F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
Fairly Enjoyable Albeit Redundant.
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Michael Becket, cover boy for Monolith's long-awaited F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, is the worst "mind warrior" we've ever seen. He can't flip through the contents of your grey matter at whim, like Mr Spock, nor can he throw furniture around by looking at it, like Jean Grey. Roald Dahl's Matilda could kick his arse with one arm tied behind her back. If this man is the cornerstone of the Earth's psychic defence corps, I'm booking a seat by Lord British on the next flight to Mars.
The one thing Becket has over Joe Public (knee pads and assault rifle excepted) is a cute little number called Bullet Time, which functions much as it did for the Point Man in the first game. Tap Y when the little circular gauge around your cross-hairs is full and time will slow ever so slightly, giving you a few extra seconds to settle your aim or spin to face an unexpected threat. Foes acquire a tell-tale spectral radiance while you're in this state, and bullets, scribbling languid corkscrew trails through the air, are a little easier to elude. But there's no freezing them in mid-flight, or turning people's heads into spaghetti from the inside out, or even just teleporting yourself into the enemy's midst and yelling "boo". David Blaine wouldn't raise an eyebrow.
The game's human enemies, whether of genetically cloned "Replica" stock or the Real McCoy, find your antics hugely impressive nonetheless. "That's impossible!" they'll whoop to each other, and "he's moving too fast!" as your barrel pivots with marginally greater rapidity from one headshot to the next. You need to get out more, chaps. WipEout is fast. Forest fires are fast. If you're going to be bowled over by anything, it should be my full-fat health bar, or the way medipacks and ammunition stores throw themselves magically into my path.
Even Alma, the psychic schoolgirl turned nubile agent of the apocalypse who gives this shooter series its psychological horror credentials, rates you higher than your abilities deserve. F.E.A.R. 2 begins thirty minutes or so before the plot of F.E.A.R. concludes in a rollicking great thermonuclear cloud. Becket and his Delta squad have been sent to bring in Genevieve Astride, president of Armacham Technologies, the experimental weapons outfit which imprisoned Alma when she was seven and used her to create a race of telepathic soldiers.
Armacham's board wants the whole business tidied under the carpet, however, and dispatches a black ops team under the Gene-Hackman-ish Colonel Vanek to do the tidying. Alma meanwhile picks up Becket's psychic scent, and makes her interest plain in the form of disorienting hallucinations, telekinetic tantrums and no end of flickering light bulbs. With the city in tatters following the explosion, Becket must fend off Vanek, rescue Astride and put a stop to Alma before she "consumes" him, as one character puts it, "like a slice of pizza at an anime convention." Sick.
As in F.E.A.R., this premise gives rise to two types of gameplay. There are the bits where you employ the 10-strong roster of SMGs, shotguns, rifles and energy weapons against Vanek's grunts (and later, clone troops telepathically awakened by Alma) in polished doses of no-nonsense, side-strafey, cover-seeky, grenade-cooky action. And there are the bits where you tiptoe down some godforsaken corridor while Alma acts out all her favourite scenes from Japanese horror films.
Also as in F.E.A.R., the two styles bounce off each other surprisingly well. Monolith's scare tactics will be old hat to fans of Condemned - expect eerie visual filters, trails of blood, bodiless whispers and scripted shocks - but they're no less capable of catapulting your stomach into your larynx. At one point, tables, chairs and miscellaneous rubbish are swept up in a paranormal vortex and hurled at you from the other end of a corridor. Then all the lights go out, giving you a moment or so to twitch your feeble torch beam around like a speed junkie swatting flies, till some...thing fades into sort-of-existence at your elbow with a bestial roar. If you particularly prize your living room carpet, we'd advise against playing with the headphones on.