In an industry that can't seem to distinguish the fine line between mature and immature, the sexist T & A ad campaign for Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix was very troublesome to me. By alienating women and targeting the more sexually depraved and adolescent minded part of the male population, Fear Effect 2 signals a dangerous trend that may eventually condemn videogames to the same narrow ghetto culture that plagues comic books.
In his review of Fear Effect 2, Brad appropriately cites Quentin Tarentino because this is a director who often deals with the same kind shocking and adolescent-appealing style of sex and violence. The only difference is that he does so with such knowledgeable craft and artistry that even high-minded critics couldnt ignore his contributions to the art of filmmaking. Story-driven and so-called "mature" videogames desperately need a groundbreaking work of such caliber to reach out to broader audiences and to achieve higher art.
The surprising thing about Fear Effect 2 is that the actual game isn't the cultural apocalyptic horseman that the ad campaign makes it out to be. As much as I wanted to punish this title right from the on set for the print ads and overused "dark" cliches in the introduction movie (spare me anymore scenes with femme fatales killing their targets after sex, suicidal loose cannons playing Russian roulette, and hookers with money thrown at them), I couldn't do so after prolonged play. Fear Effect 2 is, without a doubt, a title of intense style and quality substance. I don't think Fear Effect 2 is the title that will breakdown the walls of perception and revolutionize the way games are viewed upon by the mainstream public, but I'll be damned if it doesn't come oh so close.
With quite possibly the greatest voice-acting to ever grace a videogame, a surprisingly well conceived narrative, stunning art direction, witty script, and bits of risqué content, Fear Effect 2 is game that pushes all the right buttons and hardly takes a misstep. I was really taken aback by the visuals in particular. Its refreshing to see something that just doesn't aspire to be Blade Runner, but actually surpasses it. The combination of cel-shaded models with strong anime influences and lively scenery from the CG-rendered full-motion video backgrounds just blew me away and had me believing and admiring this whole other world that was put forth before me. I was never bothered by the graininess in the picture, either. In fact, the graininess to me added more character to the presentation and made the game seem all that much more unique. Frankly, I'm surprised other titles have not tried to incorporate such an effective technology.
In terms of gameplay, Fear Effect 2 does seem to take a few steps back from the innovative content and visuals. Dealing with the same kinds of problems that the similar survival-horror genre has brandished for years, Fear Effect 2 at times manages to transcend some those limitations, while at other times it seems just as backward. For example, the controls I felt were much more interesting than that of the Resident Evil titles. I appreciated the "fear effect" meter, seamless item/weapon selection and the crouching /rolling evasive maneuvers. For puzzle and mission design, there's an undercover mission involving Hana and Rain collaborating to infiltrate a formal party that was simply brilliant, while another mission requiring Rain to confusingly backtrack to the exact same location where she was just forced to leave was just tired. And just as Brad mentioned, some puzzles just seemed totally over my head and left me scratching my head in frustration for hours on end.
As I alluded to earlier, Fear Effect 2 isn't exactly the Pulp-Fiction of videogames. It needs to delve deeper into the topics of violence, sex, and homosexuality in order for it to be so. At the same time, it still comes very close, and it is certainly so much more than what the lowbrow ad campaign makes it out to be (which ironically does the game a huge disservice be alienating female gamers that could have found the strong, fleshed-out characters of Hana and Rain appealing). Despite my earlier desire to expose this title for another adolescent-minded piece of exploitation trash, it still ended up winning me over in spades. Fear Effect 2 is more than just a step in the right direction. It's exciting game-making that deserves recognition for creativity and courage. It's titillation as art.