, with lots of neat special effects that make it feel more in-line with a classic Hollywood shootout. The framerate was also rock solid throughout the game. But what really impressed me most was the diversity of the color pallet. While the first F.E.A.R. was mostly gray and industrial, the developers have made progress in varying the colors in this game, choosing a more muted color scheme. The previously mentioned school level offers a lot of bright colors that have so far been missing in this series, but sadly, most of the levels weren’t as visually interesting.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin offers players its share of great moments, but on a whole, this is just an average game. The sequel feels a little too familiar and doesn’t really expand on the first game with the exception of some new unnecessary weapons. Many core elements of the game are on the right track: the combat is excellent, the graphics engine keeps pace with the frantic action and there are a few great levels. But even these can’t distract from the problems the game suffers; namely, poor narrative presentation and uninspired level design.