Sunday, April 17, 2016

Editorial: Fear Effect

With the Kickstarter launching for a new Fear Effect, I decided it was time to dust off the double jewel case and see if I still enjoyed the original, almost 20 years later.

It was a weird time in gaming. Japanese games still largely ruled and anime was incredibly popular on Cartoon Network. At the same time, to appeal to American's, a lot of games sort of had this injection of "attitude." It's something you can see in the top walk through on GameFaqs. The author really told that mom off. Many games felt like a Mountain Dew commercial with samurai.

I remember drooling over the advertisements in previews in the Official PlayStation Magazine as far back as when it was still called "Fear Factor." (Before the metal band, Fear Factory, threatened a lawsuit)

Back then, I was in for any "Resident Evil" clone. The third person, fixed camera, tank controlled adventure took the place of my favorite type of an adventure game. (Replacing point-an-click)

Fear Effect interested me because it promised the horror of Resident Evil, the stealth of Metal Gear Solid, the action of Syphon Filter, and the graphics of nothing we had seen. And this monster of a game was on 4 disks. I could not wait.

I bought it the first weekend it was out, took it home, and what waited was one of the most challenging versions of the fixed camera adventure game I had played.

Removed from both the attitude of late 90's, early 00's, and those tank controlled games, it was weird going back to Fear Effect.

The very first thing you notice is how great the music sounds. It's something I miss from the PlayStation 1 days. Games really tried to have the best soundtrack available to play with the new technology. Nowadays, I feel like most the soundtrack is lost with the gun fire sound design and constant stimulation of the action. Hell, I end up muting most games and listening to podcasts when I play now.

I booted into the game and forgot how something as simple as having a non-static background makes the game come alive. The Blade Runner inspiration is immediately apparent as you clank around the metal landing pad and look at the gorgeous neon lights flickering in the city behind you.

This was the main reason the game needed 4 disks. It's not because this was a 70 hour epic journey. (In fact, it's less than 8 for more people) It's because the awesome sound and background design take up huge portions of data on the disks.

I love the puzzles in Fear Effect. Instead of it being simple find the "Spade" key or push the statue onto the obvious trigger on the ground like in it's cousin Resident Evil, puzzles are set up a little more in a Rube Goldberg fashion. You can see that there's a track in front of you, but you also know you need to set a few things in motion to get what you want.

And early example has you climbing up a ladder on top of a small security room. You see that there's a valve you can turn, but there's steam coming out of it. You also notice that at the bottom of the other side of this roof top is an enemy just waiting for you to slowly climb down the ladder so he can get the jump on you.

What you have to do is shoot out the window to the security room, get inside, and shut off the steam pipe going to the roof. This room also let's you view where to find a key you need to get into a locker in here later on.

After the steam is off, you climb back onto the roof, and turn the valve. This let's steam flow out at the enemy, burning him to death. You not only can safely climb down the ladder now, but you get an important gate key.

Now, one of the things that jumped out at me is the convoluted controls. Resident Evil sort of set a standard for these games, but everyone knew there had to be a better way to do them. So every now and then you would have a game come along and try to sell you on their control scheme.

It sucks, really bad in Fear Effect. X is shoot. There's no aim button to make sure you want to shoot, there's just shoot. So whenever I see a lever or button, I press X to activate it. Instead, I fire my pistol, alerting every enemy in the area. It's triangle to activate things by the way. That button that is probably the hardest to hit on the PlayStation controller is the most used button in this game.

The enemy AI is pretty dumb, so to give you a challenge, they are positioned in ways that makes it hard. The level will conspire with the enemy placement to make sure you can't just get a couple of quick kills. Imagine if every time you went to bowl, it started as a 7-10 split. That's the combat in this game.

But they try to give you some tools to take on this challenge. You can sneak and hopefully kill the enemies without alerting adjacent ones. You can roll, which if do it right really messes with the AI and gives you a chance to pop off a couple quick rounds. And there's an instant kill if you can get behind an enemy and close.

I know the Kickstarter is not going to be the same game. It's not a AAA studio with a AAA budget. But, the world of Fear Effect is more than interesting enough to adventure in again. It's different from most other video game settings. It's bright, futuristic, yet still dirty and sad.

The original Fear Effect is this great crime drama taking place over vast environments. I hope that the Kickstarter succeeds and we are once again able to jump into this world.

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