Any game in which you have a small powder keg of gunfire at your disposal shouldn’t be scary. It certainly shouldn’t be creepy. It shouldn’t have you slowly stalking a dimly lit corridor packing a beefy shotgun in anticipation of the grim, blood-soaked ghoul that’s lurking around the corner.
But FEAR 2 does manage to scare even when you have an assault rifle pointed at the shadows. Like the original shooter it’s a strange mix of standard FPS gunplay and graphically gory horror; it’s Rainbow Six Vegas meets Akira by way of The Ring and the old head-exploding shenanigans of Eighties’ legend Scanners. And when you have that melting pot of influences, you know that you’re in for a shock or two.
This sequel begins where the original game left off, or rather 30 minutes before the end of the first game. Your squad is sent to the head offices of the sinister Armacham Corporation to take Genevieve Aristide into protective custody, only for things to get very weird. The starkly real corridors become a warzone in seconds: windows shatter, bullets rip apart the furniture and the action crackles with a sharp intensity. Then you start seeing things. Weird things. A girl flickers into view; the screen turns blood red and you’re guided into a secret lab. Ten minutes later, there are more shootouts, more headaches, more blood red visions and then from the penthouse window you see the city explode in a cloud of nuclear chaos. What a way to start a game.
What follows is a montage of visions that set up the game’s key story arcs. Demonic surgeons hack away at Sergeant Becket’s body (the hero); viewed in first-person, you’re in his bloodied size 10s. Are they demons? Are they real surgeons trying to save Becket’s life? Are they Armacham surgeons experimenting on his mind for some sinister purpose? Who was the girl in the office? Why the secret lab? What is Aristide’s dark secret and who is Snake Fist – the deep-throat source that led you to the office? Answer’s are forthcoming over the course of the game’s 10 hour journey, and unlike recent story-driven shooters (Resistance 2, we’re poking your lumbering confused plot with a massive stick) you won’t find yourself fumbling for links between scenarios or trying to work out why character X just tore the head off character Y. Which is a relief.
For anyone who played the original FEAR and found themselves jumping every time Alma cropped up – the creepy girl on our cover who had a knack of appearing sporadically, tearing the flesh off anyone in sight and disappearing through a wall – then there are answers to many questions in this sequel. Monolith are adept at creating a believable world that holds a strong story together, then giving you the tools, the big hot led spewing tools, to tear apart that perfectly conceived fiction. Monolith’s ‘thing’ is to take everyday places and screw around with them. The game begins in an office like any other that has a hidden lab where all manner of experiments have taken place.