Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix is a game that successfully blends the action, survival-horror, and role-playing genres into a single outstanding product.
Although the first Fear Effect was an excellent effort, there were many criticisms raised against it for a variety of reasons. To make the prequel more palatable to a larger audience, Kronos Digital has made some improvements to the game. A 3D-oriented control option joins the default survival-horror interface, postdeath load times have been eliminated, and replay value has been improved through the inclusion of special weapons and hidden secrets. The addition of Rain also provides a much-needed fourth character and love interest for Hana, as well as a reason to kick the game's maturity level into the stratosphere. Fear Effect 2 is also longer and less linear than the first attempt. In all, there are eight environments to explore this time, including the aqueducts, a formal party, a biomedical laboratory, the haunted city of Xi'An, the tomb of the first Chinese emperor, a monster-filled island garden, a towering pagoda, and finally hell itself. While the story is obviously geared toward a single plot point, there are many situations where you'll get to make choices that take the story in a new direction. Similar to the original, the prequel also features multiple final boss characters and endings based upon the choices you make near the end of the game. Between completing the game, playing out each ending, and revisiting it again for secrets you've missed, Fear Effect 2 has a good 60 to 80 hours of gameplay.
The prequel may be an improvement, but Fear Effect 2 isn't without its flaws. Foremost of these is the game's inventory system, which while speedier than that of the original, still lumps all weapons and items together in a cyclical list. This wouldn't be so bad, except you have to manage it all in real time. If you're transplanted into the thick of battle with only a sonar weapon and you need to switch to an assault rifle ASAP, you'll have to cycle through five or six items before finally being allowed to equip the necessary weapon. Additionally, while Kronos Digital has done an excellent job of creating eight unique environments, the game's first stage, the aqueducts, is a pathetically lengthy rip-off of the tunnels from any Parasite Eve or Resident Evil game. Not only is it one of the more difficult areas in the game, it's also the least engaging and least important to the storyline. Some of you may also find the constant exploration and puzzle aspects of the game to be overwhelmingly tedious, but this is a complaint more in line with general tastes than it is against the game itself. If you like the genre and can see past the touchy inventory system and lackluster first area, you'll likely find Fear Effect 2 to be a satisfyingly suspenseful hands-on experience.
Of course, survival-horror is a genre that relies heavily on graphical presentation. In this respect too, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix is a stellar example. In keeping with the first game, the prequel superimposes polygonal texture-mapped characters onto full-motion video backgrounds to convey a sense of realism and mood. While the execution is a bit grainy and dark, the overall effect is superb. Environments are colorful, highly animated, and detailed, although the FMV looping is noticeable at times. The game's characters and enemies are once again rendered in an anime style reminiscent of those in Sega's Jet Grind Radio, but movement is much more fluid this time around since Kronos has done away with the stiltedness of motion capture in favor of hand-tweaked animation. As you progress through the game, you'll don a variety of costumes, see blood spurt from half-dead monsters, and even witness a few rather sexually charged situations. Wrapping it all up, more than two hours of full-motion video cinematics are seamlessly woven into the game to provide both plot development and brief relief from its lengthy quest.