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Fear Effect
Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Kronos
Media: CD/3
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Adventure/ Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
There’s no way to play Fear Effect without noticing that it doesn’t look like any other game out there. Background scenery has the exquisite, pre-rendered detail you’d expect from a Square RPG, but the characters look like they were transported out of Japanese manga or anime, while the gameplay is pure Capcom survival-horror.

Every second of music in Fear Effect is moody, matching the visuals and gameplay perfectly. Sounds and graphics come streaming off the disc, which eliminates loading; the downside of this technique is a herky-jerky effect created by looping of a particular animation or sound sequence. Small gripe, especially when the blend of cut-scenes and gameplay is truly seamless. Creativity in planning shows through at every step, and the camera moves like a seasoned director, drawing you in and heightening the atmosphere. Plus, Hana’s butt has this hypnotic wiggle when she walks... But, I digress!

Fear Effect comes as close as any game can to perfection. Its gameplay consistently crosses genre lines, and even though extreme difficulty will knock the demographic down some, there’s no question Eidos’ latest ushers in the best example yet of interactive cinema. Fear Effect is often more like watching a well-made movie than playing a game, and for anyone who’s had their head in the sand the last six months, it’s a supernatural thriller with a dose of mystery. A sexpot named Hana and her mercenary band begins the story tracking down a robber-baron’s daughter, but ends up... well, in Hell. I did say supernatural, right?

Even though Fear Effect plays much like the typical adventure game, with puzzle, combat, and ‘twitch’ components, its execution is unique. The puzzles range from simple to fiendishly clever, but most are of the memory or matching variety. Combat is intense, but isn’t always about fighting fire with fire. The reflexes required are at times Herculean, so RPG purists should probably look elsewhere. Great plotting makes all of this seem very natural, and at no time do you feel like you’ve been thrown into a mini-game. It’s not so much that no one’s ever done these things before, but just that they’ve never meshed so smoothly or stylishly.

Boss fights are some of the most creative, ever. A perfect example is the scene in which one of Hana’s partners busts in on a hooker during Disc 3, only to find her ‘date’ still in the room, under the bed, and armed to the teeth. So, this boss spends most of the fight trying to blast your kneecaps off, while the hooker jumps around the bed screaming. Nothing like this has been seen on PlayStation before, and even though some angry parents will be at the mall asking for their money back, I’m happy to see more grown-up fare on the market.

My God, it’s hard! There are two difficulty levels, and Fear Effect’s Hard is enough to make a grown man cry. So is Hana’s wardrobe, but that’s a different story... Luckily, Save Points are well placed, but much like Abe’s Oddworld, where ‘to learn’ translates as ‘to die,’ Fear Effect doesn’t give away progress easily. Each Disc takes about an hour to finish, but there’s at least another hour you’ll spend watching the Game Over screen load before you crawl bruised and broken to the next Save Point.

Game Mechanics:
Most controls in Fear Effect are simple to learn and master, but a few deserve special mention. The three characters you control during the game carry different weapons, and most can be paired, letting you break out a double can of whoop-ass. Tomb Raider consistently incorporates the two-gun idea, but Fear Effect goes one step further. When an enemy is on screen, you’ll see crosshairs come up that show you’re targeting the baddie. Two enemies, two guns, and suddenly you can target both and track them when they move. Because Fear Effect often throws waves of enemies at you, this double-gun skill really adds depth to battles. Also, taking a page from Metal Gear Solid, if you’re close enough to an enemy and undetected, the crosshairs turn red to indicate a quick kill. Ammo isn’t always plentiful, so it’s never a bad idea to reach out and stab someone.

They didn’t name it Fear Effect for nothing, ‘cause instead of a life-or-damage-meter, you’ll find the ‘fear’ meter. Like a damage meter, when your fear is maxed out, you’re dead. Unlike a life meter, decisions you make can directly affect your fear, or prevent fear in the first place. The upside to this is that a careful player will stay in control and keep the fear low, but those accustomed to looking for med-packs or recharge points will be disappointed. It takes a while to get used to, and there are times when it’s impossible to clear a level if the fear meter is too high.

There’s no way to be critical of anything but minutiae when talking about Eidos’ Fear Effect. It’s a game that will go down as a classic, and more than anything I’ve seen in console or PC gaming, gives a glimpse of what mating good video games and movies might look like.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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