Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Game Challenge – Fear Effect 2

Chronological Game Challenge – Fear Effect 2

October 25, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello! Sorry it’s been a little while since the last review, but I had some major computer issues that led to me buying and subsequently setting up a new system. But it inadvertently put a break between two years, as the last post was the final game of 2000, meaning today we finally start on 2001!

And we’re back on the PS1 for a moment. Oh.

Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix
Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Developer: Kronos Digital | Year: 2001
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (PSN release)

Goal: Discover the history of the Fear Effect crew and complete the mission

Actual Outcome: Well that certainly was an ending, I guess???

The first Fear Effect was an interesting experiment of a game that tried to blend high-quality FMVs with gameplay in a new spin on the survival horror genre, in ways that didn’t always work effectively. Retro Helix, a prequel released a year later, largely sticks with that formula but tries to improve on it, with mixed results.

First off, Retro Helix has stuck fairly religiously to the “cinematic experience” tone of the first game by using a mixture of pre-rendered environments and FMVs to develop its world, but it’s also managed to avoid the same pitfalls of trial-and-error memorisation its predecessor had by putting more emphasis on the pre-rendered backdrops instead, making the game feel closer to the likes of Resident Evil than before. Not to say there are no moments that rely on FMVs, that is. There are a few chase sequences that make use of them, but no boss fights that require you to memorise the gunfire patterns, which is a blessing.

The trial-and-error gameplay has also been toned down a little too, although it is still present. A sequence with Glas features a series of awkward stealth sections and gunfights that are far too easy to fail because those mechanics haven’t been properly fixed. But this an exception to the rule, as there are more areas focused on exploration and puzzle-solving that work much better with the game engine.

Combat has been modified a little, although not enough. It feels easier to switch weapons than before, as the left selection button seems to default to the weapon section of the inventory, but the actual gunplay still feels clunky and the rolling mechanic still results in you facing a wall far too often.

There’s also a weird quirk where disc changes have stopped making sense. While the first game took place across four chapters, each occupying a disc, Retro Helix bounces around all the discs. You’ll start on disc 1, be prompted for disc 2, then back to 1, then onto 4, then 2, then 3, all with no rhyme or reason. The disc changes also happen a lot more often, interrupting the flow of the game a lot more than the first game’s disc changes ever did. It’s an annoying distraction that serves to highlight how much hardware limitations hindered the developers’ vision for the game.

And yet, despite all of this, Retro Helix feels like a much more polished game. The character models blend more smoothly with the pre-rendered elements this time around, and the overall experience, apart from the above issues, feels less maddening than the original game. Save points also feel a little more abundant, often appearing every couple of screens, so experimentation is easier, as failures result in less repetition.

The storyline this time is…odd. While the first was a fairly straightforward cyberpunk crime thriller that veered into horror in a way that felt natural, this game doubles down on the mythology and supernatural elements, resulting in an exploration of a haunted city and ultimately a mythical Chinese temple where everything is discussed in vague, hushed terms. I’m not sure if I fully understood what happened, but I admire its ambition to do something different.

What feels less clever is the almost constant not-so-sub-text of the leads Hana and Rain being in a relationship. Far too often the game enjoys being titillating with both of them getting naked or scantily-clad alarmingly frequently or expecting the audience to have the same “tee hee lesbians” reaction it has. A joke about a guy at a bar being an ass for staring at Hana’s chest doesn’t feel too effective when the camera lingers there too for the audience’s enjoyment. It’s an element that hugely dates the story, as it’s an artifact of the time when gamers were being thought of as horny teenage boys and little else, and come on guys, we’re better than that.

Retro Helix is generally more of the same Fear Effect, with some polishing. But that polishing has turned a maddening, heavily-flawed experience into something more confident and enjoyable, albeit one that still isn’t quite achieving its lofty ambitions.

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  1. Michelle
    December 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Loving you blog a LOT, hope you keep at it, you’ve a great writing style and it’s a joy to read, even about games I’ve no interest in playing, it’s nice to hear your take on them, very interesting, thank you for the efforts you put in.

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