Caltrops Quick Verdict: F.E.A.R. 2

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: the first FEAR was a better game. The enemies seemed smarter, the weapons felt deadlier, and the overall level of difficulty was unquestionably higher. FEAR was hard but fair, and the Achievements reflected this: one required you to beat the game without dying, another demanded you find every hidden collectable along the way (missed one? tough, start over). I played all the way through it three times, and I still don’t have the Achievement for using less than 500 bullets in the entire campaign (that one is a little finicky, as the way the engine handles shotgun shells causes each pellet to be counted individually). Even the controls were demanding, forcing you to click in the right analog stick to aim – a conceit that was grudgingly tolerated in exchange for some of the best gunplay you could get on an Xbox.

FEAR 2 isn’t like that at all. FEAR 2 is the friendliest shooter in the world. For one thing, the checkpointing is excellent, never requiring you to replay more than a single encounter – though you might never know it, since even on the hardest difficulty, you’ll only ever die in a handful of places. (Contrast this with Call of Duty on Veteran, where you’re expected to die at least once on every checkpoint just to figure out which way you should be sprinting to reach the next trigger volume.) And unlike most spooky haunted shooting gallery games, the corridors in FEAR 2 are (relatively) bright and colourful, while the rooms often fulfill recognizable human purposes (such as laundry, or waiting), making it difficult to get completely turned around the way you might on a sufficiently-advanced spaceship.

The use of colour and brightness extends beyond the environments. Activating bullet time (called here… hmm… bullet time, I guess?) causes enemies to glow and pulsate. Item pick-ups are framed by a colour-coded “you-can-interact-with-me” square that’s visible even through walls. Even the collectable story-expanding text logs are not so much hidden as placed to encourage exploration; I finished with 69/70, and finding the last one was a simple matter of consulting the mission select screen(!), which displays the number of collectables in each level(!!) and tracks which ones you’ve found across playthroughs(!!!). (Of course this is all stuff that platformers have been doing for twenty years, but most shooters still tend to treat their collectables as an afterthought – something to be wedged in dark corners to fill out a features list, and yet another way for the level designer to punish you for not being clever enough to think exactly like him.)

FEAR 2 is a game almost completely devoid of rough edges. You’ll finish it in a weekend, completing every optional goal along the way, and you’ll have a reasonably entertaining time doing it. It’s unrelentingly earnest and cheerful in the way that Dead Space is unrelenting bleak and disgusting; it saves its obligatory subway tunnels for near the end, and when it finally makes you climb on a turret to fight off waves of baddies, it at least has the decency to fire up some generic heavy metal gun-shooting music for accompaniment (not a patch on the industrial track that played as you shot a hundred ghosts in slow motion at the end of FEAR 1, mind, but appreciated nonetheless). Monolith has been treading the same ground – ruthless corporations, unethical pseudoscience, blood-stained urban slums, gigantic sprawling parodies of real buildings, faceless soldiers working hand-in-hand with unexplained zombie guys – since at least as far back as Blood II, and they’ve clearly got it down pat by now.

Verdict: If you like Doom clones, this one is on the high end of mid-tier. Positive!

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Jerry Whorebach