by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
It’s 2018, and remakes/masters are everywhere. Boot up Steam (or Xbox Live/PSN) and you’ll see dozens of remakes and remasters of various quality being pumped out for reconsumption. They’re necessity and effect on the gaming medium in general are debatable (I’ve bought my fair share), but the element of revival that’s most excited me lately is the one of continuation. The semi-recent bloom of crowdsourcing giants like Kickstarter has opened the gates for developers to gauge fan interest in not only new potential indie IPs, but for new entries in old franchises as well. By giving companies an economic safety net before investing a more sizable chunk of dough, games that might not have garnered immediate publisher confidence can still see the light of day. Previously dormant since the PS1 days, Fear Effect Sedna sees the Fear Effect franchise revived by virtue of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
I don’t personally have any history with the Fear Effect franchise, though, so I can’t speak to how well it captures, respects, or builds upon the characters and mythos of the previous titles. What I can say is that I didn’t have any problem enjoying the story going in blind. Though there may be ties and nods to what has come before, everything is explained and developed well enough that I didn’t feel like I was missing some giant puzzle piece that would lend everything sense or gravitas.
Cool Stealth, Cold Firefights
Unlike many similarly-styled games (think the recent XCOM or Shadowrun games), you’ll find yourself engaging in combat in real-time by default. Reminiscent of a twin-stick shooter, characters run around, shoot, use special items or abilities, and roll. When things get hectic though, and they do frequently, time can be stopped to issue orders and commands to your squadmates to more tactically position and execute a plan. These systems are actually pretty fun during the more stealth-oriented sections of the game, which work better in real time. Avoiding vision cones and selectively eliminating threats is a good time, and, thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Things fall apart a bit in the more shooty-shooty parts of the game. With how quickly enemies move, and their penchant for swarming, positional tactics seemed to be difficult to consistently use. The friendly AI is also fairly poor, meaning you have to constantly manage each squadmate- which I suppose could be a pro or con depending on how much you like micromanagement.
One of the game’s unique combat features is the titular “fear” gauge, which strengthens and weakens your character as they gain fear- which comes from things like being outnumbered, injured, etc. A double edged sword, fear increases how lethal you are, but also increases how much damage you take. It's not game-changing, but it does add in an element of strategy encouraging you to decide when to use your fear and when to lower it with a healing item.
Puzzles are also a big part of the Fear Effect Sedna experience. I’ll be upfront and say that I’m normally not a huge puzzle guy in games- especially narratively driven ones like this in which puzzles can really kill the flow and immersion of the experience. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with the puzzles here. They’re difficult in the sense that there’s little or no hand holding with how to solve them, but most do a good job being logical enough that solutions come with the right amount of thinking and a little trial and error. My only complaint, and it’s not a big one, is that with character movement being on the slow end, backtracking to look for clues or find required items takes a bit longer than it should. A sprint button or increased movement speed outside of combat would have taken away this annoyance, but it’s a minor gripe.
Since combat is a bit hit or miss, the game depends a lot on its style and story, and thankfully these are two areas I enjoyed quite a bit overall. The game looks good. Using a cell-shaded animation style, the environments and cutscene backdrops look particularly good, full of detail and popping with a dirty sci-fi neon glow. This is boosted by a nice score that really loves the game quite a nice techo-noire/occult vibe.
The voice actors don’t quite work out as well, though, and largely sound like your high school English teacher trying to do the voices in a read-aloud session: filled with overly enunciated emotion and an utter disregard for realistic speech patterns and flow. Regular conversations sounds oddly paced, and any attempts at anger or intensity remind me more of my post-Taco Bell woes than anything else. Their script is good enough, if not occasionally cliche, but would certainly come across as better with more capable voicing.
The game generally controls well enough with either a keyboard and mouse, or gamepad, though I found the latter to feel better during live fights while the former was smoother for pause-and-command gameplay. What weren’t so great were moments when the game was teaching me new controls with my gamepad. Most were fine, but a handful replaced what should have been the input with a big white box, appearing to be a glitched icon or error of some sort. It’s not a game breaker, but it did cause me to fiddle around with the controller for a bit whenever one of these new actions were explained, which was frustrating.
I may be disappointed with how the larger-scale fights and voice acting turned out in Fear Effect Sedna, but it’s pros- namely it’s stealth gameplay, puzzles, and visual design- were strong enough that I still ended my time with the game having enjoyed myself. It’s a game that thrives in it’s smaller moments, which remain memorable through the bigger ones. The Fear Effect setting is one I found engaging, and I hope we're able to see more of it in the future.
Entertaining stealth gameplay, fun puzzles, nice visuals and music.
Poor voice acting, disappointing firefights, strange gamepad control prompts.