So I’ve been thinking lately. Surely the early console games that had 3D graphics had some decent games. You know, in spite of not holding up as well as PS3 and X-Box 360 games do (the console generation of 2005-2013), which is when I believe 3D gaming graphics finally reached a stable state (just as I believe 2D graphics weren’t stabilized until the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo generation). But even though I’m not a fan of 3D graphics pre-2005 (and I’m saying this as one who grew up with an N64), surely there were some solid 3D games back then that hold up just fine today? So I opted to take a look at a cult classic game franchise (by franchise, I mean it only had 2 releases and a cancelled 3rd release, discounting the 2018 Sedna release which most old-school fans despise). And to my surprise, the 3D effects hold up well-enough today, especially compared to 90% of other PSX titles.
Fear Effect 1
Rated: 3.5 / 5
I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I loaded up the first game. It has tank controls similar to Resident Evil 1-3. It has a dated but acceptable item select system (press a button to cycle through the item list one direction, press another button to go the other direction). On the other hand, for a game like this, I’m not sure how they could’ve done the item select better without resorting to a pause-then-select system. Thankfully, your inventory won’t ever get too big. And once you get familiar with how to get through items quickly (and memorize where they are at in your inventory), the system is functional. Not perfect, but functional.
You run around, selecting a weapon to utilize on enemies, whether it’s a pistol, AK-47, brass knuckles, etc., to use on enemies. Similar way you would do in Resident Evil, with tank controls and fixed camera angles and all. However, this game is very much more trial-and-error by comparison. Knowing what weapon you should have equipped at the time, what pattern you need to know to disarm a bomb, knowing how many enemies there are in a room and whether you should blast them or try to sneak by, how to take care of bosses. You will die often, until you figure out the best way to approach a situation. Granted, you will eventually pick up on the flow of the game and learn how you should generally approach common situations. But by and large, it’s trial and error. When you die, you go back to your previous save point. Thankfully, the save points are frequent enough to where the game won’t feel cheap. As in it expects enough of you to develop the skills to do what it takes to get through a section until you reach the next save point.
By the time I got halfway through the first level of the game, I had a pretty good grasp of the controls, which you will be forced to learn in order to get through it. Most important, learning how to utilize the roll/dodge maneuver, which is needed against the first boss. The controls can finicky, but once you get used to them, they play well enough.
By the time I got all the way through the first level of the game (disc 1 of 4), I figured out what this game felt like. It felt like I was playing through a movie. As in whenever I fucked up, it was because I wasn’t playing this hero/heroin to the best of their blockbuster potential. Once I played through a section (near) flawlessly, it felt like I was the blockbuster action hero. And unlike David Cage’s Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit), or Heavy Rain, or Beyond: Two Souls (and to another extent, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid franchise, despite my enjoyment of the 4 main games [don’t care about the 5th or the spinoffs, the 4th is where that should’ve ended]), the narrative and cutscenes didn’t overtake the gameplay. This is still a game first and foremost, where you have to (nearly) perfect how you go through the action scenes.
At it’s core, it’s a puzzle game. It may have controls and mechanics like Resident Evil, and you aren’t meant to go ballistic on everything, because you do need to be on the careful side with your ammunition (it’s not infinite). But it’s more of a puzzle game than it is a survival horror game, or a third person shooter (with fixed camera angles). It stands out, considerably, from most other Playstation One titles. Even if it does lose some of that movie-like feel in the later chapters (the first chapter is when the game is at its best in my opinion, but the whole thing is still quite solid).
And I’ll be damned if I didn’t have fun with it. Frustrating, but fun. So much fun, that I played it again after going through it once on Normal mode. There are two levels of difficulty, Normal and Hard. Do yourself a favor, just play on Hard mode the first time through. Very little changes. You just get less ammunition, further discouraging you from being trigger-happy. But the main reason to go through Hard mode is to gain access to the real ending. In normal mode, you can only choose between two different endings (though there is this awkward false ending if you fail to beat the final boss; comes off as the developers not having time to include something else in there between the moment of your death and whatever the hell came afterward). In hard mode, you can choose between 3 endings. Obviously you can only get the real ending if you play through on Hard (unless you want to be a cheapskate and just watch it on YouTube, which I actually didn’t do).
Compared to Normal mode, the only section where the difficulty of Hard mode can be felt is in the final otherworld (Chinese purgatory/hell?) section. You really need to be careful with your ammunition in that section.
Gameplay aside, I loved how uncompromising the three major characters are in this game. They are brutal assassins who primarily live doing dirty deeds (your main mission starts off as an attempt at kidnapping a girl and holding her for ransom for her father after all), and they don’t really make any qualms or apologies for doing it. Kind of refreshing to be playing as characters like these without getting talked down to heavily on how much of an asshole you are (unlike Spec Ops: The Line). Though the game does imply the fate that awaits characters like the ones you play in the afterlife at one point.
The plot itself, it’s ok. Did pick up on more things on a second playthrough to get a better grasp at what is going on. The story and pacing are good enough, but not something I would consider exceptional. It did get interesting in seeing the development of Hanna, seeing her backstory revealed as the game progresses.
The cherry on top is that this game pushed the limits as to what was allowed, even in a Mature rated game, back then. Plenty of violence, partial nudity (never going so far as to show actual tits or ass, but they got as close as they could; there’s even a point where Hana runs around wearing nothing but a towel), sex appeal, some foul language (never going overboard with it; I don’t remember them ever saying “fuck”). This game had a small share of controversy.
Definitely one of the best Playstation One titles ever made. A perfect blend of action, puzzle-solving (not all of it is based on who you shoot with what, but actual puzzles you need to solve from time to time, and finding items that you need to use in certain areas in order to progress), and story. None of those elements stand out on their own, but the concoction produced when blended together is quite memorable.
As for the second, seemingly more renown game in the franchise (and the last one this thing really got before the planned PS2 title got canned)…
Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix
Rated: 2 / 5
So first off, while the first game had some controversy about its mature content, this one had it even more-so. Because of the heavy lesbian angle between Hana and Rain. Plus this one moment where a bug creature is eating this girl out.
This acts as a prequel to the first game, which means you could technically play this first and not worry about any spoilers for it. The control scheme is exactly the same, the gameplay is the same, and the feel that you are playing a movie is there off and on (but arguably not as much as it was in the previous game). So by all accounts, it should be just as good, if not better, since they had time to fine-tune the whole thing between titles right? Well, in my personal and humble opinion, WRONG!
This game failed for me. It was more frustrating and off-beat than it was fun and engrossing. While the trial-and-error style of the first game had enough entertainment in it that I wanted to keep trying until I succeeded (it was part of the fun), the trial-and-error style of this game is far worse for one primary reason, and a second reason that isn’t as bad, but still annoying. For the latter point, the first game did force you to backtrack at times through certain levels, but it didn’t come across as anything too annoying. But in this game, the backtracking is far more annoying, because the obstacles you have to go through are also far more annoying. Even in just the first section, where you have to get through this crusher section. Now the first time, no big deal. Just a part of the whole puzzle/progression thing. But the fact that you had to do this not once, not twice, but at least 3 fucking times, it got goddamn annoying. Other levels have you backtrack also, and while they’re not as irritating as the backtracking in the first level, they are still very much an annoyance.
But the major failing of this game is the puzzles. I mean, Jesus Christ. While the first game had the puzzles gel perfectly with the overall flow of the game, here the puzzles grind the entire experience to a halt. They are at their worst near the game’s finale, and during the first act where you have to infiltrate and move up this tower. Thankfully, the middle section of the game has less of these, and had the fun nature of the previous Fear Effect that I was hoping to get. But still, goddamn, those two sections, which are not brief, really kill the enjoyment factor of this game. Not to mention the cocksucking motherfucking whore of a Simon challenge near the end. Yeah, you remember those games like Simon, where you had to repeat the 4 color patterns that were shown to you, whose number of colors/sounds increased each time, forcing you to remember more combinations as it goes? Well there’s a section of this game that is like that, except it’s 8 colors/sounds to pick from each time. I don’t know about you, but it is very very very VERY fucking rare that I’m mentally capable of pulling something like that off without cheating (oh yeah, I can cheat that motherfucking puzzle, I just write down the numerical sequence that I see as it happens on a paper, and then input the pattern at my own leisure; that’s the only way I could get past it).
I even started to get some memory recall from my youth with this game during that segment. While I never owned or really played the game in the past, a friend of mine did. He brought over his Playstation system and played the game at my house. And when he got to this Simon segment, he couldn’t get passed it, so he asked me to do it. And I did the exact same thing then that I did now, and it wasn’t until I started doing this cheating method that I started to get a sense of deja-vu. Then I was like, “Wait a minute… I REMEMBER NOW!” Then I started to shake and convulse from my shellshock and had to take a heroin shot, followed by downing opiod pills with some whiskey, and stay curled up in a ball under my sheets rocking back and forth, flinching at the booms in the distance, hoping the next one wouldn’t land too close and make me go all Saudi on a U.S. stateside base.
Anyway, believe me, that’s not the only annoying puzzle you’ll need to get past. What’s worse, there’s a point near the end of the game where you have to go through three consecutive puzzles, all of which require considerable time and dedication, before you can get to the next cocksucking save point. When I found that out, that was the moment where I said, “You know what, fuck it. Fuck this game, up it’s over-demanding ass, with a cactus.” That was the point where this game became the opposite of fun. And it just wasn’t worth the effort at that point. I struggled to find enough enjoyment up until that point to where it felt like it was worth the effort. Granted, maybe I shouldn’t have been playing on Hardcore, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on any potential ending choice. And even if I chose normal, that would slightly alleviate some of the difficulties, but leave most of them still intact.
So yeah, I didn’t play this game the whole way through. I watched a youtube video showing me how the rest of it went and ended. And you know what? I’m glad I fucking stopped, because the ending wasn’t something I consider satisfying. And for the love of Pete, the story gets very confusing and convoluted at times, which is something that, I have to admit, I didn’t expect out of anything that wasn’t an RPG during that time period. The point is I stopped caring about the story, and wasn’t all that interested in the plight of the characters. The gameplay stopped being fun when the puzzles dominated it. There are too many items in your inventory this time around, most of which are for specific puzzle solving moments that don’t occur for a while, and all they do is clog up the inventory making switching between items more of a hassle than ever before (the only reason it was perfectly tolerable in the first game was because there weren’t THAT many items in your inventory).
Everything about this game is inferior to the first! And yet somehow this is held in higher regard among Playstation players for some reason. Probably because there were too many horny teenagers who desperately wanted to get off on some semi-lesbian action or something. I can’t in good conscience currently give this less than a 2 / 5, because there may come a time where I decide I’m ready to try this game again, and maybe appreciate it more for what it is. But for now, I’m thinking I’m perfectly satisfied with just playing the first one again instead. Especially when the remake comes out.
Hell, I think I’d rather give Fear Effect: Sedna a shot before I try this one again.
Edit (12-11-2019): That all being said, there is this one moment in the second game I found amusing that makes a commentary on what a rich organization’s priorities are when they have all the money they could ever want. What do they do when financial gain is no longer the priority? Consider this moment where they find out the corporation that hired the main characters to steal a prototype cure for a deadly disease, actually had them steal the cure from their own organization, only to set up an ambush to kill them all after they did it.
“If that’s true, then why don’t they market their drug [that cures people of a new deadly disease]? They’d make fortunes”
“They have fortunes. And they’re not much into benefiting their fellow human beings either.”
“Why hire us to steal something they already own? And why the ambush?”
“To prevent someone else from having it. Dead men tell no tales.”