(Spoiler warning for the first two F.E.A.R. games)
For better or worse, I think F.E.A.R. 2 is probably going to be the scariest F.E.A.R. game of the trilogy. It has more bizarre hallucination sequences, actual paranormal creatures to fight (something that was remarkably absent from the first game, excluding the weird wackamole demons at the end), and an altogether creepier vibe. I like that it took advantage of body horror and that it really made the player feel vulnerable at times, which is especially tricky in a trigger-happy FPS. The fact that the protagonist is being experimented on certainly adds a great deal of disturbing context to the journey.
In fact, this sense of being manipulated and used–or, let’s just say it, mentally molested and sexually assaulted–is the game’s strongest aspect. I haven’t really seen it done in a mainstream game like this before. Or any game for that matter. Maybe Eternal Darkness. Anthony’s story in ED concerns him being slowly consumed by a corrosive magic, and as his section of the game progresses he becomes increasingly weak and sick. F.E.A.R. 2 matches this body horror and, taking inspiration from David Cronenberg, adds a sexual element to it.
It isn’t quite on par with Cronenberg as the sexual element doesn’t make itself known until much later in the game. We see it suggested through the main character Michael Becket’s teammates, who are one by one killed, consumed, or driven to madness and obsession by Alma. I thought this was an extremely creepy idea. Especially as one collects the intel that unveils the larger conspiracy at work. (Sidenote: I don’t understand why Becket continues with the mission after finding intel that clearly suggests Aristide is going to use them for some kind of psychic experiment early in the game. But hey, maybe he just doesn’t read the intel when the player does.) The final scene in the game, in which Becket experiences hallucinations of one of his teammates while being raped by Alma, is particularly upsetting.
In addition, the atmosphere of urban ruin is much more effective than the boring lab and office building environments of the first game. It’s a much more interesting world to explore and one that adds considerably to the feeling of desperation and the foreboding of an apocalypse. The sequences in wich Becket escapes collapsing building are also a huge adrenaline shot and avoiding the dangers of the environment are a welcome break from shooting tons of bad guys.
Unfortunately F.E.A.R. 2 is still mostly shooting tons of bad guys. While they work well within the context of the game’s plot, I groaned at the introduction of replica soldiers because that meant that there would be an infinite supply of generic bad guys to get in the way of the player’s progress. It didn’t feel as forced and repetitive as the original at least. And incorporated mech action and paranormal enemies certainly helped to mix things up to an extent.
The cinematic feeling of this game really saved it, I think. I was for the most part engaged in the action. The sense of progression was much more tangible. I also thought that player involvement in the scripted cutscenes, using some sparing QTEs, helped keep the player in sympathy with Becket’s POV. Which is why I am not optimistic about F.E.A.R. 3, which appears to have sacrificed the quality its campaign for multiplayer gaming. All the plot action also seems to be relegated to cutscenes that take you out of the main character’s perspective. Sticking to the main character’s perspective is a strength of the FPS, I think, so I hate to see it ignored.
In any case, F.E.A.R. 2 was a welcome if still imperfect improvement upon its predecessor.