Fear Effect


   In today's crowded game market, a title needs an edge to be noticed. For Fear Effect, that edge comes in the form of an attractive (and occasionally naked) female lead, a 4-CD, FMV-heavy presentation, and a well-defined, mature aesthetic throughout. But Fear Effect, in spite of its excellent style and clearly Asian-influenced design, was developed in America.

The full Hana

   This Eidos-published game is the latest product of developer Kronos Entertainment, responsible for "games" such as Dark Rift and Criticom. Needless to say, Fear Effect is leaps and bounds beyond their previous efforts. The title plays like Resident Evil, with character-relative control, lots of creatures to destroy, and devious puzzles that impede your players' progress. Players control three characters during the game: Hana Tsu-Vachel, the sexy half-Chinese, half-French femme fatale that Eidos' marketing department makes sure you notice; Royce Glas, a rough-and-tumble, ex-military American mercenary; and Jakob "Deke" Decourt, Australian demolition expert and all-around unhinged fellow. Like a good book or movie (but unlike any game), the title switches between the characters to build tension and suspense, keeping the player glued to the console.

Gorgeous backdrops

   Aesthetically, it's hard to fault Fear Effect. The game looks and sounds gorgeous. Backgrounds are short, looped FMV sequences that bring the environments to life in a way that static pre-rendered graphics don't. Astute gamers will notice the point at which the backgrounds loop, especially on the slightly choppy second disc. But the increased detail and immersiveness of the environments makes it completely forgiveable. The graphic design is a compelling, stylish, and mature combination of film noir, science fiction, and Japanese anime. There's a small bit of nudity, and a large bit of blood, but it's nothing most PlayStation owners haven't seen 400 times already in various Hollywood films. Ambient noise adds to the mood, while resounding weapon effects drive each shot home. Voiceovers are excellent for a console title; you'll be cringing at the hackneyed writing, not the delivery.

No, this is a gun.

   Things are slightly shakier on the gameplay front. Note to developers: the Resident Evil-style control scheme sucks. It sucked against slow-moving, braindead zombies, and it sucks even more against quick-moving, heavily armed opponents. More often than not, your character's death comes from simple movement and targetting awkwardness--not from challenging opponents. Fear Effect makes an admirable effort to extend the player's range of movement with a crouching "stealth" walk, a 4-way roll, and a 180-degree turn, but even these new moves do little to offset the inherent shortcomings of the control scheme. The game is certainly playable, but a more user-friendly control scheme for such an action-intensive title would have made things even better.

   The game's pacing is also questionable. Like adventure games such as Flashback and Heart of Darkness, progress in Fear Effect comes only through repeated deaths. Play a section and die unexpectedly; restart the section and deftly survive the second time around. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this type of gameplay, Fear Effect forces the player to restart from the last saved game after each death. This means loading--lots and lots of it. During some parts of the game, the player literally spends more time staring at the lengthy loading screen than playing to avoid obstacles. Moreover, the save points are often infrequently placed, forcing a player to navigate a lengthy gauntlet or to solve a time-consuming puzzle repeatedly before reaching a more difficult, death-causing section.

Hana's ikebana

   Yet even with all these gameplay issues, Fear Effect is still remarkably enjoyable. A combination of good level design, intriguing puzzles, a driving plot, and killer aesthetics makes the title into more than the sum of its parts. It would be remiss not to mention the drastic shift the game takes near the end of Disc 3. Up until this point, the game is mostly perfunctory; near the second half of Disc 3, the game makes a quantum leap forward in quality in all areas. The plot becomes ten times more engaging, the level design and graphics become vastly improved, the puzzles become more sensible and integrated, and the pacing becomes more reasonable and patient. Gamers who stick with the title will be richly rewarded in a way unforeseeable when they begin.

   Some gamers may be put off by Fear Effect's relatively short length. Like most PSX action/adventure games, the title can be leisurely completed in about 15-20 hours, and in fewer than 5 hours if you know what you're doing. But unlike Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, the title offers no incentives, extra modes, or other rewards for replaying. There are five separate endings, but all can be easily accessed from the final save point independently of your actions during the game. The gameplay experience is rewarding the first time through, but gamers looking for extensive replay value may want to rent before they buy.

   Viewed holistically, Fear Effect is a slightly flawed but undeniably enjoyable title. Kronos Entertainment has really turned themselves around with this game. Despite a few gameplay and technical flaws, Fear Effect is a title no open-minded adventure fan should miss.

Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
Fear Effect
Developer Kronos
Publisher Eidos
Genre Adventure
Medium CD-ROM (4)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  02.25.00
Fear Effect first impressions
120 screenshots / 2 movies
46 pieces of concept and production artwork / 2 wallpapers
Box art