Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: March 29, 2001
While the etiological whitewash of political correctness has done its best to remove any religious overtones to the English language, certain terms can’t be completely separated from their roots. Take, for example, the difference between an epidemic and a plague: the former is a sterile term to describe a widespread medical or social problem, while the Oxford dictionary still partly defines the latter as “a great affliction.” Implicit in this definition is the sense of a higher power causing this affliction, and thus it is with some confidence that this reviewer introduces the main plot device of Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix as a plague upon humanity.
Set in the year 2050, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix draws inspiration from the recently popularized Human Genome Project, which is in the process of mapping our genetic code. According to the game’s back-story, 97 percent of the code was successfully mapped, with the remaining portion deemed inscrutable and dubbed the Retro Helix. Having established this internal cartography, the science of our near future begins to relentlessly modify and improve upon the basic building blocks of our DNA. After years of seemingly benign improvements the proverbial “other shoe” finally drops with the first diagnosed cased of EINDS. Rather than attacking the organs, tissues or even the immune system, EINDS’ frightening agenda targets the systems that synthesize DNA and RNA particles, ultimately preventing the sufferer’s cells from successfully replicating. In all cases the end result is death, but the more terrifying implication of this disease is that its sufferers may have already been victims of genetic stagnation: a cessation of the natural processes of evolution.
Onto this dark stage steps Hana Tzu-Vachel, the protagonist from the first Fear Effect. As deadly as she is beautiful, Hana is an assassin, spy and freelance operative all in one. Raised by the Triads, this willful heroine’s main goal in life is purchasing her way clear of the life debt she owes the Chinese gangs, and as such the offer of an extremely lucrative operation from her fixer Jin is too good to refuse. Unbeknownst to her, two others have been asked to do essentially the same job by a mysterious contractor. While newcomers to the series won’t recognize Royce Glas or Jakob “Deke” Decourt, they starred alongside Hana in the first Fear Effect. Joining our cast is the enigmatic Rain who follows in the rich tradition of Cloud and Squall by sharing a name with a meteorological phenomenon and having a dark and inscrutable past. Found collapsed in a temple, Rain was nursed back to health under Hana’s care and the two soon became friends and lovers. Rain’s incredible technical skills and quick mind make her a valuable asset on the field as well, so she often joins in when her skills would prove useful.
Over the course of Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, players will control all four of these characters, as they are quickly drawn together by the realization that the information retrieved on their initial forays could lead to either the salvation or destruction of the Human race. Regardless of the hero in use at the time, the controls are drawn directly from the template established by the Resident Evil series. For those unfamiliar with the archetypical examples of survival horror, this translates directly to 3D characters moving on pre-rendered backgrounds while legions of enemies try to stop their progress.
Fortunately, Hana and company believe in the Boy Scout’s motto and thus they’re more than prepared for any opposition. A single pistol fills the role of the basic weapon, but savvy shooters will take advantage of their character’s ambidexterity and double up any weapons they can. With two small arms in hand, the characters not only deal out more damage, they may also target two enemies at once and split their fire. Other weapons with this ability include a pair of Uzis and, in Deke’s case, a pair of sawed-off shotgun pistols that deal incredible amounts of damage. Heavy fire situations may require more intense weaponry, however, and while splitting fire across two guns is useful, it’s hard to argue with the stopping power of a combat shotgun. Similarly, it’s nigh impossible to argue with the heavier munitions such as the Flame Thrower, Grenade Launcher, Assault Rifle and Missile Launcher. Some occasions require subtlety, though, and each character comes equipped with their own distinct melee style: Hana uses a boot blade, for Rain a small knife is the weapon of choice, while Glas uses a Blackjack and Deke simply slides on a pair of brass knuckles.