Bullet time, scary little girls and quick time events. What's not to love about this week's Zero Punctuation review of Fear 2?
You know, I'm not convinced that extremely high-risk military supersoldier research projects are ultimately worth it. Even if the project goes swimmingly - if they don't go kill crazy because you expect the perfect warriors to sit around playing the Biscuit Game throughout lengthy peace time; if you don't end up having to murder everyone you've ever met to hush up the inevitable staggering lapses of ethics on your part - if you somehow find a way to skate around all that and start up the Captain America production line, then you'll find that nuclear warheads are a hell of a lot more effective. And you don't have to feed them cheeseburgers or distract them from contemplating the nature of humanity. I wish more game writers could come up with some other plot device besides botched supersoldier research, like, I dunno, an attempt to genetically engineer the world's greatest lucha libre wrestler.
But anyway, F.E.A.R. 2. Remember those two expansion packs that followed F.E.A.R. 1? Shut up, no you don't! They don't exist. And even if they did, Monolith didn't develop them, so they don't count. This is the real story the original designers wanted to tell. One day Armacham, a graduate from the Umbrella School of Business, with limitless funding and extremely tentative occupational health and safety compliance, went about creating an army of telepathic clone soldiers. So, essentially just as good as normal soldiers but slightly quieter and capable of bending spoons.
A scary-looking little girl called Alma is created to be their psychic commander. And Armacham keep her in a tank, knock her up against her will, steal her babies, then leave her to rot (these being surefire ways to endear oneself to an incredibly powerful psychic in direct command of inexhaustible supplies of mindless, gun-toting killing machines). Tits go inevitably up, bombs go inevitably off, and the little girl enacts supernatural revenge upon the world. And to think this could all have been avoided if they'd just bought her an ice cream now and then.
And just to underline the tragic stupidity of it all, the psychic soldiers aren't even that great, being repeatedly defeated en masse by hyperactive mutes with cameras for heads (meaning player characters). And it's a shame that you can't speak, because when your teammates say, "Hey, let's all split up and each go off alone" for the fifth time, you can respond with something appropriate, like: "That's a fucking stupid idea!"
By the way, forgive me if you're one of those savvy types who already guessed this, but F.E.A.R. 2 follows on from F.E.A.R. 1. If you haven't played F.E.A.R. 1, do it now. I'll wait.
(tick, tick, tick, tick)
Finished? Congratulations, now you don't have to play F.E.A.R. 2. F.E.A.R. 2 is a sequel in the same sense that Friday the 13th Part IV was a sequel to Friday the 13th Part III. The settings are different, and the characters are all played by new actors, but it's all going through the same motions: death, horror, people getting their tits outs. You're part of a small unit of peacekeepers who are unwittingly connected to all the Armacham tomfoolery. You shoot a bunch of guys, then you shoot a bunch of other guys, then you shoot some more guys in robot suits, a little girl makes the lights turn on and off, you ally with a redoubtable Armacham nerd against an Armacham administrator who is stupidly evil for no better reason than because someone has to be. And all the characters besides you get picked off like a bunch of bananas dangling over the monkey cage. Also, there's a bullet-time mechanic, because Monolith are hoping if they stick with it it might come full circle and become innovative again. And you get so much of it, you might as well use it all the time, turning the game into the lobby scene from The Matrix repeated ad nauseam (i.e., more than once).
So it's a shooter (again). Most of time you crouch behind a box shooting at anything bullets are coming out of. Or, more often, standing openly in front of a box, because you pick up armour and health refills every nanosecond. You get the standard array of weapons, but will only ever use whatever the enemy of the time are using so as not to run out of ammo, despicable little scavenging vulture that you are. All in all, standard FPS stuff, very much like F.E.A.R. 1. F.E.A.R. 2's only major difference is that there are sequences where you pilot one of the ED-209 robot suits. These are basically amusing little coffee breaks between real challenges, where you stroll invincibly down the street reducing enemies to little red clouds. It's like trimming your houseplants with a scythe.
Oh yes, and of course there's F.E.A.R.'s ongoing pretensions to being horror games. Amusingly, there are several occasions when a scary set piece will rely upon you looking in a certain direction at a certain time, which in many cases you won't be. So while a ghostly vision farts about off-screen, the soundtrack will give a sudden violin shriek while you stare at a menacing windowsill. Mostly, though, the horror comes into it when Alma pops up and tries to give you a big, sloppy kiss, and you swat her off with the B button. That's right, we've reduced the horror to quick-time events. In fact, the same quick-time event repeated to frustration point (i.e., more than zero).
I'm tempted to hazard that this wasn't intended as a sequel at all, but a console-oriented remake with a graphical upgrade. So if you're a console scrub who missed out on F.E.A.R. 1 because PC gaming is for elitists and your hairy dad, then let me officially welcome you to last week. For everyone else, it's an uninspired installment that serves only to add more loose ends to an overarching plot that increasingly resembles a partially-unraveled cardigan.
But most of my ire I reserve for the game's ending. Now, I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine a world where sequels are banned. Would this not be a beautiful place? Sure, we'd miss out on genuinely good sequels like Thief II or Half-Life 2, but I think that's a small price to pay. Every story would have to be fresh, so writers would have to work extra hard to make the characters relatable. With no sequels, there are no franchises, so there'd be less fandom, so all the nerds would go off and become doctors and scientists and rid the world of all known diseases. And best of all, endings would have to have some fucking closure! Under this regime, ending the game with ambiguous "To Be Continued" bullshit when you have no idea if you'll even make a sequel will be punishable with prison time! Cautions will be issued for recurring themes and metaphors, and remakes will carry the death penalty.
Leaves the lights on after bedtime: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I wonder why the parents of these evil psychic little girls never think of just cutting their fucking hair
Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near