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F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Monster mash
By MITCH KRPATA  |  February 25, 2009
2.5 2.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin | for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Monolith Productions | Published by Warner Bros Interactive
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is a Frankenstein's monster of a game, a stitched-together assemblage of parts from other, better games. Each of its elements works well in isolation, but together they form a lumbering, uncertain whole. One minute the game is a Call of Duty–style military-themed shooter; the next it's a freakish survival-horror experience packed with jump scares and hallucinatory images. Then you hop into a mech for some high-octane vehicular combat. Far from helping the pacing or breaking up the gameplay, these diversions give you the sense that F.E.A.R. 2 doesn't know quite what it is.

At heart, in fact, it's a shooter, and a competently executed one. The original F.E.A.R. suffered, in its console iteration, from a shoehorned control scheme that made a trial of ducking into and out of cover. The sequel has jettisoned that approach in favor of a new cover mechanic with which your character can knock over environmental items, like tables and file cabinets, and hide behind them. This isn't perfect either — you have to be standing at exactly the right angle and distance from an object for the prompt to come up, and that can be dodgy in a firefight. Of course, you can ignore it altogether and hardly notice the difference.

Which is not to say that your enemies' AI is weak. They're swift-moving and reasonably intelligent. You'll need to take advantage of your character's ability to enter, temporarily, a slowed-down, Matrix-like state of consciousness. This holdover from the first game is as neat as ever: you can see your bullets ripping through the air and puncturing your enemies' body armor, and when you detonate a grenade, it creates translucent shockwaves that send foes flying like ragdolls. It's the sort of thing that doesn't get old.

What does get old are the environments. The sequel offers a bit more variety than the original — which is like saying that mauve is more colorful than beige. The first third of the single-player campaign has you trudging through the same bland office environments over and over. It's exciting to step outside into a post-nuclear urban hellscape, but then — oops! — you keep having to duck back into those nondescript buildings. Then you head into a generic-looking school, and a stainless-steel laboratory, and so on. I can only think that such mundane backdrops are intended to provide an ironic counterpoint to the supernatural aspects.

F.E.A.R. 2 relies heavily on its horror-themed interludes. Your character often loses consciousness and has flashes of Alma, the powerful telekinetic little girl from the first game who here has grown into an equally creepy young woman. For the most part, the scares are off-the-shelf stuff, sudden noises and creatures jumping from shadows, and not as effective as in the original. Worse, they're divorced from the rest of the game, and from one another. When you're fighting military foes, nothing frightening is happening. When you're traversing haunted corridors, you're not really doing anything. And when you hop into an armored vehicle, skill goes out the window in favor of arcade-style pointing and shooting. It's just not cohesive.

One sequence does stand out. You're creeping through a deserted elementary school when the lights start to flicker and a teleporting ghost begins to harass you. It's disorienting, unnerving, and almost worth the price of admission. It's also, however, the sequence that's playable in the free demo. That's right, you can save 60 bucks and still get the best part!

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