When the first F.E.A.R. game landed in gamer’s hands back in 2005 it was heralded for its intense combat sequences and outstanding AI. With so many advances in the genre some were concerned that F.E.A.R.’s weaknesses would hold it back alongside modern masterpieces. Thankfully developer Monolith has taken all of the criticism of its first game very seriously and crafted one of the finer sequels to come along in quite some time. The single-player portion of Project Origin is one of the most thrilling experiences I have played so far this year and for the first time I actually managed to care about the story in this otherwise convoluted franchise.
Unlike most sequels Project Origin starts you off parallel to the ending of the first game. Instead of continuing the original story you are instead thrust into the shoes of Michael Becket, a Delta Force operative who is tasked with completing the routine assignment of taking a top level executive into custody. As it turns out this high-level executive has been toying with everyone’s favorite mind-bending psycho terrorist Alma and from there things begin to unfold and you even get a glimpse at the end of the first game in the distance.
Combining the stories and running them parallel sets up a much more approachable, and interesting scenario. Plus, it gives players who have never experienced the series before the opportunity to jump in without prior knowledge of the game’s characters. Project Origin delivers a pulse-pounding single-player campaign that runs approximately six to ten hours depending on the difficulty you choose to tackle.
Much like the first game Origin implements the same style with a few new tricks. The game still focuses on intimate encounters with between two and five enemies at a time. This is kept interesting by the superb AI found in the game. Enemies will not simply duck behind cover and spray bullets at random intervals, but instead regroup and try to flank you from all sides. In several situations I found myself checking behind me as much as I was paying attention to my adversaries in front of me. Every firefight in this game can be compared to an encounter in a game like Ninja Gaiden, where fear of death is possible from regular enemies. This is of course if you choose to play on the higher difficulties to obtain the full experience.
One of the biggest complaints about the first game was a lack of environments. The first F.E.A.R. seemed to only take place in office buildings with shallow corridors. Project Origin has improved upon this by taking the player to various locales featuring some impressive level design. Sure you will still be fighting in office environments (it wouldn’t be a F.E.A.R. game without them) but the sequel gives you more open spaces and plenty of cover to let you maneuver around the battlefield much easier. Speaking of cover one of the new dynamics for Project Origin is the ability to knock over various objects to use for cover. Personally I found this mechanic wasted as I would usually just use the provided cover, but it is nice to see the devs attempting something new with the series.
The gunplay is reminiscent of the first game and combines frantic action with slow-motion barrages of bullets. The main character once again obtains the ability (it isn’t available in the first level) to slow down time and use his impressive reflexes to pinpoint his shots. Once you become comfortable with the system you begin to use it naturally as sort of a combo system to take down enemies one at a time. One of the biggest improvements I noticed from the first game to this one is that the regular shooting now feels more refined making regular battles nearly as much fun as the slow-mo ballets of death. This gives players an opportunity to play the game however they choose.
The assortment of weapons feels expected and not nearly as impressive as when we first used them in the series. The shotgun remains a personal favorite for the simple fact that you can splatter enemies into (unrealistic) piles of giblets in slow motion, while the Hammerhead provides hours of fun by pinning your enemies to walls in precarious positions. The rest of the arsenal feels tired and overused, but the new aiming system and hit detection make the game feel more accessible, which is certainly a welcome addition. There are also sections of the game where you take control of a giant armored suit and wreak havoc on unsuspecting foes. These sections do a wonderful job of not only breaking up the pace, but also immersing you into the experience.
The gameplay is only hindered by the slight wobbling that your character performs while moving in general. While it may make him feel more realistic, the constant motion makes aiming in some scenarios more complicated than it should be. It is a nitpick sure, but when you don’t have the option to turn it off and the multi-player completely eliminates it, you begin to wonder why it was left in. Playing through the game feels similar to the previous game which could be viewed as both a good and bad thing. The first time Alma pops up and attempts to make you jump it feels expected (if you played the original at least). The scares in the game are certainly much more intense, and the presentation is top-notch, but you will get the sense that you have been there, and done that more often than not.
Once you tackle the single-player Project Origin also offers some multi-player to try and keep you hooked. Honestly they could have left it out and I would have been equally satisfied with my purchase. Everything about it feels tacked on and unappealing. You have your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes and variations of just about every other type of online mode that has been in every shooter since the dawn of online gaming. Probably the biggest crime this game commits is completely omitting the feature that set the original apart in the online arena: slow-motion combat online. In the first game you had the option to play with pick-ups that allowed one player the advantage of heightened reflexes to change the tide of the match. With this option gone, Project Origin’s online functionality feels like a wasted effort.
Visually the game presents a solid foundation with moments of brilliance. Some of the level designs and textures are absolutely top-tier, such as the final level, while others fall flat. Characters sport some great animations and death sequences, but the occasional frame hiccup can be an annoyance. The most impressive aspect visually though has to be the blood. Watching is spatter on your HUD and spray all about the area in slow motion gives off a sadistic sense of satisfaction. The grain effects during hallucinations are also worth noting. The audio also stands out with some genuinely creepy effects and a solid voice acting cast. Sure the dialogue is insipid at times, but it does a nice job of putting the narrative front and center this time around.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is a solid follow-up to a great franchise. If you are a fan of Alma and company then there should be no hesitation in picking up this delightful sequel. While it may not hold the same prestige of scaring the pants off of gamers like the original did, it remains a genuine thriller that will keep you immersed from beginning to end. Don’t expect the multi-player to show you anything you haven’t seen before, and if you are coming into the series for the first time expecting a revolution you may be disappointed. However, shooter fans and especially fans of the series will find plenty to love with this solid, if not predictable sequel.