The original Fear Effect games for the first Playstation were rather interesting, following the formula laid down by survival horror games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Like them, it was too a survival horror series, that featured beautiful backgrounds with tank controls and fixed camera angles. In fact, it did quite well at the time of its release, with many praising its clever and mature storytelling, and I do mean mature as it had some risque content.
However, the series vanished after its second outing, especially after many believed it would be returning to Playstation’s brand new console at that time, the PlayStation 2. Finally, over a decade later, a brand new Fear Effect game has finally been released with another one (remake) on its way.
Fear Effect Sedna features the return of series protagonists, Hana, Royce and Rain as the mercenaries are once again thrust into the world of the occult after being sent to investigate what initially appears to be a case of art/relic trafficking. However, things take a dark turn when they find themselves in a facility where gruesome experiments had taken place, aiming to create strong hybrids of men and animals.
I was originally very sceptical of changing Fear Effect into a tactical isometric game, but when I found out that it would still have free movement with real-time action on top of the tactical gameplay, I felt a bit relieved thinking that having two contrasting mechanics might make it interesting. Unfortunately, it is because it’s trying to be two different types of game that it doesn’t work, and it should have either been a twin stick shooter or a full-on turn based strategy game similar to the X-Com series, which clearly seems to be an inspiration. At the moment however, by trying to be both, it feels like a lot of polish is amiss.
The main aspects that the game needed a lot of work on in my opinion, was on the environmental collision and enemy balancing. As it stands, the enemies just rush to your position and eat a lot of health, which starts feeling frustrating rather fast as it never feels like you are powerful enough, which shouldn’t be the case with a Fear Effect game as even though they have always had their challenging enemies, it still felt like you had a chance. However, here it doesn’t feel like such as the enemies can easily outnumber and kill you.
Now, to be fair the developers have given players two ways to combat this difficulty, either by taking cover or by utilising the game’s tactical orders function. The cover system, unfortunately, feels unfinished and buggy as there are only a few structures that you can take cover behind and certain places like corners or low walls where it would make sense for the characters to hide behind are not able to be utilised as covers. Even when you can use cover, the game suffers from collision and level design issues where half the time your bullets will never make their way to their intended target.
The shooting mechanic itself feels very basic, without any reload buttons or free shooting. You can only fire your weapon if you have your mouse on top of an enemy, which makes shooting less responsive and ultimately tedious. The AI itself doesn’t seem to be doing anything special, as through most of my play-through enemies rarely took cover themselves and would just run up to you and start firing from a brief distance, whilst other times they would just stand there pointing their guns at the character behind cover. It’s as if hiding behind cover made them forget how to shoot.
Your team mates themselves just stand out in the open at times, completely unprotected. With them at least, you are able to command them to hide behind cover, so it takes some of the frustration away, but it still doesn’t stop them from just running into enemies and dying. In fact, even when they do take cover themselves they just stand there shooting indefinitely, rendering the covers useless. The characters are at least all controllable, each with unique abilities that fit the character, such as stun guns for rain, or knives for Deke, but the game rarely made me feel like using them.
The writing was one thing I was looking forward to, but even that is all over the place. The voice actors they seem to have picked are inexperienced in line delivery, who either emphasise the wrong words or painfully try to put on accents. The writing doesn’t help much itself, as if it has been written by someone who doesn’t actually listen to people talk or has paid attention to the old games which used to have some really good writing and voice-actors – can’t believe they have actually managed to make characters from Fear Effect unlikable.
Rain’s voice actor, Julie Shields seems to be one of the only ones who has done a great job with the voiceover, but even she has been let down by terrible writing. She is also one of the only ones to actually have experience with voice acting having worked in titles such as Avenger’s Academy or Attack on Titan. I couldn’t find anything special that most of the other actors have done in regards to voice acting. They should have at least considered getting the original or sequel cast back.
Coming back to the dialogue, what really irked me in regards to it was the way it had been mixed. A lot of the dialogue takes place in between gameplay, where renders of characters come up and speak in turn. The silence behind them makes their performances even more awkward. Not to mention, the dialogue is mixed on a stereo channel during gameplay, so dependent on where your character is in relation to the others, the dialogue will come from one ear or the other. It makes no sense for an isometric game to do that as all characters are in visual range, so our brain doesn’t need any extra help in identifying where they are.
Don’t even get me started on the bossfights, with especially the first one being nothing but a confusing mess. The sniper you fight during this sequence literally jolts out of the cover to fire a shot and goes back into cover. The way she jolts makes it look like an animation bug but it unfortunately isn’t, it just looks weird.
We are currently living at a time where we have started understanding videogames and how to design them a lot better, and are in fact even teaching future developers about them in games-centric design courses or free talks, showcasing the great techniques developers like Valve or Naughty Dog have put into making their experiences, not only engaging, but coherent for the players, guiding them through sound, visuals or lightning during specific moments. Sedna was in dire need of these techniques in order to guide the players but the developers were not able to implement them, even the dialogue writing doesn’t help guide the player when they are stuck.
The tutorial is serviceable, but you are forced to rely on a few slides of information which only briefly cover that you can interact with objects, almost making me miss some of the notes that can be read as I thought it might not be a mechanic. It was only after I saw some of the papers around the environment sparkling that I knew to interact with them. Even then I initially faced a game breaking bug with this where I was unable to interact with them as a prompt never came up, leading me to believe that it wasn’t possible even though the sparkling icon stated otherwise. I was about to send the developers an email in regards to this as I thought I may be missing some hint to unlock a door in order to progress, but they eventually started working all of a sudden.
Not everything about the game is bad though, as the pre-rendered backgrounds look absolutely stunning and the audio team has at least done their job properly with both the ambience and exciting riff-laden music, making this feel like a Fear Effect game. Even the death and game over scenes are a nice throwback to the classic games. Unfortunately this does not even begin to make up for the other shortcomings.
Overall, Fear Effect Sedna is a very buggy and incomplete game, with incoherent design choices stuck with a tacky voice cast accompanying some baffling writing that does nothing to improve the legacy of the Fear Effect Series, or manage to provide a compelling video game in its own right that would introduce the characters to a new generation. We really need a Fear Effect comeback but this is in no shape or form it.
+ Exciting Music Reminiscent of Old Games
- Incoherent Game Design
- Unsatisfying Combat
- Terrible Writing and Voice Overs
- Broken AI and Balancing
- Lazy Cover System