FEAR 2: Project Origin
PS3, Xbox 360
It seems that 2009 is the year of the undercover remake. Street Fighter IV, Silent Hill: Homecoming… these days, every sequel is little more than a previous game wearing a funky hat. And here, continuing that dubious tradition, is FEAR 2: Project Origin, which is so similar to the original first-person shooter that you’d be forgiven for thinking that they put the wrong disc in the box.
The plot, such as it is, sees you playing (another) silent protagonist, sent with (another) doomed squad of soldiers into (another) office block to rescue (another) morally bankrupt suit while fighting (another) army of grunts and monsters. The only times the game doesn’t duplicate things from the first game, in fact, is when it straight-up reuses them – which it does with alarming frequency.
Not that it’s entirely surprising. After all, the first FEAR shamelessly borrowed from Japanese horror (spooky ghost girl), Poltergeist (hallucinations, moving furniture), the Rainbow Six games (running and gunning in urban areas) and Scooby-Doo. Why would it innovate now?
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the gameplay had remained as compelling as its predecessor’s, but there’s something lacking about the action this time around. The first game’s horror show – bleeding walls, vanishing phantasms and all – was all the more effective because the action scenes were grounded in a chunky, realistic world. Shot walls would send puffs of vision-obscuring dust into the air, while the baddies were smart enough to use cover and terrain to their advantage. But now the game-world looks and feels like, well, a game-world, and the enemy grunts all seem to have suffered a nasty concussion minutes before entering battle. And so it all feels a little unfinished and under-whelming, like the programmers were spending so much time getting their flashy graphics right that the actual nuts and bolts of the thing got left till last.
Which isn’t to say that it’s bad. No, not by a long shot. But it really is one for the uninitiated – those who have no idea how much of FEAR 2 is a step back. Here’s hoping that the designers pull their thumbs out for the third instalment – and find themselves some new things to rip off.
Available in stores.
Tom Clancy’s Hawx
PS3, Xbox 360
Afterburners, lens flares, fast jets and flying jackets – it can only be Top Gun. Right? Wrong. It’s Tom Clancy’s Hawx, a flying game that may as well star Tom Cruise and that bloke from ER who dies halfway through. But, instead of being everyone’s favourite oddball actor, the hero of the story is… er, some guy. Look, the plot and the characters don’t matter. There’s some back story about the dangers of private military contractors, and some cod ethical questions, but it’s not wildly interesting and doesn’t add to the main point of the game, which is to blow everything up using a variety of jet fighters.
Oh, all right then: your character starts off as a pilot in the US Air Force, but a change of career to a slightly creepy military contractor soon sees you taking part in wars in exchange for cash. Soon a fracas involving the US breaks out, and it all gets rather hairy, with Air Force One and a space shuttle making appearances in a plot that stretches credibility so thin it becomes practically invisible.
Thankfully, the game is fun enough that it doesn’t matter. OK, the training missions that teach you how to fly your plane and target enemies go on a little long, but it gets better. Soon, you soon find yourself firing missiles and guns at a cavalcade of enemy fighters, bombers and installations, while supporting ground troops, directing your wing men and generally feeling the need – the need for speed. You can also turn off the piloting assistance mode to pull off spectacular dogfighting manoeuvres, though you’ll find yourself going home in a jam jar if you’re not careful.
Graphically, the game is excellent and immersive, with the plane models looking suitably solid and the terrain being modelled on proper satellite imagery. Flying too close to the ground will reveal the artifice, of course – the buildings that looked pretty realistic from above suddenly turn into cardboard cutouts laying on the ground – but since you’ll only get that close if you’ve done something very wrong that shouldn’t be an issue.
Hawx isn’t going to win any awards – it’s clichéd and doesn’t excel in any particular area. But the flying and shooting of stuff is a lot of fun and there’s enough in the game to keep you playing through to the end. We’re afraid there’s no beach volleyball, though. Sorry.
Available in stores.