What is it about?
Fear Effect is what happens when classic Resident Evil gameplay (by classic, I’m referring to the games before RE4) takes on a more grounded premise and characters. And by ‘grounded’, I of course mean the Chinese triad, demon hookers, a human sacrifice and the lord of hell. Oh, and there’s a fair bit of limb severing and dimension hopping too. It takes place in a near future version of China. You control a trio of mercenaries (not all at once, mind you; this is a PSOne era game) on their quest to find the daughter of a Hong Kong gangster and hold her ransom in exchange for cold, hard cash.
Why should I play it now?
For a number of reasons. In spite of a premise involving something as frivolous as demon prostitutes, the dialogue and story handle mature themes rather well. Also, there’s a fair amount of Eastern mythology thrown in, making for a different game than what we’re used to. From a technological standpoint, it was ahead of its time. Fear Effect was one of the first games to use cel-shading on 3D polygons, giving it a graphic novel look. In a risky design decision, the backgrounds aren’t your prerendered, static fare. Instead, you’re treated to full motion video backdrops that look vibrant and give the game an element of life, using shadows, smoke and lights to make you think that this truly is a living, breathing environment.
Finally, the gameplay. Or one aspect of it to be precise – the Fear Meter. It’s a life bar similar to an ECG reading that’s tied to your (in-game) mental state. Taking too long to solve a puzzle or getting shot at by enemies will increase your heart rate and the fear (effect) would kill you. Playing smart, stealthily getting rid of your foes and stocking up on ammo give you a nice boost of health. Needless to say, it rewards calm, thinking gameplay over running and gunning.
How does it hold up today?
In the looks department, it barely passes muster. Well, at least on the PS3, a 26-inch LCD does the 13 year-old graphics no favours. Pixelation would be an understatement. However, on the PSP and PS Vita, it looks pretty darn good thanks to the smaller screen size. By and large, it plays like the Resident Evil games of yore, closed-in camera included. There are tank-like controls where left and right arrows change direction and up and down arrows move your character forward and backward respectively. The gunplay is equally clunky, with a cross-hair that indicates how much damage your weapons do when you aim. The controls would test your patience more than the game’s looks.
Is it similar to anything else out there?
As I mentioned earlier, Resident Evil 1, 2 and 3 come close in terms of premise, characters and controls. Aside from that, other influences would probably include anime such as Ghost in the Shell, with the blend of Chinese folklore and near sci-fi trappings as well as a strong female lead. Two years later, a prequel entitled Fear Effect: Retro Helix was released. It added a fourth character and was just as fun, except less darker than its predecessor.
What do I need to play this?
In order of awesomeness – original PSOne, PS2, PSP, PS Vita or PS3. Extra points if you manage to play it on the first console on a CRT TV. Retro fantasies aside, the most efficient and painless method would be PSP, PS Vita or PS3.
‘When I played through…’
When I played Fear Effect for the first time, ‘horror’ titles were all the rage, especially what Capcom put out – Dino Crisis, Resident Evil. But Fear Effect stood out in more ways than one. Aside from the morally ambiguous protagonists and killer setting, the pacing was pretty much spot on and the puzzles weren’t too hard so as to require a walkthrough or too easy as to not pose a challenge.
Fast forward 13 years and it’s a less fonder visit thanks to the awkward save system, which requires you to hear your cellphone ring and then access your inventory to save; the lack of visual cues is a tad stressful. This aside, everything is still intact and awesome, so much so that it sucks that we’ll probably never have a sequel or re-imagining of the game, what with developer Kronos Digital shutting shop after the release of Retro Helix due to lack of funding.
Is there anything else I should be aware of (i.e. mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?
If you have any recollection of Fear Effect, it’s thanks to the prequel that came out two years later. Someone thought it was a good idea that the promotional campaign of Fear Effect: Retro Helix focused around the relationship between two of the female leads, with ads having them chilling out in their underwear (pictured below). Par for the course in 2012, but ten years ago, it created quite a stir. Nevertheless, Retro Helix sold well enough to warrant a sequel – Fear Effect: Inferno, which was in the works for the PS2 only to be culled when Eidos was facing financial troubles.
Where do I get it?
If you’re adventurous and have the requisite hardware, you could try your luck on Amazon UK, where a used copy would set you back by around Rs 750, assuming you manage to import it here. But as I earlier mentioned, the easiest way is via PSN. Fear Effect is available for a trifle Rs 140. Ditto for the sequel, ensuring you get more entertainment out of these two games than what you’d spend at the movies (made better by hot women involved with each other of course).