Hands-on Preview / F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin multiplayer (Xbox 360)

Unlike online monsters Halo 3 and the Call of Duty series, F.E.A.R. was an FPS more associated with the shocks and ‘splosions of its single-player campaign than its by-the-numbers multiplayer. But that hasn’t stopped Monolith hyping up F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin’s online action by promising new twists on the tried and tested multiplayer formula. Last week TVGB headed to London for an early look at what’s on offer.

F.E.A.R. 2 promises 4 different multiplayer modes in addition to the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, all taking place with up to 16 players. First up is Blitz; F.E.A.R 2’s Capture the Flag. On each map are two flags, one team is charged with defending them, whilst the other attacks. If the attacking team manages to get the flag back to base they rack up a point. At the end of the allotted time the sides switch and when both are done, the team with the most points wins. The difference here is that the flags are Phlags, fluorescent neon canisters that leave a glowing trail wherever you go with them. This is good news for the defending team as they’ll never have trouble tracking down the Phlag carrier, but makes life difficult for the attacking team. Communication and team work are needed for you to stand any chance of getting the Phlag back to base.

Next up is Armored Front, essentially a Conquest mode where two teams fight it out over control of five points across the map. The twist here is the presence of Elite Powered Armor (EPA). EPAs are the giant hulking mechs featured in the single-player campaign. These things can dish out some serious chaingun carnage, so being the first to jump in definitely has its advantages. But there is a downside too. Slow and lumbering, EPAs are powerful yet vulnerable. A couple of well placed rockets and you are in trouble. It’s an intriguing addition that mixes things up just enough to offer something new and seems balanced enough to do so fairly. Another mode, similar to this (but sadly EPA-less) is Control, where teams earn points the longer they keep one of 3 areas secure.

Failsafe, is a Sabotage-style game with teams required to plant a bomb at one of two nerve-gas sites. Once the bomb is planted, the other team has a short time to diffuse it. But should they fail, everything goes boom and it’s round over. Making things a little more difficult here is the lack of respawning. Die once and that’s your lot. Health is only partly regenerative and it’s deliberately and agonizingly slow to recharge. Again, teamwork, communication and a little thought are required to survive. Forward charging, twitch-reflexing nutjobs will not last long.

Ensuring you can always have the right firepower at your disposal are the custom loadouts. The weapons are all those you would expect, everything from pistols to shotguns, semi-automatics, assault rifles and sniper rifles. Aside from the hammerhead – a nifty little thing that shoots nails made of depleted uranium – it’s all pretty standard. You can carry two of these as well as a variety of explosives (shock, frag and incendiary grenades as well as proximity mines) and medkits. Also, you have the choice of Scout, Grunt and Tank class armor, which offer increasing amounts of protection, yet slow you down the heavier they get.

What makes the load-outs interesting is the degree of customization. Essentially, players are assigned points which they can allocate however they see fit. So, for example if a player is willing to forgo grenades and medkits, they will have more points to spend on weapons. Or perhaps when playing the respawn-less Failsafe mode players would prefer to allocate their points to heavier armor at the expense of firepower. It’s a fun little concept and one that will no doubt lead to plenty of head scratching and frustrating “if only I had one more point to spend!” moments. There is also an XP-based leveling-up system, with players able to ascend through the rankings. It’s the kind of thing that sends TVGB’s addiction glands into overdrive, so we’re glad our exposure to it was only limited.

There are six different maps available to play but most of our time was spent in what looked like a concrete bunker. It wasn’t the most inspiring of environments, all grayness and the odd explosive canister. However, what did stand out was the level design. This was a fun map, tight and claustrophobic with plenty of action choke points that often descended into all out carnage. We can confirm, TVBG fans, that you were represented pretty well in these moments. If there were an FPS league table of half-sozzled-on-free-booze journalists, TVGB would be staggering around near the top. Quite possibly hiccupping and telling a stranger that they’re our beshht friend.

Ultimately, our small taster of the game suggests that F.E.A.R. 2’s multiplayer isn’t about to offer any revolutions. Monolith knows that they can’t topple the online duopoly of Call of Duty and Halo, and it doesn’t look like they are attempting to. But the small sprinkling of fresh ideas we’ve seen so far are enough to suggest this is not just an afterthought add-on. Instead, F.E.A.R. 2‘s multiplayer promises to be a solid and potentially fun addition to what is undoubtedly the game’s main event, the single-player campaign.