After recieving a much anticipated package of F.E.A.R. 2 in the mail on thursday, I found myself at first hampered by would-be nemesis Steam, Valves’ touted release “platform” that the game decided to use for both installer and copy protection. Now I generally don’t mind this, but the very idea that having an actual, physical game copy in my hands and not being able to play or even install it because some funny guy in a suit out on the big interwebs says I’m not allowed to until the next day irks me.

Then a night passed, the day of official release in europe came and the incident was swiftly forgotten as the game now happily allowed itself to be installed and activated. So on to the playing experience!

The very start (and I mean the first 30-some seconds) of F.E.A.R. 2 was very remeniscent, and by that I mean pretty much exactly like, the demo, which left me feeling a bit meh as the demo really didn’t offer much in establishing a setting. Of course, then those 30 seconds passed and the game happily pulled the carpet from under my feet by dropping me somewhere completely different from the demo and then proceeded with the first trip to Mind Screw Central just in case I’d somehow gotten the idea that I was playing a game like Dead (s)Pace that traded horror and suspense for stuff jumps out of windows and not a game that actually can terrify.

Then we get some exposition and the game actually starts, and I realize for the first time that I have no SloMo power. Where’s my SloMo power?! It seems that unlike the entertaining but not entirely getting it alternate-canon standalone expansion pack Perseus Mandate, F.E.A.R. 2 sticks to the notion that the F.E.A.R. 1 protagonist (who according to canon lore has no actual name and is only known as “Point Man”) had that unique ability for a reason. This, however, doesn’t stop the game from coughing up a reason why you can have SloMo too within the first hour, but the nod towards the Point Man being a special case is much appreciated.

Somehow however.. I can’t shake the feeling that F.E.A.R. 2 is really in a hurry to get us to the end – where F.E.A.R. 1 was half about the actual discovery of who exactly this little girl in a red dress is and why she’s developed startingly homocidal tendencies (nevermind the game early making us accept the absurdity of our mission by having soon-to-vanish support character Jankowski blurt out just how absurd it is), F.E.A.R. 2 dumps us right into it and we just get lead down the line by People With Schemes without never really getting a feeling of why exactly we would be. This feeling was further enhanced by seeing loading screens mentioning things my character had aledgedly been told that I actually didn’t remember hearing, which suggested that the game had missed a vocal cue somewhere that might’ve made my journey a little bit more understandable.

The portrayal hit its lowest end when I ran into one of the characters that’d been part of my military squad dying from continous stabbing by some medical labratory injector apparatus thing and my typical silent protagonist could just stare and wonder what the heck while noone else actually saw it and the dying man was never mentioned again. Comparing this to Jankowski in the first F.E.A.R. whose fate not only remains unresolved but who also seems to show up every so often just to mess with your head.. most of the deaths in the game seem a tad of wasted potential.

All above said however, I really enjoyed F.E.A.R. 2 – I completed it that very same friday in a 8-some hour marathon playthrough from start to end, relishing the experience every step of the way. And though the storytelling aspect is weaker than the first F.E.A.R., the action has definitely been ramped up a few notches; I remember in the original how most weapons were continously stuck at burst fire and were somewhere between innacurate and annoying to handle. This is no longer the case and pretty much every weapon looks stylized and is generally fun to handle. Increasing your carry ability from 3 to 4 weapons is also noticeable and juggling weapon, zoom, cover, postion and SloMo all at once feels highly intuitive and rewarding; and I’d like to make a pause to applaud the way F.E.A.R. 2 handles grenades. Like nearly every first person shooter (and even some third person ones) nowadays, F.E.A.R. 2 has a “throw grenade” button that you can use regardless fo what weapon you have selected. Unlike most cases, F.E.A.R. 2 lets you hold the button down to let some of the timer count down before you throw it, and you even get a visual indicator for hte time as you do. Timing grenades to make them explode before they land and deny your enemy the chance to escape them that way is an amusing skill to pick up, and it adds to making the combat a fun experience.

Oh and the Elite Powered Armour from the demo makes a return. Twice. As a veteran of the MechWarrior game series, piloting it is highly amusing and feels a bit like the game has aspirations to remind us of the old days when developer Monolith released Shogo.

The game has a few other quirks going.. I’m not sure if it was a visual setting it picked (I just let it chose automatically and left it at that) but bodies vanished within the first five seconds for me, which seemed a tad unimmersive. Likewise when powered armours exploded they just went poof gone and nothing to show they were there – which again might be a graphical setting but it really seemed off to me. There’s also the issue that the game refuses to let you bind mouse buttons 4 and 5 to anything, an issue that Dead Pace also had which is even more aggravating in F.E.A.R. 2 as I’d love to actually throw grenades on the mouse. Some people on the Steam forums blame consolification and poor port quality on the inability to use the extra mouse buttons but I don’t buy that – F.E.A.R. 2 fully supports my Logitech G15 keyboard LCD display and is even happy to make the LCD display fade in and out when it does this to your regular in-game HUD, and as I’d expect a fourth and fifth mouse button to be far more common than said LCD, it seems more like a really strange design decision to make rather than “crap port” that’s the aggressor.

In the end, I can’t shake the feeling that F.E.A.R. 2 tries a little too hard at surpassing the older F.E.A.R. and ends up stumbling a bit on its own efforts. It’s prettier, the action works better and they’ve acomplished even more interaction between your character and the world (or other characts), together with a much more immersive HUD than the first game. On the flip though, the story seems a little less coherenet and a little more forced into being rushed along, with the ending seeming less like an end and more like a huge To Be Continued in your face.

Still, after the occasionally frustrating adventure of survival startle boredom that was Dead Pace, it was very welcome to have F.E.A.R. 2 come along and remind me that some horror games actually understand concepts like suspense.


6 Responses to “B.E.A.F.R.A.I.D.”

  1. 1 Illidan
    February 15, 2009 at 14:55

    I don’t really like the F.E.A.R. series as a whole, so I didn’t read the whole article, but I loved the night elf shot at the top of the article, great job!

  2. 2 sylvanes
    February 15, 2009 at 16:45

    yea i agree fear 2 does make a slow start
    but it has some great mind srews in it.
    and yea the ending does scream to be continued
    anyway love te elf an alma elf 😛

  3. 3 Raz
    February 16, 2009 at 00:47

    Typo at “pulled hte carpet”. Other than that well said, as usual for your insightful blogs. Gives me an idea of games I haven’t played yet.

    And regards to protection of the products like that; it’s becoming more commonplace after Spore idealized it. Some companies just don’t know the gaming community.

  4. 4 Nhani
    February 16, 2009 at 09:02

    Eh, one of these days I’ll learn to use an actual spellchecker beyond the cerebral one and not just go with the “It’s fine, noone’ll notice” method. Then maybe it’ll start raining money and I’ll gain super powers.

    I do try to make it an interesting read. I’ve long given up on being able to go anywhere near as in-depth on World of Warcraft mechanics as some of my contemporaries as I tend to go a whole lot on what feels better and mix soloing/multirole utility into my everyday decisions. (I imagine my idea that Spirit Tap is a useful healer talent would be somewhat at odds with a great deal of people, for example) So, I try to spread the topics out a bit more! (and have thematic header images for posts!)

    For the copy protection.. I don’t mind it too much.. not as such. I came across stuff like that before Spore – Bioshock was the first game I got that had to be activated online I think, with some later titles sharing that need but being more silent about it. The thing that hit me with F.E.A.R. 2 wasn’t so much it needing activation as the simple fact that I had the game physically in my hand and could insert the discs and read the manual and all, but I couldn’t play it because some git had decided to staple an arbitrary three days to the european release. It raised the question of why europeans had to wait another three days in the first place when it obviously isn’t due to localization or distribution.

  5. 5 Arafor
    February 16, 2009 at 10:41

    I don’t think Spirit Tap is a bad talent for a healer :3

  6. 6 Moltrazahn
    February 17, 2009 at 16:28

    Darn, i fell on this here entry by bit of a supprise, but god i must admidt your buy the same kinda games i do. I do have played and own the F.E.A.R games and i did enjoy them, i have plenty of good memories of installing it at 22:30 and then haveing no study the next day, i tought to myself “Hey lets play this thing” … Not smart. Let me be clear, im a sweaper with FPS-games. I completed half-life 2 in a weekend the first time i played, and older classics like Quake 1,2 and 3 all went down the drain faster then a few days tops. Fear… Well i wasent going to be beaten by that! Heck I KNEW horror! i played the doom series! *nods to self* … When i had completed the F.E.A.R game, i turned of my pc. Quitely went to bed, and dreamed of little girls (or skeletal thin women) that came to bend and twist my body like a stick.

    Point being. I LOVED the fear game, it felt fun at first playtrough and the horror worked better then any other horror game ive tried. So yea i might be abit “eeekh” but i liked it. I still have to raise money for F.E.A.R 2 tough, but im dying to try it. Not only for the revisit of dear little(big) Alma. But as you said, for the experiance of trying a new-age version of the good old Mech-warrior concept. Given i doubt the Mech-suit carries 100 tons of Gauss, PPC, Auto-20, or Pulse-lasers. But from what ive seen, it packs a punch still. So looking very much forward to that.

    Ive read alot of Reveiws about F.E.A.R 2, but yours ive decided to take for what it is, a game i need to have. So thanks for that *grins*

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