Hands-On Preview: Acronym? Check. Linebackers in bulky armor? Check. Scary kid? Check. Must be another F.E.A.R.
The latest installment in the F.E.A.R. series, FEAR 2: Project Origin returns players to a world of elite combat teams and top-secret missions, of psychic powers and a clone army. Squad after squad of beefy soldiers serve themselves up as targets for the player's brace of exotic and powerful weapons, everything from the obligatory combat shotgun and sniper rifle to an incendiary grenade and proximity mine. The world is beautiful and full of some of the most cutting-edge graphics in any game available today. And behind it all stands Alma once again, that creepy little girl overflowing with psychic powers that summon a host of beasts too horrible to possibly describe. And yet, an hour with the single-player game left me more than a little underwhelmed.
Project Origin is first and foremost a shooter, and from what I've seen so far, it doesn't bring anything new to the table in that area. Assault rifles, sniper rifles, energy weapons?you've seen it all before many times. Enemy forces wear the usual bulky armor that makes them look like top-heavy crosses between a linebacker and a medieval knight. And the demoed level was a strictly linear affair?you could step into a side room now and again, but it essentially herds the player down one path, whether inside a building, through subway tunnels, or along city streets. This may be more convenient from a storytelling perspective, but it does away with any of the tactical decision making that adds depth to modern shooters.
This isn't to say that Project Origin isn't good at what it does. There's a variety of weapons and they're fun to fire. The A.I. seemed pretty sharp as the enemy soldiers used cover well and moved around to surround and flank me. And they've got one particularly neat trick up their sleeves: they can flip over tables and other furniture to use as cover. In fact, you can do the same and create your own cover points in the middle of a firefight. Unfortunately, there's no ability to lean, so to shoot around cover you have to move out, shoot, and then move back. The big shooter feature is the slow motion combat. Hit a button and the action slows to simulate your heightened awareness and reflexes in a fight. It's pretty slick, but it's been done in everything from Max Payne to TimeShift to the original F.E.A.R.. And in the end, slow motion is just a built-in cheat that gives you the chance to get in a couple of headshots before your enemies can even raise their weapons.
There's also the chance to don a robotic armor suit for the one-two punch that is massive firepower and hardy protection against enemy small arms. It's a great feeling to jump into the giant robot, stomp through the streets and unload on enemy soldiers and snipers with your machine-gun arms. There's that moment of panic when an enemy soldier in a similar robot armor suit appears, but it's a pretty simple matter to blast him into oblivion. Walking around in the robot armor has a suitably lumbering feel, and like most everything in Project Origin, has a lot of polish, but it seems like there isn't much to do but walk down the street and knock down one target after another like so many ducks in a shooting gallery. Let's hope that the full game shows more creativity with its level design and use of these potentially cool elements.
The horror side of things feels just as clich?d as the shooter gameplay. Alma returns in her role as requisite spooky kid alongside a battery of strange lighting effects, dark corners, and translucent beings. They appear suddenly for a second or two in ineffective attempts at shock and surprise. As expected, the environments are splattered with blood and strewn with body parts as evidence of the violence and horrors that came before. Alma has used her powers to destroy the city of Auburn, where the action takes place?its buildings are rubble and its streets are obstacle courses. Atmosphere, in fact, is one of Project Origin's most impressive elements. The graphics depicting this urban landscape on fire are truly amazing, everything from the tiny embers floating in the air to the massive story moments that can't fail to impress. One of these moments occurs in the subway, when the player happens on a train car hanging through a hole in the ceiling on a track one level above. The ground begins to shake, and the rest of the ceiling collapses, letting the car drop partway down to create a passage to the level above. Large and small-scaled scripted moments like these look like they'll give the game power in storytelling that may turn out to rival even greats like BioShock. It will come at a price, though, since the system required for the full experience will undoubtedly be high. Even with a dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and an 8800GT video card, the game defaulted to almost all medium settings for its graphics options.