We just received the latest build of Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, one of the last great PlayStation games and a prequel to the original.
The original Fear Effect sent ripples through the PlayStation community with its unique graphical style, gritty storyline, and subject matter targeted squarely at adults. Kronos has been hard at work on the sequel, hoping to improve on the original in every respect. At a time when most companies are shifting their development resources to the next generation of consoles, Kronos is taking the time to make sure its last hurrah on the PlayStation is a memorable one.
Taking place before the original Fear Effect, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix serves as a backbone to the franchise by providing insight into the personality makeup of the three original characters. Hana, the Asian mercenary, Glas, the ex-CIA special agent, and Deke, the ammo-toting heavy, all make a return for this, the second Fear Effect outing. You begin the game as Hana, who is working with her old partner the new character, Rain. As the story goes, Hana found Rain on the brink of death and nursed her back to health. Hana then discovered that Rain possessed a sharp intellect and a keen understanding of electronics, and the two became partners. Without giving too much away, Rain and Hana's partnership steps outside the boundaries of a traditional friendship. Deke and Glas, the two male characters from the original Fear Effect, must be encountered before they become playable. Aside from the obvious lesbian undertones, Retro Helix's plot fails to break any new ground. It consists of the typical sci-fi story staples such as human DNA manipulation and an antagonist who is closely related to one of the main characters.
Like the original Fear Effect, Retro Helix plays similarly to survival-horror games like Capcom's Resident Evil titles and Konami's Silent Hill. The multiple characters are swapped in and out on a frequent basis as characters become separated from one another regularly. While one may be hacking her way through a door, the other will have to venture out to look for a generator or switch. The majority of the gameplay focuses on finding items to open new areas or solving simple puzzles. Rare occurrences of gadgetry usage pop up infrequently, along with some bits of undercover espionage. Combat is relatively light in the sections we've played through thus far as the emphasis, at least in the early going, is clearly placed on puzzle solving and plot progression. Like the first installment of the series, a fear meter determines your health status. The fear meter is adversely affected by taking damage or by viewing gruesome scenes. You'll die when the fear meter reaches its hilt, and the only way to dissipate the fear is by moving forward in the game.
Fear Effect 2 is divided into small episodes that often lead to instant death on the first run through them. But each attempt allows you to garner new clues about the proper method of completing the episode until all the variables have fallen into place. Thankfully, the lengthy, death-induced loading times from the original have been chopped so that repeating the same sections doesn't grate on the nerves. Helping ease the tension levels even further, frequent save points are scattered throughout the levels that allow you to save your game through the use of a cell phone.
The control is identical to that of Resident Evil. Pushing up on the analog stick always makes the character walk forward, while holding left or right causes the character to rotate. The spin-around move that has become essential to games of this sort has been implemented, along with a roll maneuver that allows you to surprise the enemy. Choosing your armament while walking or running is a snap thanks to the real-time inventory menu, and the weapons in Retro Helix make those from Fear Effect seem bland. There are handguns, Uzis, grenade launchers, assault rifles, and flamethrowers, as well as chargeable weapons like the EMP, sonic blast, and taser that do not require ammunition.