Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A F.E.A.R. 2 Cons Review Made by a F.E.A.R. Fan

With the PC horror shooter F.E.A.R. 3 being released to the rest of the world this June 24 (UK release according to the games’ Wikipedia page), I’ve decided to release a rundown of disappointing aspects in the horror series’ second chapter. These are:

  • The sound effects of some of the weapons
  • The anemic special effects
  • The sub-par AI
  • The odd design choices (levels and Replica armor)

[UPDATE: I’m not located in the North America region but oddly enough, the F.E.A.R. 3 Steam page reports that the game is “available now.”]

I’m a hardcore fan of the PC first-person shooter series---I’ve bought all the games in the series including the DLC. I even finished the first F.E.A.R. game without using SloMO---while on Extreme Difficulty. And while I’m not a walking encyclopedia when it comes to F.E.A.R. lore, I am very familiar with the nuances of the first F.E.A.R. game.

Playing at Extreme Difficulty with no SloMo

The full review after the jump.

One of these is the excellent sound effects for all of the weapons in the game, something which PC game sequel failed to replicate.

Cardboard Audio

“WTH?!!” was what I uttered when I first used F.E.A.R. 2’s Andra FD-99 submachine gun. The thing was had such an anemic sound effect that it reminds me of a sheet of thick cardboard being ripped apart every time I hear its muffled reports. Compare the Andra’s sound effects with that of the Sumak RPL Submachinegun’s (from the first PC game) and you’ll see what I mean. The latter---even with its low firepower---still felt satisfying to fire; the former caused me to grimace every time I used it.

Gun Fu

John Woo films heavily influenced the first game. In fact, lead designer Craig Hubbard has been quoted as saying “[Our plans are] to make combat as intense as the tea house shootout at the beginning of John Woo's Hard-Boiled.”

I don’t know where this went.

F.E.A.R. 2 has been regarded mostly as a solid shooter, but it doesn’t give you the sense of chaos that the first game conveyed to its gamers. Sure, things still explode and disintegrate in impressive ways in F.E.A.R. 2 but the level design and most of the ranges that firefights take place in are too large to suck in the player in a maelstrom of body parts, wood chips, powdered concrete, and flying sheaves of paper that the first game was able to bombard gamers with.

While certainly the large fighting grounds are a very welcome addition after the first game’s claustrophobic (and monotonous) office environs, the devs should have made steps to emulate F.E.A.R.’s particle-heavy firefights.

Level Design and AI

The level design and AI too, don’t seem to mesh well. Back in 2005, I liked watching the replicas try to outflank and outmaneuver me by running from cover to cover, taking lengthy routes in the hopes of pulling off a sneak attack, and crawling through tight spaces. In F.E.A.R. 2 these aren’t evident. Perhaps they dumbed down the AI or the level design just didn’t present opportunities for the more advanced tactics I listed above. Whatever the reason, this dearth of emergent behavior takes down F.E.A.R. 2 several notches.

The way the levels were constructed also took a hit. Though the sequel exhibits graphics that are way beyond the original game’s, F.E.A.R. 2 is basically one gigantic corridor crawl. The first PC game had some limited backtracking involved and it took you along convoluted paths. The sequel for the most part had some levels that are relatively uninspired.

The last two aspects are what bother me most.

Replica Design - F.E.A.R. 1 vs F.E.A.R. 2

With both events in F.E.A.R. 1 and 2 occurring almost at the same time, why do vastly different-looking Replica soldiers appear in the original and the sequel? The ones who laid siege to the Armacham HQ, the Perseus compound, and the Origin facility look significantly inferior to those who patrol the facilities in F.E.A.R. 2 (the Bio-Research Facility, the Wade Elementary School, etc). This design scheme that the F.E.A.R. 2 clones exhibit whaled away at what little suspension of disbelief I had encased myself in. These clones are supposed to be owned and created by the same company so the wildly deviating armor and weapon designs, for me, come out as unrealistic, even surreal.

Maybe because they’re Variant VIIs, some might argue. But the developers should have peppered the sequel’s levels with the older clones here and there. As it is, sometimes I felt I was playing a game from a different series, something that’s definitely unflattering.

Fast forward to today and the folks who developed F.E.A.R. 3 may have realized this belatedly, having reinstated some of the original clones:

Combat Chatter

And what happened to the combat chatter? Monolith developers were into something when they---intentionally or not---emulated Halo’s combat chatter. In that Microsoft game, the Covenant grunts gave me the feeling that I was a one mean SOB every time they whimpered or shrilled “He’s everywhere!!” In the first F.E.A.R. game some of the combat chatter was not unlike Halo’s. The military clones would have fits of panic and scream “We need reinforcements!!”, “He took out the heavy!!”, or simply refuse to follow orders from their superiors when it’s clear you outclassed them. There you were, facing squads of supersoldiers yet every time you instill panic and fear into them. It was very satisfying.

In the sequel to the PC game, this doesn’t happen. The Variant VIIs are too stiff in their comms, calmly relaying to their comrades the changes in the battlefield. Some might argue that the clones patrolling the Harbinger facility are improved versions. The point is valid. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’ve purchased a heavy metal LP and then found out that my favorite band has transitioned into alternative music.

I don’t know what happened there. They nailed it right the first time but then proceeded to pry loose most of the nails that would have forged the series into one kick ass, cohesive whole.

Here’s hoping that when I fire up F.E.A.R. 3, the devs have rectified the mistakes they’ve made with the sequel and bring back the series to its award-winning roots.