The Horror"The Horror (Part 2)

F.E.A.R. took what could have been your average FPS horror and turned it into one of the sleeper hits of the 360 by delivering a unique mix of gameplay. Two years on and we’re in a post-Gears of War/Bioshock world where Asian horror is very last season, so what can Monolith’s FPS have to keep us coming back for more? The answer is plenty.

F.E.A.R 2 kicks off just before the ending of the first game in the series and it doesn’t take long for us to find out that Alma’s gone ape and all hell’s broken loose. This time around we are slipping into the boots of soldier Michael Becket and his squad is sent in to arrest Genevieve Aristide.

Alma is throwing her weight around in the form of a paranormal melt down, which has destroyed the city. There’s nothing for it, but to go down into the scary tunnel and follow the trails of blood with your heart in your throat.

Gulp.

Now horror is a funny thing and if you think about it too much it becomes almost laughable. If you’re expecting to lose sleep after playing F.E.A.R. 2, then think again because it’s not really big in the shocks department. Okay, so you have the experiments gone wrong leaping out of dark corners and trying to throttle you with their malformed hands, but turn another corner and you’re just blasting the hell out of some faceless enemy troops.

When it comes to horror games, I’m a big scaredy-cat, but fortunately for me, F.E.A.R. 2 only made my heart skip a beat a few times. It’s no Silent Hill on the scare front, but what it doesn’t provide in terms of horror, it makes up for in spades when it comes to combat.

Once again the reflex time is in full effect and unless you are super human, you will need it. The enemy AI is an absolute delight. Hunker down behind a crate and try to take them off one by one, but one of the little critters will sneak up behind you and take you down. Foes communicate mid-battle to report your location and change tactics. Combat scenes become long, drawn out dramas of epic proportions and with the ability to carry only three medi-packs, time is of the essence.

The combat really comes into its own in the ruins of the city. Climb inside dilapidated buildings and try to outwit enemies hiding among the rubble. Stay in one place too long and they will use a pincer movement to pin you down from both sides. They will kick over tables to hide behind and leap over obstacles to run at you guns blazing. In fact, the environment is an essential part of the gameplay in F.E.A.R. 2.

This time around Monolith has given us beautifully detailed environments. The city is stunning in its devastation with ash floating down through rays of sunlight. Eviscerated bodies stand in the streets like statues and dissolve in a whisper of dust as you run through them. This is a world that feels like it was teeming with life just moments ago. Cars are abandoned, posters for movies adorn the wall, children’s toys lie in the school playground and lab coats hang on hooks.

Criticism was levelled at the lack of varied locations in the original game, but Monolith has more than delivered for the sequel. From a penthouse apartment suite, to a primary school or scuttling along disused subway tunnels, the levels in F.E.A.R. 2 are always rich with finishing touches. In addition, lighting effects are used to create atmosphere and have you shooting at your own shadow.

The new ability to lift obstacles out of doorways is a bit clumsy. Hold down X and Becket will slowly push it aside. Release the X too soon and the object will fall back again. But this is a small gripe for a game that offers a very solid world, where nearly everything can be used, such as shooting down power lines to disable a mech. And then there are the guns.

When it comes to weapons, they are many and varied. My personal favourite became the assault rifle. Hit reflex time, zoom in and aim for the head – works every time, well, almost. Sometimes the assault rifle doesn’t have enough grunt, so then it’s time to bring out the big boys such as the laser rifle or even the missile launcher. The pulse gun has a no nonsense approach to dispatching foes with the bonus of pretty pyrotechnics.

Of all the weapons available, the armour suit has to be the best. This offers a bit of yahoo, gun-toting action and serves as some light relief, as you’re nigh on indestructible. Although, your suit will take some beats and kick you out to repair itself, so don’t go in too crazed. But if you’ve ever wanted to strip a concrete pillar down to its foundation pins using gunfire alone – now is your chance.

Guns and combat aside, I feel that the narrative could have been handled better. Back-story was dished up in text form on various ‘intel’ snippets, such as emails or staff announcements and letters. It made for a very dry narrative experience and most gamers will probably skip it all. With a little more thought to the story, this would have been a near perfect game.

All in all F.E.A.R 2 delivered another dose of everything people enjoyed in the first game and more besides. Superb environments, combined with enemy AI that is just a joy to behold make this a storming start to 2009.

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