If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then F.E.A.R. 2 will have a lot of people blushing. That’s not to say that this survival-horror, first-person shooter (FPS) is entirely unoriginal, though. Rather, it’s a pastiche of some of the best parts of the more competent shooters and the most effective Japanese horror films and games.
F.E.A.R. 2 is set 30 minutes before the end of its predecessor, itself a celebrated and revered entrant into the FPS genre. As new protagonist, Delta Force operative Michael Becket, the player experiences the catastrophic conclusion of the previous game and the subsequent beginning of their own adventure. The complicated plot details are intentionally drip-fed as the game develops, so the player’s hand isn’t held throughout the experience and there’s scope for the player to fill in the gaps. The story follows that of a deceased powerful psychic named Alma (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic Sadako from Japanese horror Ringu, or The Ring), who was the subject of cruel experiments to replicate her psychic abilities in others. In death, Alma exacts revenge by blending one’s environment into hellish ghostly hallucinations. It’s an interesting twist on a military FPS, with the player occasionally encountering apparitions and navigating distorted, nightmarish environments without warning.
If you strip it down to its raw mechanics, F.E.A.R. 2 doesn’t really bring anything new to the table for current-gen, first-person shooters. There’s a “bullet time” feature and the ability to position parts of the environment as cover (for instance, flipping a table over), and it’s taken the sprint feature from Call of Duty 4 (with weapon down for added vulnerability). They’re all features that have been implemented elsewhere, but it’s the survival-horror element that means the game absolutely oozes with atmosphere. It’s not limited to cheap “monster jumping unexpectedly through a window”-type scares (although it makes occasional use of this device); where F.E.A.R. 2 excels is in providing an environment and atmosphere that, in not blatantly spelling things out, allows players to scare the hell out of themselves. Eerie silences offset with distant ghostly chatter and laughter, extended skirmish-free sequences with nothing but tellingly placed corpses and unexplained ghost hallucinations, all contribute to one hell of a psychological nightmare for the player.
Enemy artificial intelligence (AI) is reasonably impressive, and some of the fire fights can get pretty hectic. Enemy soldiers move quickly and intelligently, leaping behind cover when fired upon without leaving body parts exposed. It should be noted also that landing a headshot on a soldier doesn’t necessarily result in instant death, like most shooters. You also have Gollum-esque monsters to contend with that move with lightning pace and deal considerable damage. Essentially, even on the normal difficulty setting, most enemy encounters aren’t exactly a pushover. The tension is further heightened when you’re navigating claustrophobic corridors with only the limited illumination of a flashlight for guidance. You’re not always on the back foot, though. There are sections requiring the player to jump into a self-repairing exoskeleton à la Mechwarrior, really allowing you to mow down legions of enemy troops. The first such section comes fairly late in the piece, though, and it’s the first real deviation from what can be a long-winded and slow-moving progression. The long levels with sporadic plot development can make for a fairly monotonous experience at times.
F.E.A.R. 2 doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before in other FPS games, but it does it all extremely well, with its immersive survival-horror element being a particularly strong suit. By default, then, it’s a highly recommended adventure FPS title, but there may not be too much on offer to keep you coming back. It’s best played at night with surround sound and the lights dimmed – but keep close to a light switch in case it all gets a bit too intense.