It’s been 17 years since the last Fear Effect game came out, and thinking back, the one thing that always tends to come to mind about the series is the questionable marketing that surrounded the second game. Fear Effect was always touted as a more adult take on the Resident Evil formula, but the way in which Eidos – the publisher at the time – played up the romantic relationship between the two female protagonists, Hana and Rain, always felt sleazy, especially since the game – and any adverts for it – made sure there was plenty of digital cleavage on display.
With the arrival of Fear Effect Sedna – via a Kickstarter by French developer Sushee – it’s the perfect opportunity to overwrite these memories, as well as introduce Fear Effect’s signature mix of the supernatural and the cyberpunk to a new audience. The problem is that the game they want to do it with is not very good at all – but probably not in the ways you’d expect.
Set four years after the first Fear Effect, the story sees mercenaries Hana and Rain hired to steal an artefact in Paris. As tends to happen in these situations, things go awry when a third party beats them to the punch, so they head to Greenland along with associates Deke and Glas in order to chase down those responsible.
Spiced up with plenty of Inuit mythology, the overarching story is interesting enough and checks many of the boxes you expect for a Fear Effect game in terms of blending the futuristic with old-world legends. It even manages to dial back the titillating excesses of the previous entries, by not fetishising the relationship between Hana and Rain anywhere near as much, which is definitely an improvement.
Even though the overarching story and script are both fine, the voice acting ends up letting it down, and it’s ironic that a series closely associated with the original PlayStation should have voiceover reminiscent of that era in its most modern iteration. Pretty much every performance feels stilted or forced to some degree, but special mention needs to be made of the actor voicing Deke – the Aussie member of the gang. His line delivery’s so bad it’s in a league of its own, and you’ll lose track of what’s being said whenever he’s speaking as you sit in shock at just how awful it is.
While the story, characters, and presentation are very reminiscent of the PlayStation originals – with cel-shaded visuals, a fixed camera perspective, and naff voice acting – the gameplay itself is completely different, dumping the survival horror of the previous titles in favour of isometric real-time strategy.
Mixing together combat, stealth, and puzzles, you’ll be controlling up to four characters at a time, and switching between them on the fly as you guide them through each of the games areas. Pressing the touch pad at any time will also pause the action, allowing you to queue up three actions for each character, whether it’s moving, shooting, or using one of their unique abilities.
It all sounds fine on paper, but in reality it’s an absolute chore. Right from the start you’ll find the system quite limited in the options it gives you, and as you end up with more characters in your party it feels even more ineffective – especially during any of the harder later game boss fights. You’d be more inclined to engage with the strategic side of things if you felt like you were really gaining anything from in, but frequently you’re worse off from having tried to do things tactically. Stealthily thinning out the opposition does help as it lets you dish out one hit kills undetected, but once alerted, enemies will consistently make a bee line for you while shooting with pinpoint accuracy, making your manoeuvres feel a little pointless. Eventually, you’ll get sick of trying to use the limited tools at your disposal and just let things play out in real-time.
To this end, running your group around en masse, and only pausing the action so you can spam character abilities whenever they’re off cooldown, consistently turns out to be the best tactic. You’ll even start to have the sneaking suspicion that the developer knew this would happen since it placed an overabundance of med-kits in each area to help you weather the inevitable battles of attrition. Even the obligatory Fear Effect mechanic – that increases the damage you deal and receive based on how scared a character is – doesn’t feel like it has much impact on the action, and after the first hour you’ll forget it even exists.
As if this wasn’t enough, there are so many other annoyances that you could spend all day listing them, whether it's the annoying boss battles, the puny sound effects and reaction animations that make it feel like everyone’s engaged in a finger gun fight, or those moments when your character targets an enemy behind a wall – rather than the one shooting you – just because they happen to be closer. At every turn there’s something robbing you of even the remote possibility of having a good time.
Even with the terrible combat accounting for the largest proportion of what you’ll be doing, the puzzle sections also make up a fair chunk of the experience, and these at least fare a bit better. In fact, they’re probably the single most enjoyable part of Fear Effect Sedna, serving up a nice variety of challenges for you work through. Whether it’s defusing a bomb, evading security cameras, or getting Glas out of some seriously nasty handcuffs, there’s very little recycling of elements between them, with each offering a new challenge to overcome.
Even when it gets something right, though, Fear Effect Sedna can’t help but try and make it an ordeal. Why on Earth the design team had to make most puzzles have a fail state – that triggers a game over screen if you make one wrong move – is anyone’s guess. It even forces you to watch a (thankfully skippable) cut-scene each time you reload, which is infuriating.
Fear Effect Sedna represented an opportunity to bring a well-remembered series – albeit not always for the right reasons – back to life. As is the case with many games arriving via Kickstarter, though, the ambition of the project fails to translate into the final product. While in theory it ticks all the boxes you’d expect for a story-driven real-time strategy game, the woeful voice acting, rubbish combat encounters, and a cavalcade of other frustrations make this more of a real-time tragedy.