E3 Hands-On: Project Origin

I’m not ashamed to admit it, the original FEAR scared the living hell out of me (I just can’t take creepy children), but if my own cowardly nature has to be exposed to commend Monolith on a job well done, then so be it. During this year’s E3, I had to work up the courage to grab the 360 controller and dive into the sequel, Project Origin, and it looks like Monolith has still got the magic, meaning I may have to invest in a new nightlight.

The demo started off during the game’s third act in a subway station where you, Michael Becket, a Delta Force member who is not the protagonist of the original game, must make your way up to the surface of the city which Alma has been unleashed upon. The first thing you’ll notice is the Metroid Prime-like functionality of an in-game visor, which will react to the environment, fogging up in the midst of steam, or begin to crack when the player takes some heavy damage. The game’s lead designer, John Mulkey, illustrated to us his desire to use this mechanic to keep the player directly immersed within Origin’s world at all times, making an up close and personal feel with the dark nature of the game all the more intense.

While we began to tool around, it became obvious that the archaic health system found in the previous game has been thrown out the door in favor of the nearly universal regenerative health system, but armor power ups will still be available for that added protection. Getting into the city streets, which were literally falling apart with rubble strewn everywhere and jet liners falling from the sky, we got an understanding of what a mess Alma can really make when set loose upon an entire city. The game’s developers explained that they are very aware of the criticisms of the office-focused levels found in the first game, and have taken steps to ensure that the sequel possesses a much wider array of environments. We have to agree, since they picked a great level for the demo to prove their goal. The streets contain numerous objects which are highly interactive, including cars that explode, signs that can be dismantled, and as we discovered when fooling around, transistors that will fall off phone lines and into a puddle of water, shocking anything in it. Basically nearly any object in the game will react just like you’d expect it to in real life.

Moving along we came across a squad of replica soldiers which were being awakened by Alma’s presence within the city, and immediately opened up on them with our assault rifle that can now be aimed down the sight(using the left trigger), like any modern warfare, er modern day shooter. You’ll also be happy to know that the player’s pockets have been made a bit deeper, now having the ability to carry four different weapons at one time. Being told this, our curiosity was piqued at the prospect of new weapons besides the usual assortment of rocket launchers and sniper rifles found in the demo, but Monolith kept quiet, only hinting at one firearm that will fire a beam able to slice foes into pieces.

Attacking the soldiers proved quite a challenge, since Monolith has brought that classic FEAR AI back, and improved upon it. Enemies knew very well that the cars around us would explode, and even had the knowledge to pick up a more powerful weapon than the one they currently possessed. Although we didn’t witness it, the developers explained that the soldiers of Project Origin will even be smart enough to stop, drop, and roll when set on fire, and will seek out any nearby water sources too. It pays not to underestimate these guys: many times we were put on the defensive by their relentless aggressive nature, hunting us down no matter how far we strayed back looking for somewhere to catch our breath.

These fancy college-boy AI’s might be pretty smart, but can they outsmart a bullet? The slow-motion edge that players had in the first game has returned. Pressing Y will activate the brand new visual upgrade that adds a touch of blurring your vision, adding a supernatural feel instead of simply bringing down the pace of the action. The function will work much in the same way as it did in the first game when using it to get an easy bead on an opponent’s head in combat, and may even come into play when solving some of the new environmental puzzles found in the sequel.

As we made our way off the street and into a dilapidated movie theater, we asked Monolith if we would get a chance to see Alma in the demo. Just a few short seconds later, we were sorry we asked, as the “big girl” version of Alma appeared on-screen for a moment, grabbed our arm, and then disappeared. But don’t expect all your encounters with Alma to be so brief. In Project Origin, the designers are promising that the little she-demon will “touch” players in new ways, indicating some actual physical encounters, and that the character will have an overall more interactive presence within the environment. This means Alma won’t be playing coy little peek-a-boo games like she did in the first game; this time she means business.

We eventually came upon an EPA unit, or Elite Power Armor, that basically looks like a mech suit and will serve as a playable vehicle. At first we were sad to hear that slow motion will be deactivated when in the power armor, but the reasoning behind that was made very evident as we began shredding our enemies, and any cover they hid behind to pieces like bullets through hot butter. The particle effects of Project Origin are really shown off when creating showers of concrete, and not even smaller power armor variants were any match for our stinger missiles. Eventually, the fight got a whole lot more even when another EPA unit joined the fray, but that also signaled the agonizing end to our single-player demo. Although we did pry, Monolith is currently not giving out any details on multiplayer, but it’s certainly going to have to require something special to compete with other high-profile online sensations.

Our time with Project Origin, although brief, gave a good indication of what Monolith is trying to accomplish. The core slow-motion gunplay has been preserved, but you’ll also be getting a greater variety of highly interactive levels to do it in. We didn’t really get a chance to play through any extended sequences with Alma, but Monolith assured us that they’re cranking up the horror elements of Project Origin to a pace that’s more action oriented than the subtle unnerving moments seen in the first game. Despite some licensing issues that have lead to discrepancies over what counts as actual series canon, fans can be comfortable with knowing they will receive a very true, and evolved FEAR experience this holiday. I’ll be there ready to play, with my security blanket nearby.

Project Origin is currently set to release Fall 2008 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

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