I’ve started playing F.E.A.R. 2 yesterday, i completed the first three “intervals” as they call it. As someone who didn’t quite think of F.E.A.R. as being particularly frightening, or even horrifying, i was wondering wether and how the second part managed to grip me.
Yes, it did grip me. Somewhat. Not as intense as Dead Space but it definetely had me on the edge a few times. Still it made me wonder … the horror scenes are very well put, the sound is great and adds to the shock element, and so is anything they do with the lighting. It’s better than the first F.E.A.R. because it has the typical extra care and polish that goes into a sequel. But under the surface i’m once again starting to get used to and “meh” the horror the game throws at me. I can’t say i’ve had a revelation but i certainly come to understand a few things why it doesn’t cause me to shiver and crawl under my blanket as much as Dead Space did.
First of all, the horror in F.E.A.R. is – at least so far (and as far as i remember the prequel) – almost completely detached from the action. As a player, i quickly realized that whatever is happening in the phases of the game where i don’t fight but am supposed to be scared, that actually nothing ever happens to me. It’s more like watching a movie with me controlling the camera but nothing else. So i can feel safe and once you realize that whenever there are no enemies around, the game is just fooling with you and your perception by playing sounds and doing the horror-typical “lightshow”, i slowly become detached from the horror. I’m not “in” it. The horror poses no threat to me, the Combine-like soldiers do. And they usually announce themselves and the game also plays combat music until the final enemy of this wave is eliminated, so i don’t have to worry about being scared while fighting. So basically, F.E.A.R. is two games that simply take turns: a tactical first person shooter, and a “survival horror” game without the survival aspect. You just walk down dark corridors through flickering lights and see if it scares you if you see a shadow at the end of the corridor moving, or glass shattering next to you, or some ceiling panel falling down in front of you, or someone hammering on the window and subsequently getting shot.
Don’t get me wrong, F.E.A.R. is a good game so far, and that the game takes turns between being an excellent FPS and being a horror game without combat has it’s benefits as well and may work better for some people. However, like the first incarnation, the horror elements get old pretty quickly. It’s just too much horror movie standard, if not cliché, elements thrown at you.
Dead Space does a much better job at integration the horror and suspense with the action, because everything that frightens you could also potentially be a threat to you, which makes the whole experience so much more intense. The space setting, at least for me, does a great job as well because you truely feel alone. Ok, almost alone. Whereas in F.E.A.R. 2 while going up the skyscraper in the elevator you see a vivid city around you, helicopters fly by, you’re in an environment that is familiar to you. So, necessarily, the horror seems a bit superimposed on the whole FPS shooter thing, it doesn’t really blend or merge. However i would be surprised if that was ever the intention of the developers. I think they made a conscious decision to have the player go through these horror – shooter – horror – shooter sequences. Maybe it just doesn’t work so well for me? Or maybe their intention was never to scare the crap out of you but instead just to get some adrenaline going to make the upcoming combat sequence so much more intense and then follow up this intensity with carefully crafted horror elements. Rinse and repeat.
In addition the inventory (PDA) in F.E.A.R. 2 pauses the game. Which makes browsing the inventory a “safe” experience, i could imagine some players purposefully opening the inventory screen just to, sort of, relax. Of course, if it weren’t for the constant high-pitch noise F.E.A.R. 2 plays while the inventory is shown. This noise is so stressful (i’m playing with surround headphones) that i can barely skim over the intel texts before i have to close it again. It kills me braincells! In Dead Space on the other hand the inventory is projected into the surrounding 3D world, it feels like part of your character and the game continues while you’re in the inventory. This not only keeps the feeling of immersion, i believe it enhances it even.
If i had to sum it up, i would say that F.E.A.R. 2 is a great game both in the shooter and the horror part. While it is the better FPS shooter (in the classical sense) Dead Space has the stronger experience that goes with melting combat and survival horror together. F.E.A.R. is made for classic FPS combat while Dead Space is made to fear the unexpected, the horror and subsequently dismembering every limb you can find – (still) moving or not.