Back in 2005, the original First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R) was created by Monolith and released for the PC to wide acclaim, winning notice for it's creepy atmosphere, brilliant enemy A.I, and incredibly forced acronym. The game centered on the Pointman of the titular F.E.A.R team, a squad created by the U.S government to combat paranormal threats. It was regarded by many as a superior FPS with masterfully executed horror sequences, with the only real problem being the bland environments. Note, this is not to say the atmosphere was, just that one area felt like the others; the wastewater plant felt like the office building which in turn felt like the Origin facility, with the only standout area being the Apartment complex. I was a huge fan of this game, and had been waiting for this sequel, F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin, for years. Now that I finally got it, it barely seems worth it.
First, I'll start with the good; the combat is absolutely amazing, it might honestly be the most satisfying FPS I've ever played in that regard. The game still bleeds atmosphere as well, and these two factors combined make it incredibly immersive. It also addresses another flaw people found with the original: the fact that virtually every encounter was against the same type of enemy, with the only the occasional variation in the form of an assassin, elite soldier, mech, or nightmare. This game tends to keep the encounters varied between the Armacham Black Ops soldiers, Replicas (the main enemy in the first), and several supernatural beings I haven't even begun to name yet. Finally, the areas are actually distinct.
That said, there are some issues, many of which outweighed this stellar gameplay for me. First off is the complete abandonment of all the mystique. In the original game, you had only a vague idea of who Alma was or even what was happening, which added to the suspense and, dare I say, fun, as you unraveled the mystery. All that is pretty much abandoned here; you know what's going on and why all the way until the end, with the important aspects of the plot being spoon fed to you by your squad (whose presence, by the way, also undermines the horror, as part of horror is usually being alone) as opposed to the laptop and phone message method of exposition in the original (although it is worth noting that you can find more minor parts of the plot in computer disks that you have to find). The ironic thing is, the ending itself is pretty ambiguous. Seriously, I had to look up a plot summery on Wikipedia just to find out what happened in the last 30 seconds or so.
Going hand-in-hand with this is their pseudo-sciencing of all the paranormal things which happen. They explain everything that should have been left unexplained, how Alma was created (beyond the torture that was mentioned in the first game), what caused Alma and others to be psychic in the first place, why some can see Alma and feel her effects while others can't. Simply, mysteries lose all their appeal the second you reveal them. In this sense, F.E.A.R 2 fell into a similar pitfall as Condemned 2.
As well, with their correction of the previous games mistakes, they also create more problems. Like how all the supernatural enemies trickle out by the end, leaving you fighting wave after wave of Replicas.
Next is the fact that it isn't nearly as scary as the original. Now, I'm going to go ahead and say Your Mileage May Vary here, because others might well find it scary. All I'm saying is that a lot of the new additions seem to undermine the horror aspect for me. Sure, it has moments where I'm startled, maybe even a few where I'm outright scared, but no where near as many as the original. It seems the series is becoming more about the kind of scares that are based on a monster jumping out at you, which is fine, but the original was built on more psychological fear, on creating and then dashing expectations. I must say, the only dashed expectations were mine when I made this realization (/bad joke).
Finally, it simply doesn't feel like F.E.A.R. It's hard to explain, but the original, while more than occasionally dabbling in the supernatural, always seemed like it was firmly based in reality. This is one reason Alma was so disturbing; in a world that seems much like ours, anyone, let alone a little girl, who can do something that just seems so wrong (like liquefying someone by standing near them, or sending manifestations of nightmares at someone) is just disturbing. In the sequel, it's all par for the course. Even if I hadn't played the original, it would be hard to think of Alma as anything other than just another enemy because in this game, the abnormal is suddenly normal. Frankly, I wouldn't have been surprised by anything by the end. I realize that this might not make complete sense, but it's hard to word.
Just an inconsequential nitpick, why were they using Teenage Alma for this game? Child Alma is so much scarier.
It's hard to formulate an opinion on this. On the one hand, the fire fights are hectic and great fun, as I said, quite possibly the most satisfying of any FPS I've ever played. On the other, in Monolith's rush to fix everything bad about the first game, they abandoned nearly every GOOD thing, especially in terms of the horror and tone. It doesn't help that it shat on one of my favorite stories. So, I'd have to say this; download the demo. If it appeals to you and you aren't planning to buy any other games soon, certainly give it a try.