FEAR 2: Project Origin – hands-on

When it comes to action, to start with Project Origin has health packs. These were things that people in olden times used to carry around, before hiding behind a pillar for a little while was found to cure all ills. As for the bullets actually doing said damage, it’s business as usual – elevator doors open, goons with a healthy awareness of how to best use the environment around them rush out, slo-mo is smacked on and giblets (every now and then) fly. FEAR’s neat melee combat system has sadly bitten the dust (floor slides and roundhouse kicks replaced by the usual gun butt-slam to the head), but the grenade quota has grown to cover explosions of both electrical and fiery persuasion as well as the usual timed and proximity explosions.

Something that is concerning is that the action does seem slower than before, and that often in all the pyrotechnics it’s now hard to see exactly what cleverness your foes are showing off. It’s strange to say, but in a grey corridor or a grey courtyard it was clear and evident that what enemies were doing was to do with both surviving and making you dead – in Project Origin it’s much, much harder to work out what the AI is up to, and as such there’s a level of instant gratification that seems lacking.

What can’t be denied is that the FEAR menagerie has been spruced up. A later level we played was in a primary school. But it was a primary school with chilling secrets, an extensive underground network, surveillance cameras and one-way mirrors. Inside this educational establishment was a Remnant.

These puppeteer villains are intriguingly granted BioShock-esque individual qualities, and so are doomed to carry out their last action or most familiar motion. As such a businessman will be hailing a taxi that will never come or, in this case, a piano teacher will tap out an atonal ditty until the day after forever. Or until they see you, animate corpses lying around them and coordinate an en masse attack. One of Aristide’s dirty secrets, meanwhile, is the heavily publicized Abomination – a wall-crawling spider-minded chasm-leaping bundle of muscle that has been makingits presence known in the hospital levels that Monolith have been showing off for the past eon.

Having finally fought against them, we can underline that they’re definitely the best non-soldier opposition in the FEAR canon. They move that little bit too quickly for you to get a clear aim, and excel when there’s three or four around you. They can be on any ceiling, any wall or any floor, and as such you can never know where the next assault might spring from. Although, generally, it’s from where you’re not looking.

Despite all this, we still worry. Our happy smiles as we shot men off roofs and heard their prolonged scream were mixed in with the troubled grimace of someone first being taught calculus. Why do we have to repeatedly tap abutton to fend off a boss and kick him in the nuts? Why isn’t the shotgun as meaty as it was before? Why when the world at large realized they were a bad idea four years ago have Monolith persisted with invisible (well, ghosty invisible) monsters? And, come to that, having played four of the game’s levels from different stages – why didn’t we once pin a goon to the wall with a nail through the head? Why, when we’re writing this are we more excited about going back and playing our favorite bits from FEAR rather than this, its immensely graphically superior sequel? Why, reader, why?

Project Origin is going to be a solid, dependable game. It’s funny, it’s pretty, it’s blood-spattered and it’s certainly a better structured outing than Monolith’s previous galumph through office blocks, basements and cleaning cupboards. Yet in the four levels we’ve played through the spark of originality, daring and raw passion we felt when we played the first game (hell, even when we saw its first screenshots) wasn’t really there. We checked with our trouser department, and it reported back with a definitive negative in the arousal stakes.

Maybe, in looming February, we’ll sit down with the game and something will click and the Alma magic will flow back into our soul. The potential for salvation is certainly there – but right now, in the richest and most bountiful season of gaming in eons, there are some reasons to be fearful for the little girl in the bright red dress.

Jan 21, 2009