Fear 2 – Final Review

Fear 2 suffers from near perpetual genericness, never advancing anything original or innovative – everything here is derivative, the game mostly lifeless and uninspired. The environments, as illustration, are all characterized by blandness, with very poor texture quality and an overall poverty of creativity or imagination, as boring greys and browns dominate the color palette, uninviting, ugly. The presentation is gloomy, certainly, though this gloominess rarely equates to the atmospheric, only a few environments achieving that vaulted state, a derelict schoolhouse serving as greatest illustration – dilapidated, eerie, brimming with environmental storytelling, featuring a clever interplay of light and dark; the depiction of the schoolhouse is a resounding success, which only illuminates the blandness on display everywhere else. The schoolhouse, with all its greatness is largely anomalous, as dull subway tunnels and abandoned, lifeless highways are navigated in turn, rarely engaging the player, evoking awe. With its presentation, then, are repeated failures, punctuated only occasionally by moments of atmospheric greatness. If the game displayed more originality in its presentation, if it embraced diversity or creativity, ambience, the overall experience would be elevated. Instead, what is presented is a hyperlinear gameworld, with very little opportunities for exploration, grating aesthetically and repetitive in construction.

Fortunately, excellent gameplay compensates for these repeated failures, though even here are many derivative aspects; at its heart, the game is a traditional FPS, adhering very strongly to the tropes of that genre, rarely deviating from them; constant are the gunfights, constant is the action, to such an extent that game sometimes becomes tiresome, exhausting to play. But it is a good, exciting exhaustion. The guns – like the environments – are largely unimaginative, featuring the expected weapons of shotgun, submachine gun, pistol, assault rifle and so on. Some, though, are more exotic in construction, and are accordingly enjoyable to wield, livening up the gameplay. One weapon, dubbed the “hammerhead,” here serves as excellent illustration; boasting a considerable fire rate, and shooting penetrating spikes instead of bullets, it can be deadly effective, its inclusion showing that there is no total dearth of originality. Furthering this creativity, one devastating weapon is acquirable near the end game: an energy weapon. Given its destructive capabilities, its potential effectiveness is balanced owing to the scarcity of ammunition which powers it. Indeed, the gameplay overall is very balanced. Bold advances are punished, a certain cautious, tactical approach often meeting with greatest success. Still, beyond managing resources for the energy weapon, survival horror elements are almost totally lacking: ammunition is traditionally abundant, so larger ammo conservation is rarely a concern. Indeed, whatever survival horror elements are present in the title have been fashioned in lazily and half-heartedly, included seemingly out of expectation; the game is rarely frightening. Occasionally unsettling, certainly, but rarely frightening.   

Elevating the gameplay further is the inclusion of an ability which slows the flow of time, permitting more accurate shooting, or general redirection, permitting also an escape from an especially harrowing combat situation. Very stylistic dimensions characterize this feature, as the screen is distorted, while explosions and bullet trajectories are wonderfully exaggerated. Seeing an enemy peppered with gunfire, visibly impactful, and then promptly watching them collapse to the ground in spectacular consequence – it is visceral and exciting. But in a tragic admission, this ability is prone to being abused, over-relied upon. Empowering as it is, it ultimately becomes central to success, especially in the late game, where enemies are more resilient, more damaging. In the early game, though, this ability does trivialize many engagements. Reflecting the game’s characteristic ambitions of balance, this mode cannot be employed indefinitely, instead being tied to a cooldown timer. The recharge rate for this ability, meanwhile, is often very swift; the ability is almost always accessible to the player. Overall, odd design decisions are here committed; if this feature did not recharge of its own volition, if it could instead be recharged solely by external resources, the sense of tension in combat would be escalated tremendously. Instead, an almost casual, traditional approach is adopted. Indeed, an additional odd design choice characterizes the gameplay, namely when considering health. Here, the game strikes a balance of the old and new. Regenerating health is totally absent, the game instead relying upon med-kits dispersed about the environments for restoration. While theoretically they are finite, in practice they are abundant; whatever tension the absence of health regeneration may have evoked is promptly and totally upended by this fact of abundance. Still, gameplay overall is very enjoyable, enemy A.I. often quite intelligent, every combat engagement lively and exciting.    

In contrast to these competent, engaging systems, the narrative overall is perpetually unengaging. For much of the campaign’s duration, nothing consequential seems to happen – the campaign is directionless, unfocused, seeing the protagonist, Becket, move about from lackluster environment to lackluster environment, little motivations present to explain that navigation: things just happen. Traditional cutscenes are almost totally absent, preventing the game from achieving a cinematic, stylish aesthetic; instead is laziness, though efforts at immersion are certainly present here, as the first-person perspective is never departed from. Still, a more conventional structure – with ambitious cutscenes – would seize upon the title’s potentials for greatness. But with this larger absence of cutscenes, the narrative is conveyed in a clever, alternate fashion – namely, through the inclusion of discoverable “intel” items, liberally dispersed about the environments. The writing within these documents is, surprisingly, rather excellent, with distinct narrative voices present; the prose delivery present in one document can be sharply contrasted by the delivery in another, one penned by a different author, reflecting different values. While well-written, much of these documents again serve no functional purpose, being characterized by mundanity, pointlessness; they contribute to world-building, conveying the environments as inhabited by real people with real emotions, but this pointlessness is sometimes difficult to look past. As illustration of these writing, environmental strengths, the vaulted schoolhouse mentioned above must be considered; eerie in construction, the intel documents situated therein only heighten that eeriness – some narrative strengths are present here, with this writing, but they are drowned out by manifold failings.   

Indeed, the primary narrative is almost a continuous stream of such stumbling, far less compelling than the sometimes insignificant details found in the various intel documents, a very odd admission, considering that traditionally, the largest ambitions are connected to the larger, more direct story being conveyed. The opening – which transpires in an elaborate, beautiful apartment complex, owned by a key figure in the villainous Armacham Corporation – sees the detonation of a nuclear weapon, this event putting the entire narrative in motion. Visually, it is striking, the blast exaggerated, exaggeratingly powerful, the destruction conveyed expertly; city streets are reduced to rubble. But rather than investigating this destruction, finding how who precisely orchestrated the task; rather than focusing on the grounded dimension, on the manner in which the city’s inhabitants are affected by the carnage, the game adopts a sharp supernatural tone, central figure of this tone being the female, adolescent Alma, who serves the role of villain, right alongside Armacham in its totality. But rather than evoking revulsion, Alma’s figure – her plight – surprisingly evokes sympathy and empathy, an empathy which only grows as more of her backstory is communicated, namely the terrible experiments of which she was made victim, cruelly exploited solely for the sake of science. With Alma, then, are some narrative strengths, though they are fleeting. True, many poignant statements are advanced, particularly when regarding science broadly, its capability to corrupt, but something indefinable is lacking. And still the narrative struggles, even as it hits its stride towards the conclusion of the campaign, where the pervasive directionlessness is remedied, the pace becoming blisteringly quick, as Alma’s true capabilities are revealed – she must be stopped. Becket, being linked to her in a profound manner, is the sole figure capable of achieving her destruction. In efforts to this end, a sprawling research complex, situated on an isolated, abandoned island, is visited. Once situated therein, Becket is promptly attached to a scientific contraption – Alma’s defeat is imminent, until the ultimate betrayal transpires, a supposed ally turning foe, bloodying her hands for reasons selfish and dark. This revelation, while certainly startling, is somehow unimpactful, evoking little emotion. Immediately succeeding the action is the conclusion, which leaves too many plot threads unanswered, damaging the narrative further still. The weird imbalance again shines through: the secondary content is more compelling than the central narrative. 

Fear 2 while boasting many gameplay strengths, is in totality unremarkable and uninspired. Many games are uninspired; that is simply the nature of the industry. But this failing is all the more damning because many potentials for greatness are present, the horror elements here especially ripe for development, a development which never really occurs: horror is discarded, the game instead becoming a mere shooter, like so many others, preventing the game from ever achieving its own distinct identity. Were the horror embraced more affectionately, wondrous would be the results, whereas instead is perpetual squandering. Evocation of place is sometimes achieved, particularly when considering the schoolhouse, but largely environments are dull to navigate, though even a remedy for this failing is sought, as in a few locations, pilotable mechs are controllable, offering a very different gameplay experience, unrefined and clunky, certainly, but still admirable in that the inclusion of these mechs results in a maintenance of freshness, though their inclusion also illustrates a certain failure: the game is oftentimes – though not always – easy. This statement becomes less valid as the campaign progresses, but the empowering nature of the mechs, almost indestructible and featuring a rapid repair time, makes Becket into some generic action hero, possessive of an immense strength, somehow greater than human, which in turn lessens any more human, grounded narrative dimensions; if player cannot identity with protagonist, the narrative exists at great disadvantage, no matter the other, collective strengths. So it is here, Becket voiceless, deprived of any real personality.

Adhering further to the tropes of the genre, the overall playtime if very brisk, the campaign taking roughly eight or nine hours to complete; given this succinctness, the game never outstays its welcome, even as the pace sometimes becomes plodding, even stagnant. Owing to an overall lesser degree of challenge, the game is rarely frustrating to player – enemies behave fairly, cheapness deliberately spurned. Some armored enemies, admittedly, possess an almost unfair abundance of hit-points, but their inclusion contributes to enemy diversity, a subtle alteration of the gameplay experience; the player is still shooting, but they are shooting at constructions which fundamentally require different tactics to defeat – explosives, often very devastating, must be relied upon in this precise scenario, coupled with the invaluable ability to manipulate time. Collectively, gameplay soars, unoriginal though much of it is, the shooting mechanics refined and enjoyable; no bold risks are taken, the game instead clinging to a more cautious, less ambitious approach, and while lowly intentions can often be perceived as a negative, in this instance they prevent the title from overreaching, from failing. The narrative, though, is impossibly weak, even as player engagement emerges in the end, when everything unites, though matters ultimately are left in the air, a frustrating cliffhanger present. Still, with its relatively brief length and small investment of time, there is much to value here, and much to bemoan – all the components for a truly great title are here, though no remarkable entity is constructed by those disparate components – what is instead present is a work solely of competence, engaging but only just.  

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