Fear Effect: Retro Helix - the prequel and successor to last year's Fear Effect - definitely has its work cut out for it. When you consider the game's highly stylized production and its arresting narrative elements, further installments seem logical. We recently got a moderately functional build of Retro Helix to play with, and we were able to form some definite impressions of Fear Effect's successor.
Fear Effect for the PlayStation was arguably one of the most provocative games to be released on a home console, for a number of reasons. The game's story and tone, primarily, made no effort to pander to the younger market, gratuitously presenting ultraviolent elements and mildly sexual themes. Secondly, the game's level design was quite unforgiving. Many instant-death scenarios were included, scattered among some of the most challenging action sequences around. The game's innovative adrenaline meter also worked to challenge adventure game norms. Replacing the traditional health bar, the adrenaline meter used your character's actions to gauge how close to death you are. Getting shot at, logically, would still prove fatal, but so would getting attacked from behind or mobbed from all sides. The system was dynamic, if a bit subjective, and its effect was refreshing, overall.
Fear Effect: Retro Helix - developed by Kronos Digital and published by Eidos - works like its predecessor in most ways. The series' distinct visual design returns, as does an update of the technical process that imbued it with life: the Motion FX3D engine. The engine will attempt to fluidly animate Retro Helix's prerendered backgrounds in the same manner that its predecessor breathed life into Fear Effect's otherwise staid environments. The improved engine, however, will allow for the use of 3D objects as hazards; for example, the same way Fear Effect had prerendered fire burn your character, Retro Helix will be able to have real-time modeled falling rocks crush her. This innovation could potentially allow for some very interesting possibilities.
In motion, the game is on par with the previous Fear Effect. The environments are just as eerie, and the action seems to have been turned up a notch. While we didn't get to sample the game's new 3D control scheme (think Metal Gear Solid), the classic RE-style scheme seems to work well in its own right. The game's real-time inventory interface does the job as well as before, and the quick-turnaround and roll commands seem to be in full effect.
Visually, everything rings true to theme. The looped FMVs sewn into the backgrounds seem to do their job of animating the creepy worlds, and do so more subtly and effectively than before. The slight pause in between loops, though, that was painfully perceptible in the original, still seems to be there. Hopefully it'll be massaged into nonexistence once the full game is released.
The game's weapons seem a bit more outlandish than before, including machine-stopping EMPs, deadly minigrenade launchers, and even various types of mechs. The weapons effects seem to have been better thought out, this time around, as they tend to deviate from simple bullet-stream and shot-spread effects. The sonic boom weapon lets out a disconcerting ripple effect, while the flamethrower emits a veritable column of fire.
The current build isn't terribly complete, but so far the game looks pretty good. The game seems primed to meet fans expectations for its coming 2001 release, though, so stay tuned to this space for continuing coverage.