Review: Fear Effect (Sony PlayStation)

Feat-Effect-PS1-ReviewBy the end of the 90’s FMV (full motion video) had become stale. Dodgy acting and even dodgier costumes and backdrops were shown the door. In its place became a new wave of ‘cool’ and experimentation in graphical styles in order to tell a story. One such case was Kronos Digital Entertainment’s Fear Effect. The hype for this game was immense. Everything at the time had to be slick and veneered in the way of The Matrix – and Eidos’ new cash cow was no exception.

Fear Effect follows the story of three mercenaries (Hana, Glas and Deke) as they attempt to kidnap the daughter of a powerful triad leader. As a 15 year old kid, the game was sold to me on its emphasis of looking like Blade Runner. I had been playing Blade Runner on the PC around the same time so it was a natural progression to move on to the next big thing. The dark, moody cyberpunk visuals looked absolutely sumptuous and I could not hand my cash over quick enough. Luckily – even today, the graphics still hold up pretty well. The backdrops start off nothing short of beautiful. The characters are big and chunky and have a cel shaded coolness about them which was popular at the time. The scene is set, the music is pumping and the controls are absolutely broken. Ah. Did I mention the difficulty yet?

The game is merciless. Couple the trial and error gameplay (see Fade To Black) with controls that would make Resident Evil chuckle and you immediately have issues. Everything becomes so frustrating at times and the game is on 4 discs! When I bought the game I never cleared the first one. Now that I am older, wiser, fatter than ever before I managed to complete it. If you take out all the insta-deaths that the game forces upon you, making you reload every few minutes you can complete the game in less than 3 hours. “But isn’t it on 4 discs?” I hear you cry. It is, but they are only CD’s and the games new ‘Motion FX Technology’ is very heavy on the graphics. All the backgrounds are recorded graphical FMV on loops so the necessary space needed is far bigger than a standard game.

Each disc is a different chapter in the story. I was really enjoying the dark rooftops, sneaking up on goons and being chased by helicopter fire – the mood and tone of an action spectacular is all there… Then disc 2 happens and all of a sudden you are in a boring remote village shooting zombies!? How did Blade Runner turn into a visit to the Yorkshire Dales? Disc 3 is a brothel (it ties in with the story honest and is in no way an excuse to have the buxom Hana parade around in a bikini) and disc 4 you take the fight to the devil incarnate himself in Hell. Didn’t see that coming did you?

Back to the controls in Fear Effect – one button cycles left (guns) and another right (items) in the inventory. Sounds simple and easy. Try pulling out a gun when you are being attacked on all sides and your weapons and items are all in the same place. Over shoot the button and it will probably spell your doom. I can see what they were trying to do with it – no item menus keeps the game flowing, but it needs to be intuitive. Accidentally stumbling onto a new screen having the wrong weapon selected will also mean death which happens quite frequently. At least the death sequences are enjoyable and quite graphic so you have something to watch each time you rage. The items can be a nightmare to use – their hit boxes when trying to interact with something have to be super precise – using a key to open a door etc. Some of the boss fights involve using items too so if you haven’t already panic-scrolled the inventory, chances are you will miss the spot you need to stand on! That is if the game registers you pressing the button in the first place! Very clunky, poorly done - like Arsenal winning the FA Cup.

Fear-Effect-Screenshots

The Sound is a mixed bag. On one hand the weapons sound meaty, the ambience is generally fantastic and the oriental music score is at times a joy. The acting however is occasionally ludicrous. Sometimes too quiet, much of the time badly acted – there is something for everyone to get annoyed at. One of the characters, Deke, has the worst ever British or Australian accent I have ever heard. Subtitles are essential, but the game doesn’t save when you turn them on forcing you to go into the options on every play through.

The gunplay feels satisfying when the auto aim wants to work and enemy character designs are decent if a little lacking in numbers. The puzzles however are so obtuse they are borderline ridiculous. I don’t mind a bit of grey matter prodding but when you solve a puzzle in Fear Effect you never feel satisfaction for it, just glad that you can play on. Puzzles should be rewarding not a hindrance.

By the time I hit disc 4, I figured out a complete game breaker. You can make your character roll to dodge attacks – sadly I found that if you hold this button to effectively roll across a screen you are invincible! Whether it is a triad gang member with a shotgun or an evil spirit with knives for hands rushing in for the kill, stay curled up into a ball and you will be fine. This doesn’t work on the bosses thankfully but I also managed to break the final one – just stand to the side. That’s it. Cue rubbish ending… Depending on which character you pick before the end boss, you get a different foe to fight which is a great touch but both endings are guff. A shame considering the whole game has slick presentation.

Overall, Fear effect flatters to deceive in its first instance and then plods along at a tepid pace. I was sucked in with the promise of a Blade Runner all those years ago. I went back into it hoping for awesome and it was quite underwhelming. There are brilliant touches at times, but its poor controls and nonsensical story have left a bad taste in my mouth. My disappointment is on par with the game Broken Sword – a fantastic realised world let down by its ridiculous last quarter. There is a sequel called Retro Helix but for me I think I have seen enough. I happily recommend Fear Effect as its execution as a piece of art is staggering. It was a benchmark in technical achievement but it seems Kronos forgot to add a game too.

Fear Effect Gameplay

Link: Find Fear Effect on eBay


Last Updated ( 01 June 2014 )  

James 'ewjim' Evans

Jim is a self confessed know it all when it comes to 16-bit gaming. With a strange fondness of playing rubbish videogames for the fun of it, there is no stoop too low he won't go to for entertainment.

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Comments 

+1 (Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-06-02 16:52
another great review mate. i liked how you spoke about memories and hype when it was first released but the kept the bulk of the review current from replaying it. very good style. this is a game i do really want after never getting it as a kid as the store clerk told my dad it would probably be to hard for me (assuming he was saying that due to the controls) i accepted it at the time but really it made me want it more, as i got older and re read review i can see its not a great game, still a must have for psx collectors just due to it being probably the most stylized game on the system.
(Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-06-02 17:16
Thanks for the comment! It isn't a BAD game, its just massively awkward to play. Fairly enjoyed the experience of finally going back to it though - I'd still recommend it as it will only set you back a fiver - £5 for most games is a great deal.
+1 (Link to this comment) Darkstalker90 2014-06-03 17:44
This game is one hell of a technical vision for the PS1 and the cinematic nature of pretty much everything is very impressive and handled a lot better than some games on more modern systems. However the controls are pretty much horrible, difficulty sometimes absurd, insta-deaths extremely frustrating and so on. Sometimes it was only possible to make it through a section after dying 20-30 times and learning how to kill each individual enemy, avoid the traps and have the right weapon/item already pre-selected. Even then, the controls could get in the way big-time.

I'm pretty sure I used a guide for a lot of the more obscure puzzles and by disc 4 I was using cheat codes for ammo etc. No way I would have had the patience to deal with the final boss without the codes.

The most frustrating thing is that this should have been an amazing game and in many respects, it IS but you can't recall them without also remembering the unfairness of it all! Great review :)
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