Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fear Effect 2 - Review

The Fear Effect games obviously owe a lot to the Resident Evil franchise. Both games involve wandering around in 3D, shooting bad guys who are often undead, and solving puzzles. Fear Effect attempts several things to be unique: It has an anime/cyberpunk story (and look), it uses streaming animation for the backgrounds, and it makes the puzzles more in-game. The first Fear Effect seemed like a fairly typical 3D playstation action adventure game to me and the second is pretty much more of the same.

The second Fear Effect is actually a prequel to the first one. You find out how the gang all met up (to give it away, the wonderfully cliche "a powerful person set up each of their missions"). It also introduces Hana's girlfriend, Rain. Apparently, the advertising for the game hyped the presence of lesbians to an incredible extreme, but you may be disappointed to find out that kissing and suggestive dialogue is as far as the game goes. So each of the characters was hired to get some part of an AIDS-like virus. Then, once they all bring them where they are supposed to, they encounter demons and ghosts and the whole Chinese mythology part of the game takes place.

Like the first game, this one is very anime cyberpunk inspired. The story of a virus killing a large swathe of the population and the anti-hero(es) discovering what is really going on seems like your typical anime. Also, there is copious amounts of gore, blood, and violence as well as demons and Asian mythology. The feel to the game is definitely done right. Another anime similarity is that the plot becomes overblown and incrediby convoluted with some scenes dedicated to ridiculous exposition. The first game's story was, at least, graspable. With this one, you just kind of say "uh huh" and tune out.

The game has the incredibly annoying Resident Evil-style controls where people drive like cars, pivoting on an axis that goes through the middle of them and then moving forward and backward. This was never a good way to control someone, just probably the best the creator of Resident Evil could come up with. That it was used in so many 3D games is inexcusable. Since there is a lot of action in this game, including a lot of people shooting at you, the fact that getting in position and moving where you want is so hard does not help. The shoulder buttons are used to run, sneak, do a 180, and somersault and all must be mastered to avoid dying in this game. The control system is learnable, but is something you must overcome, rather than helping you play.

You have an inventory of both weapons and items. The weapons you use for killing enemies both human and demonic. The items you use like a typical adventure game to solve puzzles and give to people. You scroll through your items using the square and circle buttons and this generally works fine, except that the game doesn't pause while scrolling through them. This means that, in the middle of a firefight when you are trying to switch weapons, you may end up with the wrong one. While running from an enemy and trying to open a door, you need to not only find the spot where the item can be used, but then scroll through to the correct item. This means you need to switch between looking at the screen and down at your inventory all while being shot at. I have a feeling the developers thought having to choose inventory items in real time (and put away your weapons before you can use an item) would make the game more realistic, but it actually just makes it more annoying.

The gameplay consists mostly of killing enemies and solving puzzles. The fighting takes place using the flawed control system mentioned above so it can be frustrating. Thankfully, there is something of an automatic lock-on with your guns so you mostly just need to face in the general direction of an enemy. Also, there is a nice crosshairs that appears to let you know when you are targeting someone. It doesn't always work and sometimes you are frantically turning your character trying to figure out why you aren't targeting a guy.

The puzzles come in three forms: timing puzzles which require moving your character in the right pattern to avoid lava, electricity, etc., adventure puzzles which involve putting the right item(s) in the right place(s) and puzzle screens which are more or less logic puzzles you solve to disarm locks, turn off electricity, or satisfy Asian gods. The boss fights themselves often fall into the action puzzle category, requiring noticing the pattern of the boss' attacks and figuring out when you can attack. Except for the end of the game, the adventure puzzles generally make sense and you never have that much stuff in your inventory that you can't just try it all if you get stuck. The puzzle screens are generally the most annoying as you often have no idea what the goal of them is so much of the time you are trying random things while figuring out what to do. They also often make little story sense, so they feel like they were thrown in there just to add another level of challenge to the game.

The game itself really adopts the "try and die" school of gameplay. The save points are pretty frequent and you will often die, reload and move through that part again, this time trying not to repeat your mistake. As much as it may distract from the realism of the game, I can be a fan of this type of gameplay. However, every so often the save points are spaced far enough apart that you have to get through several hard challenges before you can save again. You end up having to repeat the timing puzzle to get through the difficult fighting sequences again just to die because you weren't ready for the two enemies on the other side of the door. It's not awful, and the spacing is usually fine such that figuring out how to get through each section feels like an accomplishment.

The graphics are probably the most interesting and one of the best parts of the game. All of the backgrounds in the game are basically short animated movies streamed from the discs (this is why there are four of them when the game is maybe ten hours long). This means they look really good and make the game look like an anime as well as feeling like it. The in-game character models have a sort of proto-cel shaded look. They are 3D models with anime-looking features mapped on to them. Generally, I find first generation 3D games, especially Playstation ones hard to look at. At least with old Atari games, the large blocks are clean-looking rather than fuzzy. The art style in this game really helps it stand the test of time and I think it looks fine and probably great considering the hardware.

The sound is neither here nor there. The sound effects are servicable. The voice acting is actually pretty good. Given that the story and writing are fairly B-movie, the voice actors do a fine job with what they are given. The music is also functional and appropriate, but eminently forgettable.

I didn't dislike playing this game. Oh, it was annoying at times - the control scheme, the inscrutable puzzles, the ridiculous story - but it didn't turn me off. You definitely feel a sense of accomplishment when you move through the game. You figure out how to get by the enemies, sneaking up and killing them, positioning yourself to fire on them, rolling out of the way and it feels good. The timing puzzles are generally good mind/reflex tests and if you can figure out what you are doing, the puzzle screens can be enjoyable logic games. But then right after that you get killed by an enemy because you can't turn around fast enough, or you can't figure out what a puzzle wants you to do, or you get some gobbledeegook expository dialogue. At the end, you get through the game and left feeling somewhat empty. You beat it, but did you get anything out of it. It's not that the game is wholly mediocre, it's just that its bright points are countered by its failings so it averages out to mediocre.

Rating: 5 / 10

No comments: