F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin

FBT is dragged back into Alma's world. Fear FBT's review of FEAR 2.

Alma. I’d tried to forget her but … I’ll never get over a dead little girl following me. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin delves deeper into Alma’s history and the ATC corporation that created her, but … didn’t FEAR stand for ‘First Encounter Assault Recon’? A team dedicated to investigating supernatural events; why go back to Alma? Evil corporation kept an immensely powerful psychic in a coma while impregnating her to fine-tune her abilities in more compliant offspring then let her starve to death locked in a vault only to watch her spirit wreak horrific revenge. How’s about we chalk that up as unsolved and move on? Investigate Nessie. Bigfoot? Unicorns! Anything but Alma. I’m not scared, you’re scared.

Starting just as the original FEAR ends, we’re in boots of Becket, part of a new Delta Force detachment called Dark Signal. Yeah, that’s not foreboding. DS is sent to extract Ms Aristide, the head of ATC who were behind Project Origin - which gave us Alma; we should be scared, but worryingly, the fun-size devil’s brief appearance at the beginning makes this look a lot like a Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror classic.

As the wise-cracking/tough-as-nails/cliché Dark Signal make their way to Aristide’s penthouse, we’re attacked by a black ops team who want Aristide themselves. The fights aren’t to be taken lightly, but it’s not as thrilling as the original Replica soldiers, who -ironically for clones- had more personality than those Black Ops, behaving like typical shooter enemies. Beckett doesn’t have bullettime like F.E.AR's Pointman, but he does act like he’s played a lot of Call of Duty. This is a basic CoD clone with some horror themes thrown in - lights turn off, doors mysteriously open/slam but nothing happens; the original FEAR never lied to you, Unknown Signal was like the Jaws theme; no dun-dun, no shark. Your imagination did the rest. But this time we're just running and gunning, not creeping and scared of our own shadow. But once Pointman’s nuclear explosion hits, Beckett’s not in CoD anymore, Toto.

We awake to find Becket on an operating table and most of his squad eviscerated. The Black Ops team save us from ATC's experiments by rocking up to kill us, and as we fight our way out, Becket ends up imbued with the same abilities Pointman had – as in bullettime and the interest of Alma; well, more interest since she was knocking about from the get-go, which doesn't make a lot of sense unless Alma now has foresight - she does have other powers now though; she can now summon tendrils from hell and her eyes glow; before, Alma was just a little girl with a blank, emotionless face; that was scary - this Alma is the monster from a straight-to-VOD horror movie. In Fear, seeing her get up close and personal with her tormentors or hearing her blood-curdling screams as her babies were taken away said a lot more about Alma’s rage and how much we ought to fear her than a reenactment of Sarah’s dream from T2. Worse, Alma’s appearances are reduced to pointless jump-scares or she's acting like a mission marker – in the original she had a purpose, she was curious, now she’s a pop-up reminder; yes, this is FEAR. It isn't.

As he fights through the ATC lab, Becket’s set upon by the Replicas in their proving grounds; which seems to be there just to re-familiarise ourselves with Bullettime. Which doesn’t seem as necessary as it did in the original; half the time I forget to use it. And when it’s not Black Ops or the Replica forces it’s disfigured test subjects skittering about, turning F2 into a horror shooter; although Becket can only manage two weapons, keep the shotgun handy for close encounters. Later, we meet phantoms able to control corpses and people driven mad by Alma’s power which turns F2 into a zombie shooter too; the original FEAR was criticised for its minimal villains and repetitive locations and F2 does try to change it up - locations are more varied too, including a school where the team discovers ATC were experimenting on the kids to heighten their psi abilities. While the school mission is a creepy highlight, it’s secrets come across as a bit half-baked story-wise; both Becket and team-mate Keegan went to this school, presumably explaining Alma's early interest but all I can think is; is there anything ATC aren’t involved in?

Talking of getting involved, Alma’s interest in Becket turns into a crush once they’re on the same psychic wavelength, and she begins to take on a more attractive look to woo him. If Becket’s backstory seems hackneyed, Alma going full-Lolita feels really off. Alma may be rage incarnate, but she was as much a victim as victimiser, so to suddenly sex her up adds an uncomfortable but vulnerable aspect that blows the whole character wide-open - only to immediately fumble it; are we scared or sorry for her? We don’t entertain the idea of loving her, so which is it? The game is never sure, but to give Alma emotions she doesn’t understand should make me extremely nervous – a girl’s first crush is frightening enough but this girl can kill you with her brain. Yet Becket just silently plays hard to get. It could really have changed F2, there’s instantly all sorts of ways their relationship could have gone and so many ways it could have ended, but it’s just a sexier version of Alma we run screaming from and the few times you do feel a pang of sympathy for her, the game doesn’t. Becket did suffer at ATC’s hands too, they have that in common but sexy Alma, her hair covering the naughty bits, makes no sense since she forces herself on him anyway – she doesn't crave his affection, just his naughty bits. it just takes on a very uncomfortable titillation feel and it would have made more sense if she’s remained scrawny since Becket’s resistance meant nothing to her. Does she have feelings or not? Alma’s interest also causes Keegan to start acting jealously, implying Alma had been trying it on with him but turned her attention to me instead. Can’t blame her for that; hate the game not the gamer.

The whole Dark Signal thing doesn’t really come into its own either – it seemed to imply we were all proto-Pointman, being field-tested but once Becket gets upgraded it all goes away and they’re reduced to standard NCPs. We only really gang up when one has to meet a grisly Alma-end, the rest of the time Becket’s alone due to contrived reasons. While Keegan suffers the most, and it implies he and Becket are close it just doesn’t go anywhere, alongside the possible interest Becket stokes in Stokes, the token tough chick on the crew. I expected Alma to pick up on their mutual interest and get into a scrap with her, but no and this emotional disconnect is largely down to the insistence on keeping Becket a silent hero; his best bud is getting tortured by a ghost that wants to get jiggy with him and he’s got side-chick Stokes on the go but he still can’t muster an opinion. But he does have an idea. A really bad one. Aristide has a way for Becket to take on Succubus Alma once and for all. Date night!

Thing is, if you told me in the first game I’d being going one-on-one with Alma, I’d quit, turn off the PC then burn my house down to be sure. But in F2, I’m just not that bothered; it makes Alma a threat we’re expected to meet; something you never, ever wanted in FEAR - That scene where the vault opens and her emaciated, deathly form walks out was heart-stopping, but here we are watching her approach and it’s not scary; Alma stops being frightening when you imagine her with a health bar, and no red-blooded marine is going to turn down a naked hot chick – the game doesn’t even create a situation where Becket leads her on to trap her, least then you’d be nervously waiting for her reaction to ‘it's not you it's me’, but at the last second F2 drops that in favour of a standard mano-a-mano with Keegan who we don't care about, while the game resolves Alma's needs in a really uncomfortable way. One thing about FEAR 2’s ending, neither you nor Becket saw that coming.

FEAR 2 is a technically good game – there’s a huge amount of shooting, complex levels and it’s intense; it keeps you on your toes. And your fingers; there’s a lot of classic mid-noughties button mashing to get things out of your face. But it’s only Alma’s shenanigans to separate this from any other military shooter. The oddest thing is this is from Monolith, usually a crackingly good developer with an eye for subverting the genres they explore. Keep the ATC as an X-Files secret government and Aristide as the Smoking Man if you like, but FEAR should have been a great supernatural shooter series with each game featuring new nasties to overcome. Then little Alma would have remained a great amongst gaming’s villains; SHODAN, GLaDOS, Andrew Ryan – compelling one-off villains you develop just a sliver of compassion for.

Stick to the original, it knows your fears, where as Fear2 is just Call of Duty: Alma. Played in Zombie mode. It even drops young Alma once sexy Alma appears, and there’s nothing scarier than a little girl that’s up to something - you want sexy girls to be up to something, the more evil the better.

The DLC F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn is an effective little shooter that makes zero sense. A Replica solider is activated and sent to find FEAR 1’s Fettel. Alma then takes control of his brothers and the various ghosties to stop him. Why? It’s not really clear, and I assumed it provided the explanation for Fettel’s rebirth in Fear 3, but it doesn’t. Why not have Alma task the Replica with trapping Becket for her? The main game could have included a scene where Becket disappears and we play a DLC as Keegan for a while – it could have explained more of Keegan’s Alma-crush before Becket pops up refusing to talk about it, but of course this is just a quickie DLC that adds nothing but a few quid to WB’s coffers. Avoid.

2009 | Developer; Monolith Productions | Publisher; Warner Bros. Games

Genre; shooter, FPS, horror

Platforms; Win | PS3 | X360