Fear Effect won’t scare you, but it will raise your blood pressure

A game so popular it spawned a sequel…or a game so torturous a second was made to inflict more pain? With its Asian mysticism and supernatural storylines, Fear Effect probably has an intriguing, immersive plot, but I spent so much time struggling to get through the games that I didn’t even bother paying much attention to the stories. And I’ve played them twice…

FEAR EFFECT

Fear Effect was hyped back in the day on PlayStation 1 because it used advanced cell shading graphics. This required spreading the game across 4 discs.

Aside from the fact that the cell shading resembles a 1970s cartoon, the graphics are actually so bad I can’t believe we were ever wowed by visuals like this. They’re really only a little less static than the original Resident Evil games.

The controls are RE tank type with some added features—quick turn, crouch, dodge roll left or right, and the ability to shoot as you move. While they allow for more flexibility, they aren’t enough to make gameplay manageable, because this is a fast-paced action game that needs much more precision than the controls offer. It’s no surprise that punch-in cheat codes are available for it. When I first played the game years ago, I caved by the very first boss, which is a shooting maniac in a super tight space…and the whole fight is viewed from an awful top down perspective.

Unlike RE, you have infinite storage space, and cycling through your items is a simple square or circle press to go in either direction. The problem with this is that you often need to do this while being attacked by enemies, and timing is crucial. Not only do you have to cycle to the item you want to use, but then you have to hit triangle to use it, usually making sure there is a “Use” prompt onscreen for the object you need to interact with—for instance, there are random safe spots along your way, but you have to cycle to the cellphone when you reach one then quickly hit the use button to start the process. If you don’t within a few seconds, it fails to work, so you then have to cycle all the way through to the cellphone again. It’s great that saves are unlimited, but it is easy to run right by a save prompt—they are not visible on screen like the typewriter in Resident Evil. You just randomly stumble upon them if you’re lucky enough to run past just the right spots during your journey. Personally I think you shouldn’t have to access an object in such a hectic game like this. If you choose to “use” a save spot, it should just automatically use it!

You are constantly in gun battles, because for a majority of the game the enemies are not monsters but armed humans! You need tons of bullets, so luckily every time you kill a guy he drops some. You never have to manually reload, which helps. On the downside, there is no “health.” The game is called Fear Effect because you have a fear meter. The longer you’re in danger, the quicker your meter drops. If you don’t escape or run from the threat fast enough, you die. Only being in a safe zone replenishes your meter. Cheat codes here I come.

Although you pick up different weapons along the way, you change characters numerous times throughout the game, and your weapons don’t carry across characters.

The main character is a bombshell babe who is totally sexualized—skimpy outfits, a shower scene, playing one segment in just a towel, and even male counterparts that practically #metoo her.

Boss battles can be infuriating. First of all, you never actually know what you’re supposed to do to defeat them. Many times there’s something you simply have to avoid hitting during the battle or it’s instant death, be it an innocent bystander or an explosive tank. Making this hard not to do is the fact that the auto aim system locks the reticules on the nearest object. Argh! That’s really challenging to pay attention to in the heat of a battle. Very often the only way to guarantee you hit your target is to get so close to it that you have to just take the shots being fired back at you (which you probably can’t if you don’t cheat like I did).

Also making battles hard is the fact that the camera is fixed as in Resident Evil, so these crazed shooters are blasting away at you but you can’t even see them to shoot back.

Confusing cut scenes barely prepare you for what you need to do the instant they end, like climbing a ladder that has become accessible before you get shot, racing across the top of a train that is about to go off a cliff, or racing to a knife that has been dropped in the middle of a room and is the only thing that will save your unarmed ass from a gun toting baddie. Prepare to die a lot right after cut scenes.

Just like Resident Evil, there’s a lot of backtracking to collect items and solve puzzles. Puzzles can be annoying to figure out. There are also some frustrating balancing act scenes. As is common with these games, pushing directly forward on the stick somehow makes you stray at an angle, so it’s not a cut and dry process getting across beams and platforms. To fuck you up even more, camera angles keep shifting as you proceed. What also makes this whole balancing act silly is that you can fall off the edge during these segments, yet you don’t fall off the edge of narrow paths when you go to hell…

Oh yes, you do go to hell eventually, which leads me to the horror aspects of the game. The first disc is short, and right after you switch discs you’re on an island full of zombies. Don’t be scared, because the cut scene introducing them is like something out of a Scooby Doo episode. And so are they. They’re not scary, but they are infuriating, because they absolutely surround you in tight corners throughout this section. Don’t plan on getting through it without cheat codes.

Some of the more annoying moments along the way include a death trap moment right after you do an annoying 12-code puzzle. With no save right before the death trap, you have to redo the damn code over and over every time you die. There’s also a ridiculous crouching segment. You have to get past chefs on either side of a kitchen, but they keep turning around. If you aren’t crouching at the right time, instant death. Thing is, you’re walking between them on a completely open floor plan. They would see you no matter how high or low you are. Worse, you have to repeatedly hit crouch because you cant crouch and move at the same time.

The best horror segment of the game comes right as you move on to the fourth and final disc (oddly you have to switch back to the second disc before the game is through). This is when you face off against various demons in the creepy, cavernous hell. The place looks cool and the demons are cool, but here is where the cheat codes call your name again. Everything you need—weapons, ammo, keys—are collected as paper versions (no, I don’t know why) that need to be burned at a fire source before they can be used. With few fires available, this means constant back and forth. Plus, there are so many demons attacking you all the time that you desperately need to keep going back to the fire to burn ammo they’ve dropped. Enemies are endless, they swarm you, and they respawn in sections. Cheat codes.

You’ll also want those codes for an annoying boss that keeps taking away platforms as you fight. Invincibility lets you walk on water. Fuck you, boss.

And fuck the final boss—he bombards you with killer magic beams, and you have to run back and forth shooting baddies that drop to collect paper money, which you then have to select and use at torches in the arena to make the boss vulnerable for a matter of seconds before you start the process over.

At least, that was my final boss. You get to save right before the end, which is good, because there are like five endings depending on a choice you make. I just didn’t have the patience to try them all.

FEAR EFFECT 2: RETRO HELIX

It’s heartbreaking that there aren’t punch-in cheat codes for Fear Effect 2, because it is only slightly less difficult than the first—and at times, nearly impossible. Worse…the various Gameshark codes available for it do not work. No infinite fear meter in this game. I’m still astounded that I ever made it through. One part seriously took me months to pass. I’d play it over and over to exhaustion, quit, and then not go back to the game for a week.

The good news is, when you play through a second time, you unlock a computer terminal that you can punch codes in for all weapons and infinite ammo. The bad news? You can only do this if you play the game on hard. Or as I like to call it, impossible.

This game is infuriating. There are too many times when you have to do a series of extremely hard tasks before you get to another save. There are monsters that take way too many bullets to kill. An item collecting section that required constant teleporting to different realms was so hard that I would go in, kill a monster, run back to save, go kill the next monster, go back to save, etc. This relatively short segment could have been done in no time took, but instead took me hours because of this tactic. Of course if I hadn’t saved between each monster, I would have died numerous times and had to do each teleporting step over and over and over again. Even worse, each time you teleport, do your task in another realm (earth, fire, water…), and come back, the fucking monsters have respawned!

The controls are virtually exactly the same as the first game, which is great for your learning curve, and you can turn ON the “save beacon” option, which shows a target mark where there is a save instead of making you look for them in thin air. None of that makes up for the fact that the fear level meter is ridiculously disadvantageous. It runs out in seconds and if you get shot just once, you’re dead. Plus the baddies are relentless and way stronger than you. Supposedly, succeeding in a challenge or killing baddies will make it rise, but that never happens. I spent the majority of the game on the verge of death.

In terms of bang for your buck, this game is massive and super long, with a load of gameplay variation. But it also drags in segments because it makes you literally do the same exact challenges over with a different character. And one puzzle segment from hell is a fricking chess game you have to win four damn times before continuing.

The sequel also introduces the lesbian love interest of our main girl, so now we get two girls totally sexualized…with improved graphics!

Once again, there are numerous quick run scenes that you are tossed into directly out of cutscenes, where you’re suddenly being chased by a big baddie and can’t let it catch up with you. You don’t know where you’re going, you can’t predict turns, you get stuck on things, and the controls, which are tight and accurate during regular gameplay, suddenly feel as if your controller is broken and not responding to the directions in which you are pushing it. These events became the ONLY part of the game I would play in a single sitting, after which I’d quit for the night because they were that tedious.

Fear Effect 2 is also loaded with back tracking and using items in your inventory without having any idea what to use or in what order. You’ll never figure it out without a walkthrough. That includes a huge party scene in which you have to avoid getting too close to guards while doing your backtracking. If you get too close to them, your gun sets off their metal detectors, and you are immediately tossed out of the party and forced to start the section over again.

And this being a game with super hard enemies, it is unforgivable that even after you’ve used a keycard to open a door, every time you need to get through that door again, even when fleeing, you have to flip through your real time inventory to find the keycard to use it again.

The only upside here is that the sequel delves more into horror enemies, with big zombies, demons, and invincible ghosts (argh!) sprinkled throughout the game. But it’s still an action game—these monsters are never frightening beyond the fact that you’re terrified when you encounter them because your fear meter is in the red and you barely have any ammo. I get it. Games should be challenging, but not to the point that they are no fun and a chore to complete.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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