If the horror genre has taught us anything beside ‘aim for the head’ and ‘there’s no better hiding place than behind Kurt Russell’, it’s that everything happens for a reason. No matter how bizarre the events, there’s always a method to the madness, a man behind the curtain, or a ghost in the machine. FEAR 2 should know: it has the lot.
A brilliantly paced, ferociously engaging videogame-nasty, it proves that even the good, bad and just downright ridiculous of Monolith’s recent catalogue has a purpose. The Washington-based company hasn’t just learned from its mistakes, it’s repaired them.
As Sergeant Michael Becket, point man of a unit sent to investigate the events of FEAR, you see more than your share of bizarre phenomena. The foremost is déjà vu, much of this game effectively prototyped in FEAR, Condemned: Criminal Origins and its comedy sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot.
Indeed, to see it in passing is to think: ‘Surely not another subway station/office building/evil elementary school/disgusting toilet’. But this is not one of Monolith’s usual urban hell-holes.
Alma, the apocalyptic little girl in dire need of a haircut and a truckload of Ritalin, escaped the last game despite being nuked along with anyone within five square miles. The sequel begins moments earlier at the offices of her creator, Armacham, already a scene of carnage. Someone’s having a fire sale, it seems, and they’ve sent the fabulously irate Colonel Vanek to make sure it goes to plan.
For reasons he seems to know more about than you, you’ve been sent to stop him. Sinister secrets await, which of course revolve increasingly around your nascent psychic abilities and unenviable origins. What happens next deserves to be broken down and posted on the wall of every developer that thinks it knows how to shoot.
After a few tentative steps, FEAR 2 slides through its remaining hours on an unbroken streak of gore, past bubbling bullet trails, cartwheeling enemies, smoking barrels, imploding rooms, sharp dialogues, emphatic performances and spectacular scenic curtain-pulls. Always a devilish hijacker of its player’s senses, it’s now twice as effective; smothered by enemies real and illusory, you’re left to wonder which of your bullets are being wasted, which wounds psychological.
As for environmental damage, there’s a simple formula the game understands: the longer it took to build, the better it is to destroy. Cook and toss a grenade in FEAR 2and you’ll see hundreds of Monolith’s man-hours ricochet off a world bulging with physics-powered ephemera. As if to prove that the worlds of FEAR and Condemned were just means to an end, they’ve been reborn in all the colour and texture you’d expect of a No One Lives Forever game.