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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Eidos

Assassin Hana Tsu-Vachel returns in this pulse-pounding sequel along with three other characters who are all battling to unlock the secrets to the lethal genetic epidemic EINDS while fighting for not only their paychecks, but their lives. The characters must use their fire-power, solve puzzles, and above all, control their fear factor to survive the toughest mission yet. The year is 2028, and our crew must move through a variety of environments, ranging from dark laboratories, ritzy parties, and Chinese tombs, to the land of the immortals, Penglai Shan, and find a cure for both this disease and the evil behind it. This game has evolved from its predecessor and is an interesting and often intense experience for any gamer.

screen2-01.jpg (4044 bytes)For those of you who are new to the series, Fear Effect is a Resident Evil style game that incorporates a variety of puzzles as well as action sequences to create a plot-driven adventure in the life of a sexy assassin, Hana. During predetermined moments in the game, control is switched to one of the other three characters to allow you to meet multiple game objectives. Hana is most often the main focus, with her girlfriend Rain (a cerebral, yet equally lethal, babe with a dark past) coming in a close second for time in the spotlight. The two male characters, Glas (a justice seeking ex-counter intelligence agent) and Deke (an evil Aussie hitman for hire) are minor characters who round out the cast and create variety in gameplay. As for the title, there are no health meters in this game for our characters. Instead, there is a fear meter which measures your character’s anxiety about the situations he or she is facing. When your characters are injured or they face terrifying situations, their fear level increases (their heart monitor increases palpitation and turns from green to blood red) and when they are most agitated, they can be taken out with just one hit. They pack a variety of gear and weapons as well as picking up items from the game environments to help them along the way. This game has evolved nicely from the original, capitalizing on its strengths and adding some new elements. There are still some negative aspects, but the game is a strong one overall.

screen3-01.jpg (3510 bytes)One of my biggest problems with this game, left over from the first, is the camera, or rather, the fixed perspective on-screen. I realize that many people appreciate the visual detail that this perspective allows and feel more comfortable in a fixed environment, but the negatives outweigh the positives for me. First, the fixed perspective doesn’t allow you to look at the entirety of the given gamespace without movement. I guess I got spoiled by Tomb Raider, where you can get a 360-degree view of a room without taking a step. I also think that an enforced focus causes depth perception problems when maneuvering within an environment as well as when attempting to target enemies. It makes things increasingly difficult in larger environments when, as the perspective shifts, the pathways look very different from the original view, which makes it hard to tell where you’re going or where you’ve been. And finally, many times you’re given a far away view when the ability to see close up would be extremely helpful (especially during fights).

screen4-01.jpg (3326 bytes)For the most part, this game handles the view well, but there were two specific instances where the view created serious issues. I ended up replaying the first level because I had missed picking up a vital item during gameplay. I spent an hour replaying only to find that a room which had continually shown three doors actually had a fourth door that required your character to walk straight toward the screen for a while until the perspective changed to reveal the forth wall. Now granted, this is my faux pas, but when you are continually given an enforced view, your mind tends to start accepting what it is shown. The second time was in a garden maze. In a game where you only have one view, a maze is insane. Luckily, the maze only had about three options, but why include something that is so problematic with that camera that it can’t be made challenging? These examples are specific, but more generally, it really is difficult when you come to a new room and you’re being attacked by floating demons to know if your environment can give you any benefits (hiding places, doors, special objects, etc.) A different setup would allow for more interactive environments and would make it tons easier to move through the game.

ss1-01.jpg (3612 bytes)Another element I have issues with is the placement of puzzles versus action during gameplay. In the second major level, Rain is given puzzle after puzzle with no action interspersing them. Granted, Rain is the computer expert, but I got pretty burnt out after the third one. Some of the puzzles have readily available answers in the surrounding environment, which was a major downer to the first game, but others are more challenging and require some thought. This is not a place in the game you can play in the wee hours of the morning with that glazed I’ve-been-playing-for-hours look. You need to be fresh and frosty, and it still gets a bit trying. Luckily, later in the game the puzzles are spaced out more evenly, and Hana and Glas are given puzzles which were a little more action oriented. I think this is one of the places where the writers could still add more depth to the game. Don’t get me wrong, this is an improvement from the first installment and this game gives you a lot of variety by making you do everything from re-wiring fuses to playing capture-the-flag D&D style, but there were some puzzles that were either lame or lacked any game-related logic to their presence. I think if and when we see Hana again, the puzzles should be pretty phenomenal.

ss2-01.jpg (3249 bytes)The last downer to the game was the use of the Mature rating. The first level really tried to use the blood-and-guts quotient as well as giving us some sexual titillation. However, there was a line that the creators just weren’t willing to cross. For example, Rain is captured by a slavering zombie technician who hooks her to a "Barbarella style" torture machine, but there isn’t any nudity in this scene, even with this risque setup. The advertisements also made much of the relationship between Rain and Hana, but the only things we are given are suggestive language and situations, and some slinky party dresses. The gravity defying breasts don’t count, as many games with more conservative ratings have those. On the whole, the hype was only supported by the first level. After that, it was a pretty normal level of gore, etc. This may not be a critique, but I felt a little cheated by the hype when all I got was one level of mild Total Recall and the Swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. I’m not depraved, I’d just like the advertising to match the product and for a game whose plot is set up for adult themes and situations to really make the most of those elements. (This doesn’t mean the game is OK for the kiddies by any stretch of the imagination, but it still could push the Mature envelope more.)

ss3-01.jpg (3247 bytes)So what is it that is so impressive about this game? The story is pretty fabulous, and the situations that are given present tons of variety for gameplay and visuals. We start out in the gritty tech world of twenty-first century Hong Kong, move through high society parties, then find ourselves in ancient ruins and Chinese tombs and finally, we land in the "afterlife" realm of the immortals. We get to fight killer robots, sunglassed mafia types, ancient statuary, rock demons, and match wits with Chinese warlords and the best minds in tech. This game attempts to blend the cerebral with the physical, and I appreciate that immensely. The graphics, sound effects, and background music are all solid. The creators also got rid of some of the insanely difficult (read impossible) situations from the first game that almost required cheat codes to get through. It takes a skillful player, but doesn’t require outside aid. The game is also pretty involved. I spent about 14 hours on this game, and if you space out your playing time, this four disk set can give you quite a bit of bang for your buck.

ss5-01.jpg (3779 bytes)While not yet perfect, this game is entertaining and a solid bet for any gamer who likes the action adventure genre. Although I was occasionally frustrated, I was never bored, and was often surprised by the paths this game took and its breadth and scope. If you liked the first title, and RE style fixed focus doesn’t bother you, this game is a must buy. And for everyone else who loves this genre, this is a safe bet for your buck.

Monica Hafer

Snapshot

Ups: Great story; good length; lots of cool locations; nice style.

Downs: Fixed camera; inane puzzles.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

 

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