The original F.E.A.R. was an absolute revelation. Its blend of rollocking FPS action with creepy horror elements made it an instant classic, and its long-awaited sequel has a lot to live up to. As it turns out, F.E.A.R. 2 is a handy shooter... but franchise fans are going to have a lot to complain about.
F.E.A.R. 2 throws us into the shoes of Michael Becket, a Delta Force operator who's been sent to retrieve the corrupt president of Armacham industries. As you'd expect, all hell soon breaks loose and his team has to fight their way out of the dying city whilst battling against Alma's sinister machinations. Beckett is not as physically capable as the Point Man (the first game's protagonist), but he soon learns a few melee tricks as well as the trademark slow motion ability. I'm delighted to report that the combat mechanics are absolutely brutal and incredibly deadly, delivering plenty of combat options to players as bullets rip through bodies and scenery alike. Every weapon feels potent and horrifically capable, with liberal application of slow motion allowing us to admire the fruits of our labours. The sniper rifle pops heads like ripe melons. The automatic shotgun smears foes into clouds of blood and ribs. The laser chars screaming infantry to into flaming cinders. It's one of the most satisfying shooters I've ever played, and is solid enough to recommend to any FPS fan.
Some seriously smart enemies and epic set pieces help to punch up the package. Clone soldiers use cover and grenades to flush you out, and nimble freaks attempt to flank the player by scampering across walls and ceilings. These foes also provide a fair few scary moments by utilising side passages and appearing where they're least expected. Whilst most of the game is dominated by tense corridor crawling, a few larger arenas provide a welcome change of pace (including a sprawling sniper battle in a multilevel warehouse and some three-way skirmishes in a ruined school). Using sprints and slides to cover open ground and delivering swift accurate death to the adversaries is the only way to survive in these epic sequences.
A couple of stationary turret sections unfortunately mar the experience. They're slow, sluggish and boring, but at least they're over fairly quickly. To be honest, most players would much rather hop out and get involved themselves. The odd deployable cover mechanic also feels both peripheral and pointless, since the lack of an actual cover system means that being able to flip a table over isn't particularly useful in the grand scheme of things.
One of the most controversial new features of F.E.A.R. 2 is the inclusion of Mech sequences. You'll be able to strap into a powerful armoured exoskeleton a couple of times in the campaign... and though the loyal fanbase has been up in arms about the decision to throw big stompy robots into their beloved horror game, I have to throw my hat into the ring. These sections are not only great, but they're the highlight of the series so far.
Monolith made SHOGO: Mobile Armored Division- and they know a thing or two about mechs. Columns shatter and buildings collapse under the weight of your withering firepower. Pathetic infantry squads scramble to stop you even as you pulverise them into bloody slicks. A thermal camera allows players to seek threats through barriers and walls... and if you fancy it, you can even hop out and engage foes on foot. Not only that, but they're also a clever psychological device that serve to make the player feel weak and vulnerable once they're forced to disembark. Frankly I'd have played an entire game based on these sections.
The combat may be excellent, but it's only half of the experience. This is the "Fear" franchise after all. There's no doubt that F.E.A.R. 2 creates a genuinely oppressive atmosphere with a few unscripted scares here and there (usually thanks to the aforementioned enemies and powerful ambient sound effects), but it lacks the imaginative hallucinations and stone cold mindf*cks that the original utilised to devastating effect. In fact, the few times that Alma deigns to turn are handled as a blatantly obvious quicktime events. Horror games force us to suspend disbelief much more than other genres... and it's difficult to feel immersed in the action when an enormous floating "press B" hovers right next to our spectral assailant. A few cliched ghosts (replete with moaning and plenty of telegraphing) put the nail in the coffin along with some misty visuals that soon become tedious rather than foreboding. Tense? Yes. But fans will rightly bemoan the dumbing down of the horror elements.
The story is also surprisingly weak. Not only do we gain no closure whatsoever, but the plot runs side by side with part of the original game as well as Warner Bros' non-canonical expansion packs. F.E.A.R. 2 expands the story sideways rather than forwards, and it's yet another kick in the teeth to Monolith's patient fanbase.
Multiplayer is fairly capable as far as it goes. F.E.A.R. 2 features the usual gamut of deathmatches and team-based game modes that you'd expect from a console FPS and shares the solid mechanics of the singleplayer campaign. It won't tempt players away from their games of choice, but it's strong enough to consider keeping the disc in the tray for a while longer after the story's done and dusted.
- Rock-solid FPS mechanics, slow motion and great set pieces
- Excellent arsenal that feels potent and powerful
- Mech rampages are exceptional. Seriously, they're the highlight of the entire package.
- Scares are weak, infrequent and clumsy
- Unsatisfying storyline feels like an expansion pack mission
- Turret sections and deployable cover are poorly implemented
The Short Version: F.E.A.R. 2 feels like an immaculate arcade mech sim with an excellent shooter wrapped around it. Unfortunately, a mediocre and hackneyed horror experience is wrapped around that. Despite the clumsy attempts at jump horror, it's still an oppressive experience with some of the most solid FPS mechanics in the business. Don't go in expecting to be scared witless. Go in expecting to kick serious ass.