E3 2008: Project Origin Hands-On

Can a horror game still be a horror game when you're in a mech suit? We find out.

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The transition from F.E.A.R. to Project Origin may have resulted in a tragic loss of punctuation, but this sequel to the 2005 horror shooter has added more than a few visceral bells and whistles to make up for it. We were quite pleased to find this out during a run through the E3 2008 demo available to all passersby on the show floor. Whether it's a tweak to the shooting mechanics, the art direction (you'll actually see colors this time!), or the mech suit available to pilot at occasional moments in the game, Project Origin is looking like an excellent follow-up to its well-received predecessor.

The demo begins with the game's main character, Michael Becket, waking up in an underground metro station. The story continues his search for Alma, this time more grown up, but by all appearances just as creepy as ever. Before heading upstairs, some quick fumbling with the controller will reveal a few mechanical tweaks to the game. For one, there's the addition of an iron sight view. You start out with an assault rifle equipped with a red dot sight, giving you the choice of precise targeting or firing from the hip. The number of weapon slots has gone up from three to four, matching the number of grenade types you can carry. And you'll notice a lack of medikits scattered about; Project Origin has shed its points-based health system in favor of regenerating health. Monolith tells us this is a choice made to keep your focus on the action rather than a slowly-draining number in the corner of your screen.

The mech suit is seriously awesome.
The mech suit is seriously awesome.

With weapons orientation out of the way, we took the stairs out of the subway up to exit. You'll quickly discover an urban setting that looks like it just absorbed the brunt of a powerful earthquake. Those whole place is a mess, from the chunks of building facades scattered across the road to the truck-size potholes flooded with water. It's hard to decipher the time of day with all the smoke in the sky, but it's quite obviously not nighttime. That's a focus for Monolith with the game, to add more variety and color to the levels. The trailer that runs when the demo goes idle shows several interesting levels, including a rooftop pool overlooking a lovely sunset.

But don't get the idea that Project Origin has suddenly become a friendly parade of bright colors and sunshine. The enemies provide an even tougher challenge this time thanks to considerably enhanced AI. One example Monolith provided was a soldier taking cover behind a car door. You wouldn't notice this particular soldier's ingenuity until you realize he opened the car door himself. They also have a tough time staying dead. It's possible to wound an enemy, have them hit the ground, and you might run off without noticing them slowly limp back up and draw a sidearm to shoot you from behind. You can respond to these resourceful enemies by creating your own impromptu cover, kicking over tables and hiding behind them when something more sturdy isn't available. Of course, with the destructible environments and ballistics able to travel through varying surface materials, that may not be the best idea in certain circumstances.

After a few play-throughs with this demo, we noticed a rocket launcher hidden in one of the blown-out buildings. This comes in handy when taking on snipers positioned up on the tops of buildings or on the marquee of a movie theater which you need to enter when you've progressed down the demolished city street. It's not the most precise weapon in the world, but thanks to game's destructible buildings, you can simply aim near an enemy and you'll more than likely knock down his perch. If the explosion doesn't kill him, the three-story tumble certainly will. Inside the theater, you're greeted by a heavily armed soldier rivaling a Big Daddy in sheer girth. The best option here is the rocket launcher, of course, but you can also test your luck with a shotgun if you're up to the task.

Monolith isn't shying away from strong colors this time around.
Monolith isn't shying away from strong colors this time around.

You soon discover a theater that still has seats, but is missing the wall where the screen would normally be. Instead you have a view of an alley and a dead soldier disturbingly pinned to the wall. Out on the street is a mech suit, or power armor, as it's called in the game. We wasted no time in hopping right into it (once we took care of an environmental hazard nearby, a busted power transistor sending dangerous currents onto the nearby ground). The power armor is a thrilling ride. You have a machine gun and a missile launcher available to you. But it's not a matter of overpowering your enemies because the gun can and will overheat, missiles take time to be reloaded, and plenty of enemy power armors will greet you on your mech-aided stroll down the road. It's still a lot of fun, though, especially the way you can utterly destroy poor pedestrian soldiers running across the ground. Project Origin is noticeably more bloody, especially when you cut through an enemy with the mech suit gun. They'll burst into a fountain of red with torso and limbs going every which way.

Project Origin has us genuinely excited to see more, especially the way they're planning to continue the creepy storyline. We can already tell the action is going to be great, we just need to find out if the horror aspects will maintain the same sense of tension as the original. No release has been scheduled, but you can expect to see Project Origin arrive on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

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