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Fear Effect

video game review video game review video game review video game review Video Game Review: Fear Effect Publisher: Eidos
Category: Adventure
Platform: PS1
ESRB Rating: Mature    Release Date: January 2000

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 4

Review by Tom Allen
3½ Stars out of 4

Having recently beat Fear Effect, I am able to say that the game's story is one of the year's most interesting. The game pulls some shocking stunts that Hollywood rarely has the balls to do.

The lead male character actually loses an arm in the latter half of the game. Keanu Reeves, Harrison Ford, and dear Ahnold will never have such fears.

Bear with me as I quote Eidos' long introduction to the game:

"When the daughter of a powerful Chinese businessman disappears into the hedonistic and dangerous Shan Xi Protectorate under mysterious circumstances, your team of mercenaries, Hana, Glas, and Deke, infiltrate the city and attempt to reach her first, hoping to leverage her safety for a sizable pile of cash.

"You will have to search, destroy, and fire-fight your way through the chaos of an alternate reality China and its inhabitants. Along the way, you will be constantly challenged by the henchmen of the girl's father who have no intention of letting you get to her first.

"Unfortunately, what begins as a mercenary snatch-and-grab to retrieve a young runaway instead becomes a mission more perilous and important than any you could have imagined.

"Taking control of your mercenaries, you must discover the truth behind the seemingly innocent girl, Wee Ming, who is hiding a secret so terrible that many will die before it is revealed.

"If you are to succeed, you'll need to find Wee Ming and stay alive long enough to collect your reward. That's the plan. Whether things work out that way is another matter entirely."

The man who hires you to recover Wee Ming before her father does is named Jin. He wants to find her so that he can collect a reward, which is really more of a ransom. He offers you a slice of the pie if you help him find the girl.

In the game's first disc, you, as femme fatale Hana, are to meet Jin on the top of the Lam building. When you arrive with your mercenary colleague, Glas, Jin is not outside as planned.

As you explore the Lam building, you find Jin strapped to a set of explosives. As soon as you disarm the bomb, enemies shoot at you through the window from outside. Jin's blood splatters onto your face.

This moment turns out to be more important than it seems. Be sure to put on your "Usual Suspect" glasses, and prepare to use your "sixth sense."

Fortunately, you get a chance to clean up (a nice cold shower) before tackling disc two. Here, you run around in a wet towel, sneaking past green hulks and soldiers as the mystery unfolds. At one point, a guard corners you, but a drop of the towel provides the perfect distraction for the guard to lower his defenses, at the cost of his life.

Not until disc three do you finally see Wee Ming. Unfortunately, the father finds her first and brings her back to the brothel he operates with Madam Chen, a pale-faced urban woman with a sense of mystery about her. The brothel is a very busy place, which masquerades as a restaurant on the first floor.

The game refrains from showing anything too "mature," but Glas happens upon a scantily-clad whore in one room. She is a little too jumpy when Glas bursts into the room; the man hiding under her bed may have something to with it. Within seconds you are smack in the middle of a gunfight, trying to hit the man without hitting the woman. If you accidentally kill the prostitute, it's game over.

Apparently, Wee Ming ran away from home because, after years of ignorance, she has finally discovered her father's secret (the brothel) and his true relationship with Madam Chen.

The encounter with Madam Chen opens a whole new can of worms; Chen is some sort of she- devil. Before you know it, the entire brothel is crawling with blue female hulks from floor to ceiling. This brothel must have employed hundreds of women. Only after Madam Chen's demonic transformation do these women become mutants.

Glas is captured by Wee Ming's father, who chops off an arm in one of the game's most shocking scenes. We think Glas is being killed off, but he is left for dead in a frozen meat locker. Hana eventually saves him.

Disc four sends our heroes to Chinese Hell after the true nature of the crisis is revealed. Wee Ming says she is a "golden child" of sorts. She has to confront the King of Hell to save mankind from a terrible prophecy.

The game's vision of hell is nothing short of extraordinary. Shadows from enormous, unseen flying creatures and seas of sickness create a dark yet strangely beautiful world.

When you find Madam Chen chained to a tree in dark, cavernous woods, you can't help but feel sorry for the sad fate bestowed upon this sinner. On the way to Chen, you noticed deep red lights from within a cave. Inside, a little girl (Chen's daughter) stands in the corner of her suburban-looking room. She cries in fear of the menacing toys and spinning shadows which populate a perfectly stenciled, decorated, and colorful child's room, surely a fearless place in the light of day.

Chen's punishment is to be helpless as her child is alone, frightened, and forever uncomforted. The girl is probably close enough for Chen to hear if she screams loud enough. One can only imagine what this kind of hell would be like.

In Hell, you also discover the fate of Glas' colleague, Deke, who is killed in the adventure. Seeing Deke's torment for being a killer on Earth heightens your own fear, as you have shed your share of blood as well.

In fact, the game is called Fear Effect because, as you become more fearful, you perform poorly. To stay alive, you have to remain confident and calm.

The ultimate fear is the King of Hell, who turns out to be Jin. Yes, you ARE seeing dead people! The final confrontation is more complex than most games would allow, because both Hana and Glas have different perspectives on Wee Ming's story.

In this interesting dilemma, you must decide what is the true reason for Wee Ming's need to return to Hell.

Jin says Wee Ming is his tool, not a savior as Wee Ming has represented. According to Jin, humans see their true selves when they look into Wee Ming's eyes. In that moment, they become what they see. That explains some of the mutants.

Jin cackles with glee as he points out Hana's failure to recognize that "others were transformed in Wee Ming's presence, yet [you] remain unchanged." Hana surmises that Jin's blood negated Wee Ming's powers, and Jin confirms that it is "the only antidote."

Who do you believe? Was Wee Ming telling the truth, or is Jin fabricating a brilliant story on the spot? Did Wee Ming run away to escape her father, or was she trying to return to Jin's Hell?

The game offers two endings. If you trust Wee Ming, Hana will shoot the King of Hell and Wee Ming will fulfill her destiny. If you don't believe Wee Ming, Glas will shoot her, and she will in fact turn into a demon.

No one point of view is represented as "the right view." If you save your game before the final confrontation, you can treat yourself to both polarizing endings.

Now that I have spoiled the entire game, which was released in February 2000, you probably agree that Fear Effect has quite a provocative story. The ideas of Hell parallel those set forward by Robin Williams' "What Dreams May Come."

The animation style of Fear Effect, as well as the mere choice to use animation, provides an opportunity to emphasize the fantasy elements of the story. As a reviewer, I am intrigued by the irony of the acceptance of mature animation in video games, while the same audience rejects more mature animation in theatrical films. As an example, Fox's "Titan A.E." was such a hugely serious and costly flop that a studio head left his helm within days of the lousy opening weekend.

Fear Effect has not received a fair amount of attention in the press or from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, which failed to nominate it for Art Direction, Story Development, or Animation earlier this year (2000).

Fear Effect is a tremendous achievement for the industry. While it may not be the best game of the year, or even one of the top five, it is one that should be recognized by the industry and the gaming public for the rarity that it is.

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