Back in 2005, little girls with lank, greasy hair were terrifying. Across the country, crowds of cinemagoers would stream out of showings of The Grudge and The Ring Two, kicking children in the face as a precautionary measure. It was riotous madness, and in the midst of it we were graced with FEAR – Monolith’s arse-clenchingly scary, spectacularly violent and needlessly bloody shooter. It was a fantastic, if voyeuristic, sideways glance at the artistic elements involved in shooting a man in slow-motion so that he does a back flip, while a scary little girl points at baddies to make their heads explode.
This classic wasn’t without problems though. FEAR’s second half let the tempo drop and the game slowed to a lull. It would dawn on you that you’d been scurrying about the same concrete corridors for the past five hours, and the visceral magic would fray at the seams. The subsequent two expansions (not developed by Monolith, it must be stressed) would extrapolate on the worst and most concrete corridors parts of the original, adding little new content to the mix and fumbling the expert pacing of the first game.
Which brings us to FEAR 2: Project Origin, Monolith’s return to the franchise. Can the sequel innovate with varied and exciting new locales? What crazed scares can they concoct this time? Does it even need to be anything drastically new? We’ll settle for searing a man in half with a laser beam, as long as we never see another series of featureless grey corridors.
Set slightly before and then mostly after the nuclear blast at the close of FEAR, the locations you’ll visit will be mostly trashed. Though the piles of rubble and debris act as convenient ways of guiding you through the urban environments, Project Origin feels less linear than the first game by virtue of a handful of open arenas dotted about the place. Outdoor bits revolve around the ruined city’s streets (not original, but easily the game’s most graphically pleasing areas) and the addition of daylight does little (thankfully) to dissolve the heavy and dark atmosphere of the game.
You’ll slap yourself in the forehead during the game’s opening, which sees you try to enter a luxury apartment block, only for the main entrance to be blocked and you to be forced to enter through a maintenance area. Cinder block walls, metal shelves packed with cleaning products – Project Origin doesn’t put its best, least-concrete foot forward with its opening level. But thankfully the environments become a great deal more colorful (and better lit) as the story progresses.
Though Monolith fall back on their beloved concrete corridors on a few occasions, Project Origin’s environments are varied enough to maintain your interest for the 10 hours it’ll take you to come out the other end. An elementary school and a factory with lots of yellow bits will entice the cones and rods of your eyes out of their greyish-brown-induced stupor. These locations amount to a considerable reduction in the overall number of concrete levels in the game, which we celebrate.