F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin, a Ten Year Reunion

I’ve got a thing for action horror games. Just last year I did another reunion article gushing about how great Dead Space is even after all these years. But it’s not the only action horror icon that’s dear to me. Today, I want to talk about another one.

First Encounter Assault Recon also known as F.E.A.R is a hybrid first person shooter and horror game developed by Monolith that launched in October 2005 on PC and Xbox 360 at a later date. It was an instant classic and one of my all time favourite games.

A perfect blend of horror inspired by the likes of Silent Hill and action clearly inspired by John Woo and The Matrix. F.E.A.R was an interesting combination that worked marvelously. The smart AI and brilliant level design lends to some of the best combat scenarios in gaming whilst the scares landed more often than other dedicated horror games. Four Years later, F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin finally launched on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. It was an interesting sequel that doubled down on the story and horror. I played it back when it first launched and thought it was a masterpiece that surpassed the original game. Coming back to the game a decade later, I found the truth to be a bit more complicated.

 

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Alma is an horror icon

 

**Minor Story Spoilers Ahead**

The story follows Michael Beckett, member of Dark Signal, sent to arrest a Armacham higher-up before she can be assassinated. The mission quickly spirals out of control and an explosion knocks out the squad. After waking up in hospital, Beckett develops a psychic connection to long dead Alma Wade. The story sends you out to regroup with the surviving members of Dark Signal and find a way to stop Alma before her powers trigger an apocalyptic event. I really enjoyed the story in this one. In the original game it was sort of background noise where in F.E.A.R 2 the narrative was a lot more prevalent.

It’s an incredibly dark and twisted plot with numerous twists and revelations. Alma’s past is tragic, brutal, and unforgiving, lending to some small semblance of sympathy for the character and her motivations. Her backstory is clearly inspired by Silent Hill‘s Alessa, sharing some key similarities. Alma has only ever known suffering at the hands of her own parents, ultimately leading to her cruel death years ago. 

Alma is undoubtedly the star of the series and her appearance in this game proves that. Appearing on a regular basis to torment the player  whilst cleverly disguising her true intentions with Beckett. Elsewhere, side characters have more clear motivations and are a fairly forgettable bunch. There’s Stokes who is just there to stop the apocalypse. There’s also Keegan who has the same connection to Alma as Beckett does. There’s some more characters who pop-up occasionally, but don’t have much to do. Admittedly, you do need to do a fair bit of reading for a lot of the story context but it is well worth reading. The text logs are well written and add immensely to the story. 

One of the biggest talking points about the original F.E.A.R was the enemy AI. They communicated with each other in ways most games don’t even attempt. Often flanking around you and aiming for environmental hazards such as explosive barrels. The AI in the sequel was designed to build upon that. Enemies are more reactive to the environment and what’s going on around them than before. Turning over tables for makeshift cover is one example. However, the more linear combat scenarios make their options less dynamic and more restrictive and this is where the game falls apart, especially in the earlier stages. The underground hospital at the start of the game makes this apparent. It’s a really poor opening. Things do get better when the arenas start opening up giving you and the AI more options but these narrow sets are sprinkled throughout. 

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The shockwave effect on grenades in slow motion is still great

Shooting still feels as strong as ever. Running around in slow motion and blowing up enemies in a explosion of blood and body parts never stops getting old. There’s a wide variety of weapons to play around with ranging from basic SMGs to experimental laser weapons. Whilst the Assault Rifle was the best weapon in the game, they were all really fun to use and viable in combat. The core mechanics were great but looking back it just wasn’t as good as the original game. The flow of combat feels drastically different and there are some gameplay changes that are pretty bad. I feel like you spend much more time trying to take cover. 

Melee, a major combat mechanic in the first game was nerfed big time to the point where it’s no longer effective. There is very little weight or impact behind your melee attacks, whereas before you could slide kick your opponent into a wall in a bloody spectacular fashion. There’s a few smaller issues I have with the gameplay that I didn’t really think about ten years ago. You can’t lean around corners anymore and the introduction of true ADS feels like it was implemented purely to follow the trends set by Call of Duty. Quick Time Events are used to do everything from opening elevator doors to dispatching major bosses in anti-climatic fashion. But by no means does any of this make F.E.A.R 2 a bad game. 

In an attempt to add a little more variety to the gameplay of F.E.A.R, turret and mech sections were added. I wish they weren’t. These are incredibly arduous stretches that work against the strengths of F.E.A.R. Sure, a mech made for a cool spectacle but from a gameplay perspective it was just boring noise.

Then there’s the second component of F.E.A.R: the horror. This game doubled down on the horror and for the most part it works well. Alma is more active in the plot and gameplay, appearing far more in this game than ever before. Alma’s reflection would appear in a mirror only to turn around and find nothing left created a lingering unease. And F.E.A.R 2 is full of these little moments. Of course there are jump scares and like all jump scares they can be hit or miss. Some are painfully predictable whilst others are very well crafted. If you’re looking for a solid horror game, this is pretty decent.

The school section is one of the best parts of F.E.A.R 2 combining elements of horror and action all into one whilst providing some really good story elements. As you progress through the school you discover it was just one large experiment to find children who are psychologically compatible with Alma. Under the school there is a super secret lab that shows just how twisted Armacham and the Wade family really are. 

One of my only complaints about the original was that it looked very basic, lacking colour and environmental detail. It didn’t look bad, in fact it looked fine but everything felt bland. Every room and every corridor looked the same as the last, especially toward the end. Here though, with its larger variety of locations, there are way more details making the apocalyptic setting feel much more realistic. The streets are stacked up with rubble, buildings are collapsing and blood is everywhere. The spectral effects of the supernatural enemies you will encounter are still stunning, lending to some great atmospheric moments that really shine through.

 

Lovely

 

From this point, F.E.A.R 2 took a turn for the worst. F.E.A.R 2: Reborn was the only DLC to release for Project Origin and it was a bit disappointing. Reborn follows a Replica soldier known as Foxtrot 418 as he works to free returning villain Paxton Fettell who died in the original game. There’s nothing of substance and is completely skippable. Completion will only take around one hour, two at an absolute stretch on higher difficulties without much replay value. Thankfully the GOG version of F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin comes bundled with Reborn, unlike the Steam version. I wouldn’t pick it up separately. After F.E.A.R 2 and it’s expansion, Monolith departed from the series and this is when the series really took a steep dive. We have F.E.A.R Online which was shut down within a year of entering open beta. Then we have F.3.A.R which was a bland sequel with a terrible conclusion to Alma’s story. 

Whilst F.E.A.R 2 wasn’t the masterpiece I remembered from ten years ago. It’s combat and level design is worse than the original. However, it is still a fun game that is well worth playing through today. 

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