Why are little girls so damn scary? Seriously. They're everywhere throughout the horror genre; always eerily visible out of the corner of your eye, usually with entangled hair drooped over some sort of horrific visage, and with revenge-by-death on their mind. Whatever the reason, Monolith sticks with the theme as Alma returns in the proper sequel to their 2005 suspense-driven first-person shooter, with F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin. Overlapping a bit where the first game left off, Project Origin ultimately struggles to assert itself as either a creepy thriller or an all-out, action-driven ride. Though the game fails to genuinely excite, you're still likely to come out of the experience with nods of approval and gallery claps of satisfaction—it just seems less likely you'll be cowering in a corner or overtly ecstatic with what's offered this time around.
If you haven't finished the first F.E.A.R game, let us spoil it for you: Alma, the overly-powerful, psychokinetic daughter of secret experiments researcher Harlan Wade isn't dead following the Point Man's adventure. Surviving the massive explosion set to destroy her, Alma is now royally pissed and has lost control. Project Origin starts off thirty minutes prior to the first game's conclusion as Micheal Becket and team are assigned to bring Genevieve Aristide—the woman who basically started the whole mess—into protective custody. Of course, what should be a fairly routine mission (considering the black-ops nature of Becket's squad), isn't. The explosion meant to kill Alma sets events into motion that take you through paranormal survival missions, rubbled streets filled with vaporized casts of pedestrians, mech-based objectives, and a finale that kind of makes sense.
Though this may be the point in the review where we could go off saying that the story in Project Origin feels contrived, convoluted, or just cockamamie, it actually doesn't. The storytelling that progresses Becket through underground secret lairs, fallout-ridden streets and research facilities is actually engaging and flows well because you're able to pick up pieces of the story through hidden packages and convincing dialogue. Solid voice acting also helps portray situations through distinctive, believable characters. True, you could blast your way through the game, without a nary of a care as to why or whom you're killing, but doing so makes Origin's shortcomings that much more apparent.
Bypassing barely hidden 'Intel' packages, and therefore foregoing much of the back and side stories, reveals that F.E.A.R 2 does little to push the FPS genre. Tight sound effects—be it the appropriate, escalating soundtrack, the aforementioned voice acting, or 'what was that,' anxiety-heightening noises either behind you or off in the distance—and copious amounts of gelatinous blood from over-the-top exploding bodies may be fairly exceptional here, but they won't make you forget about the linear corridor construction that leaves little else to do than to go there and kill that.
From start to finish, there's only one direction where Becket can go, and there isn't a hint of dichotomy or decision-making anywhere throughout Origin. In a game where you can flip tables for cover, or leverage heavy soda machines blocking certain passages (have you ever tried moving one of those things?), it doesn't make much sense to have puny piles of boxes, chairs or shelves blocking alternate routes of travel. While it's necessary to have the player do certain things to propel the story, doing so by going from one point to another, without deviation, creates predictability—and when psychological fear is the goal, knowing when and where events are going to happen makes the whole experience more an exercise in going through the motions than revelations of genuine surprise.
But what's more frustrating with Project Origin is this predictability coupled with cresting and waning sections of action and suspense. As the game progresses, you get closer and closer to Alma; thus, hallucinations and paranormal activity become more frequent as you fight what appear to be ghosts, and friends get killed off by bouts of hyper-tantrums from the frenzied girl. Through all of this, however, all of your troubles are cured by either your trusty weapons or by tapping B at specified moments. A guise of difference Origin might posses in the FPS category, but the game essentially boils down to a battle of caliber and not much else as you go from sections of straight violence--sniping enemies or blowing them to pieces with a large mechanized suit--to areas where Alma's influence takes over, evident by the flickering of your flashlight and strange occurrences. Unfortunately, the transition between the two types of situations feels too parsed and disjointed, and comprised of distinct patterns: gunfights lead to dead sections of quietness, which then turn into short bursts of hallucinations (sometimes antagonistic, and other times just in the vein of trying to quicken your heart), and then back to the reliance of your good 'ol automatic shotgun.
The inability of the two types of scenarios to flow together to form suspense is disappointing because when looked at separately, they each do well in serving their purposes: Alma-induced occurrences are strange and surprising enough to be somewhat scary, and action sequences play out well with fun gore and AI that isn't too dumbed down; but together, they make for action that feels almost unnecessary at times, and horror that misses the mark.
That being said, with a less-than-thrilling-but-not-utterly-disappointing single-player experience, the game does a bit better when you take it online. On tap in Project Origin is your standard fare of multiplayer games, but they're done so with well-tuned controls and gameplay that isn't forgiving. Also, Monolith has tweaked their loadout system just enough to make it feel different with a points-based setup that assigns values to different types of equip: each object carries a specified point value, and you can add or subtract equipment to gain the points needed to allocate the armor and weapons you want. However, in an age where your life's statistics are tracked by even your grocery store, it's rough to see little more than your basic kill-death ratio kept score of.
Essentially a straightforward first-person shooter with a crazy girl giving your character headaches and hallucinations of damnation, F.E.A.R 2 may have some things going for it, but for the most part, its execution lacks imagination. Whether the fact that you have to search out bits of the story is just an attempt to extend play time or not, it adds to a game where if the story wasn't interesting in the least, then the whole thing would feel completely uninspired. As it is, strong storytelling through various media makes for a single-player shooter that's digestible, and somewhat fun to play. Hopefully, should there be a threequel, next time the horror aspect will keep up with the exposition.
+ Shh, did you hear that?
+ J-E-L-L-Ohhhh man, did that guy's body just paint the room?
+ Alma's story is Oprah Bookclub worthy...well, kind of
Oh, hell no:
- More ghosties? *yawn* *fires gun*
- No maps needed, and it's a bit cramped
- At least you'll know how many kills you have online