Daring and brilliant, Kronos' Fear Effect is a near-perfect example of a pull-no-punches adult adventure game. From the great, enigmatic intro to the somewhat shocking endings, players will be captivated by the dark, yet dazzling sights and sounds contained on the games' four discs. While the gameplay has a some flaws and does fall back occasionally on a few old gaming cliches, there's more than enough originality here to hold you interest and keep you playing for hours on end. Imagine a cross between the first Gabriel Knight PC game, Konami's Snatcher, and a whole lot of Dragon's Lair, and you get the idea of how well the game operates. Anime style action, on your humble PSX.
Players control three different characters in the game as they travel about a futuristic Hong Kong in an attempt to track down a supposedly kidnapped daughter of a Hong Kong triad leader. But these aren't your garden variety good samaritans or supercops drafted to the cause- they're mercenaries, out to grab the girl and trade her for a $90 million payoff. But things go wrong the minute two of them set out to meet a contact, and it's up to you to take control and figure out why suddenly everyone is out to do you in, as well as the full mystery surrounding the girl. It's pretty strong stuff, and the game is definitely NOT for kids, even the ones who've played the Resident Evil series. I wonder what happens when I turn this thing?
While the actual gameplay resembles RE, the game camera will take over from time to time and pull off some stunning cinematic moves, showing off the fantastically detailed backgrounds and environments. Neon signs flash constantly, puddles of water reflect and ripple, and the sound design is amazing as well. For a lot of the game, you'll be stopping to check out the stuff happening around you- when you aren't fighting for you life, that is... Most, if not all of the encounters with puzzles and enemies in the game are one time only affairs, in that it's instant death for you if you slip up! Just like Dragon's Lair, but a whole lot more frustrating- I can see some so-called experts blowing their tops at the difficulty level, but hey, that's just how you become a better gamer- by using your head. The Justified Ancients of Mummu!
Because the game's controls are very much like RE, some of the same problems also show up, such as entering a room, only to run right into an enemy as the camera switches viewpoints, or the inability to jump over obstacles (that flame sequence early on is a true nightmare!), but fortunately, you're prompted to save the game, via a handy ringing cellphone- you'll want to use it when it does ring, trust me. As far as personality goes- Hana, Glas, and later, Deke come off as some of the more believable videogame characters out there, and you'll feel their pain (and fear) as you're playing. You might not like them too much with their sordid pasts and violent natures, but you'll definitely grow attached to one or two of them for a bit. You have learned to control your fear...
The Fear Meter is great device for a game of this type- there are NO handy medkits hidden in closets or popping from enemies, just a bar in one corner that represents your current state of hysteria. If it's green, it's all good, but under stress, it zooms up and if it goes red- one misstep will send you to the game over screen faster than you can blink! This keeps you moving very cautiously throughout the game, and makes the quicker action sequences even more frantic. And annoying, as well- the worst thing about FE are the instant deaths, because a great deal of the time it happens you don't have a chance to make a mistake and recover from it- you just step on that electrified grid, or move a bit too slowly for a split second, or stand up at the wrong time, and it's time to restart. The game only loads once per level and when you die, so it only becomes really frustrating if you keep missing a particular puzzle.
Fear Effect is long and challenging, but once you complete the game you'll probably not play it again, for a while at least. The game relies so much on it's cinematic style that it becomes really linear after a stretch, but this isn't a bad thing at all, as good movies have only one ending, but you're guessing your ass off until the end. In the end, Fear Effect is one of the best games for the Playstation this year, made even better as it's done on a six year old system. Hopefully, Kronos will push the PS2 as far or even farther with their next game as they did with this one.
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