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FEAR 2: Project Origin

Your mind is spinning. With every hard fought breath, your brain pulsates, feebly trying to flush out the nightmarish visions that occur so regularly. You’ve seen it before. The familiar, gurgling, blood-stricken torso leeches itself into the core of your thoughts. She’s there: her cry intensifying to restore your attention. Eyes locked on, she’s reading your every move. Like you, she’s older, wiser, and has greater power. In her heart, she remains the same, opting not to bring anything new to the wicked world of extra-terrestrial haunting. She may be physically fuelled by a new-found teenage rage, but look a little deeper, and Alma hasn’t changed one bit.

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Building on arguably their leading franchise, Monolith have taken some extremely odd design choices with Project Origin, the title that aims to flesh out the intriguing narrative centred around one of the scariest girls in gaming. Set minutes before the nuclear blast that acted as an ending for the first game, you’ll be reliving the memorable detonation from the sharp eyes of the new lead: as Sergeant Michael Becket straps up in an attempt to hunt down the notorious Genevieve Aristide. Trailing the President of Armacham Technology is by no means an easy task, as her cunning plans to harness the daunting power of Alma leave Becket severely injured, and more prominently, a main target for the red-eyed youth.

Heads Up!

All the weapons on offer have been given greater firepower in Project Origin, with the best of the bunch still being the Hammerhead. Nailing your opponents to objects never gets old, as pinpoint accuracy will score some amazingly graphic kills. Plant it well enough, and you’ll crack their cranium with a fulfilling thud.

Even though the narrative starts with an enticing alternative look at the apocalyptic FEAR world, it’ll soon be apparent that this title suffers from the staleness of many other potentially great sequels: a lack of new ideas. From early on, you’ll descend into an underground facility that’ll transform any of this potential into sheer desperation. Monolith have often been applauded for the subtle terror they can squeeze from everyday settings, and starting in such a generic location will only make their followers wince with disappointment.

In fact, it takes Project Origin too long to get into the stride that makes the series such a breath of fresh air to play. As you hit the halfway mark, you’ll finally slide back into familiar territory; albeit for an hour only. Tracing Alma through a primary school is the highlight of what becomes a bland and predictive shooter. As ever, it’s the fine details that make FEAR tick with such flair and originality. Progressing through the school, there’s a wealth of hints hidden within classrooms and never-ending hallways, all of which give gamers a deeper insight into the misery the most sadistic student had suffered.

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Regrettably, once your schoolwork is over, the game descends into a final three hours that will definitely be seen as the weakest in any of Monolith’s products, if not on this generation as a whole. Granted, the despair you experience beforehand from walking through a freshly destroyed city is intriguing, as victims of the blast are trapped in their final pose forever (that is, if you don’t sneeze near their ash structured bodies). Echoing the tragedy of Pompeii, it’s depressing how Project Origin only gives its players a brief section of actual entertainment, as before long you’ll be heading back underground and into a disaster much more catastrophic than the nuclear detonation. Concluding with a lengthy journey on an oddly last-gen cargo lift, you won’t be forgiven for asking Alma to hurry up and obliterate you; as enemies continue to re-spawn from generic landing pods until you reach the relief of the bitter end.

When a series is largely based around fighting identical enemies, they must be memorable and offer something a little bit special in order to be deemed a success. You only have to look at the Helghast, Locust, and Chimera to understand that an army of fictional creatures can be built to great accolade if designed with qualities that makes them stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, the Replica forces in FEAR have now become exhausted, as you’ll stumble across opponents that lack emotion, are extremely dull, and fail to raise the fear-factor in most players. Luckily, their instantly forgettable appearance and lack of intimidation can be pushed to one side, as Monolith ensure the gunplay is a tight and satisfying as ever.

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Aided by enhanced visuals, it’s fair to say that Project Origin’s main strength lie within the combat. Players can now manipulate objects for cover, meaning the cluttered arrangement of corridors and offices evolve your offensive tactics even further than the slow-mo vision that Beckett already holds. Enemies will flip desks, cupboards and even small objects such as chairs to gain an advantage, in a tweak that forces a well-thought out strategy and positive approach. Triggering the bullet-time effect also brightens the game up, as Monolith decide to swap their notoriously grey colour palette for a burst of vibrancy that’ll make players wince with excitement, as the impact of individual shots dramatically jerk Replica torsos up and down like puppets controlled by a madman.

Tech it out

If the appalling level design wasn’t bland enough, you’ll also get the chance to don a mechanical suit once outside. Although fun first time round, you’ll be forced to jump out in order to push buttons on lifts or trigger cut scenes, meaning the experience is hindered with the same sloppy flow as the rest of the game.

For those that have played previous instalments of FEAR, it won’t only be the enemies that are becoming tiresome. Critically, the series landmark grasp of horror seems to be widely off track here. Aiming for the same intimacy as before, the scripted moments now pass by without notice, as veterans of the franchise may feel a sense of deja-vu as they progress through areas plagued with similar design patterns. It’s now common knowledge that when the lights flicker, trouble lurks round the corner, as Monolith fail to raise the pulse like they did with the original FEAR, and even expansion pack FEAR Files. Before, the slithering shadows and jump-out-of-your-skin moments used to involve the player with Alma’s trauma; now they just serve as a constant reminder that Project Origin has arrived looking remarkably like its predecessors, albeit with a slap of make-up sloppily placed round its strained wrinkles.

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To round this off as the biggest disappointment of the year so far, it seems that the online multiplayer holds greater terror than the campaign, and not for the right reasons. Where gunplay is excellently balanced and satisfying in single player, you’ll now loosely travel through awfully generic arenas, spilling ammo into anything but your opponents as the lag-infested servers wince with stress. That is, if you can find a game to compete in. It seems that early players of this title have quickly realised that the online battlefield offers an experience that is even less fun than shambolic titles such as Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. It’s remarkable to draw such comparisons from a game that was widely tipped to knock Killzone 2 a step or two back, but Project Origin’s multiplayer will only leave you feeling like you’ve stumbled into one of the protagonists’ vile dreams.

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Once Project Origin has been completed, an aura of indecision will shroud your mind. It’s blatantly clear that Monolith have approached a vital crossroad; should they stick to their tiring, but largely revered formula, or do they begin developing the series into a new and much needed direction? With this instalment, it’s unfortunate to announce that they haven’t made this choice yet, as the developers stand nervously on the brink of dismantling a franchise that has held some truly terrific moments. For now, their main concern should be whether or not fans will be coming back to see Alma again, as Project Origin delivers an experience that will have you turning off the console, and not the lights.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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