The original FEAR gained a deserved following thanks to Monolith’s brilliant combination of fantastic FPS play, a well implemented bullet time esque slow down feature, and some of the scariest gameplay ever witnessed.
After two less than impressive expansion packs - neither created by the original developers Monolith who return to create this sequel - FEAR 2 casts you as Sergeant Michael Becket, part of a special forces unit send to obtain Genevieve Aristide. As president of Armacham Technology, who have been unscrupulously using the terrifying Alma for their own means, your task is to get to her before Alma.
The "star" of the first game, the childlike Alma, returns and is just as terrifyingly scary as ever. The game does its level best to chill you to the core around every corner, with psychic visions blending into the real world, and an excellent sound setup shows off the chilling screams of terror that just always seem to be out of reach.
Set half an hour before the cataclysmic events that occurred at the end of the first game, FEAR 2’s story is helped by handily placed drips of information just waiting to be picked up and read. These brief bits of "intel" not only hand over some delightful Achievements for your Xbox 360 GamerTag, but certainly give a few helpful hints towards just why the situation is as terrifyingly bad as it’s become. Safe to say that gamers who played the first will indeed get a hell of a lot more out of the story itself, but even newcomers can enjoy the tale.
To play there’s little more here that you’ve not seen before in any number of FPS titles. Weapons and ammo are plentiful, with a wide variety of realistic weaponry to flick between. FEAR 2 varies slightly on the genre standard by allowing you to carry three hefty weapons at any one time. It still leaves a few choices to be made, but the extra scope does seem to make sure than running out of ammo at an inopportune moment completely eradicated.
But as generic as the weaponry may be, they’re made to feel incredibly powerful thanks to the sheer intelligence offered by your enemies. The human adversaries you regularly come across will happily use cover, flush you out with grenades, and force you to make regular use of the slow down bullet time feature that’s initiated via a swift prod of a face button.
Once time’s slowed right down - which only lasts a short while, and it takes time to charge back up - you’ll find taking on a group of enemies much easier. It can easily turn a situation from an almost certain death, through to a hectic blast-a-thon with you left as the lone man standing.
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However, the more spiritual and terrifying monsters that appear later on in the game are much more dull. Gone are the intelligent patterns offered by the human soldiers you face, to be replaced by the standard head on rush right down the barrel of your gun. Disappointing yes, but they do provide a welcome respite when your brain has been thoroughly tested to the max for the last half an hour.
If there’s one major plus for FEAR 2 it’s the sheer brilliance of the level design. The game seems to have the perfect ability to work out just when you’re starting to tire of all out battling, and offer up a brief section of ultimate terrors and even very basic puzzle solving. Then just as the tension starts to get incredibly unbearable, gunshots start to ricochet around you and its right back to hectic gunplay. Brilliant.
Graphically, FEAR 2 is fairly impressive. It certainly won’t go winning any awards for visual brilliance, but there’s lots of clutter packed in every level. Some admittedly do descend into the kind of generic bland corridors that populated the first game, but those are a rarity rather than the norm. It seems Monolith listened to the fans in that regard.
The combination of hectic blasting, intelligent enemies, and terrifying scares is once again a real hit for the FEAR series. It’s to the game’s ultimate benefit that every mechanic it offers is of a high enough standard to culminate in a quite brilliant whole.
But, ultimately this is yet another FPS that’s a step behind the best the genre has to offer. It’s a fantastic second best, but it’s still a little behind the major players.