Japanese-style horror lost momentum when we started growing bored of creepy little girls lurking in the shadows. Sure they make strange noises and can kill you in cruel and unusual ways, but they've had their day.
The bad seed Alma is as malevolent as before, but not quite as scary. We're too familiar with her now, so the fear of the unexpected doesn't hold true. If F.E.A.R. 2 was a horror film, it'd be berated for having every cliché imaginable. And when it comes to big scares, you'll find it tepid at best.
But this isn't a movie - it's a fairly entertaining FPS. Monolith might be a bit rubbish at telling scary stories but it's great at doing freaky combat. This game has more dismemberment than your local butcher's. Plus, most of it is in gratuitous slow motion.
Subtlety isn't a strong point. Many of the game's potential shocks are blown wide open by predictable game design.
For example, you board a creaky-looking platform and it falls away the moment you step off it. There's a room with a conspicuous amount of ammo and armour, pointing obviously to the 'surprise' boss that appears right after. Your buddy goes to investigate a mysterious noise in the basement... you can guess the rest.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't jump once or twice, though. There are a couple of moments which prove that loud things screaming down your earhole are irresistibly startling. But just as the things you don't see coming send the heart racing, the things you do become increasingly ludicrous. It's hard not to take issue with how dumb some of the characters prove to be.
There's a scientist who decides that the way to stop one genetic abomination is to create yet another one. You also encounter a soldier so dim-witted that he decides to try and rescue a mysterious crying woman despite being well aware of Alma's presence and what she's capable of.
Most of the characters in this game are just throwaway victims. But at least everyone gets what they deserves, particularly the bad guys who are on the receiving end of your lightning-fast reflexes. The bullet time-style combat from the first game is back, and the ability to disassemble foes with artistic merit is the game's undisputed highlight.
Focus gives you a huge advantage when used tactically. For the most part, it's good to hide behind solid cover, wait for it to recharge and then kill everyone in slow motion.
The kick-ass combat is turned up a notch higher when you find one of the mech suits. These sections turn the tables on your enemies in a few brief but satisfying moments. They're simply torn to pieces by the armour's duel mini-guns and missile launchers.
Outdoor sections like this are scarce, though. Just as they start to become addictive, the game thrusts you back into more tedious corridors and underground bunkers. It's not that the level design is particularly bad, just bland. While it's quite difficult to get lost, the environments rarely do anything exciting. For an eight- or nine-hour game, there are only two or three areas which pack a visual punch.
F.E.A.R. 2 delivers some meaty combat, but fails to improve on the original. Where was the ambition to innovate or surprise? It's by no means terrible, but for such a major franchise, more was expected. This is still an enjoyable shooter, just not a particularly hair-raising one.
Fun, but we're afraid it's nothing new
- Combat feels solid and destructive
- Mech suit sections are cool
- A few decent shocks
- Repetitive level design
- Just not particularly scary