Project Origin

Will Porter explains how one of the best shooters of recent years is clawing its way back into the limelight

Why is it that child stars always suffer so? It's the Macaulay Culkin effect: subject to an increasingly mediocre by-the-numbers career while bickering parents divorce and squabble over the cashflow.

Spare a thought then for Alma Wade, preteen star of Monolith moneyspinner F.E.A.R.: a victim of a tug of love between her creators and her publishers Vivendi - but also paraded through an array of ill-fitting console treatments and absurdly bland expansions.

Step-parent developed games that have not only besmirched her good name, but also made us heartily fed up with concrete walls and ceilings. I, myself, can't even go into multi-storey carparks any more without being physically and violently sick.

So why are we championing her return? For one thing, the Monolith brand of F.E.A.R.'s close-quarter gritty combat and AI has never really been bettered. For another thing, Monolith (who haven't been a part of the F.E.A.R. franchise since that climactic explosion took out Alma's cage and half of the city of Auburn) are remarkably candid about the original game's failings.

Yes, the story was engaging, and yes the soldier AI was great fun to fight against, but for how long could lift shafts and corridors stay immersive?

"It was a frustration on F.E.A.R., not being able to get outside!" agrees John Mulkey, the game's lead designer. "We had a pretty indoor game. We were a claustrophobic game by design, but at a certain point tension becomes numbing. So we've decided to mix it up and to have these more open spaces, and you feel a little colour from the sky before going back to tight, menacing environments."

Unlike so many prima donna developers, the 'Lith boys are responding to feedback from F.E.A.R. - meaning that there's a concerted effort to throw in more engaging and varied enemies outside of the endless soldiers, a mix of different locations, and a team you may even give a shit about.

"Plus, we really played out the whole 'creepy little girl walking across the hall in front of you' card" explains Mulkey, as our conversation drifts to everybody's favourite psychically created eight-year old personification and crazed psy-power mental patient. "We've put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into the ways in which we can give Alma teeth. It's going to be more direct, and an escalation: not something you say 'Creepy little girl is not so creepy anymore...' to."

In another break from F.E.A.R. you no longer play one of PC gaming's amnesiac protagonists, you're a member of the US Army's covert Delta Force and your name is Michael Becket. Now Delta Force were the whipping boys in F.E.A.R. - the ones who were waiting in the wings, but then started leaking blood all over the place whenever a spot of the old Alma ultra-violence was required.

"Yeah, he's a Delta operator," picks up Mulkey. "And at the beginning of the game it's actually 30 minutes before the end of F.E.A.R.. You're heading to the penthouse residence of Genevieve Aristide, because of all the things the F.E.A.R. team and the F.E.A.R. point man have been uncovering in the first game."

Obsessives may recall the voice of mysterious cigarette-smoking, femme-fatale Genevieve from the original game, she was the head of both the now-titular Origin project (mandate: lock up Alma - make her have babies) and the Perseus project (mandate: make her kid able to control an army of clone soldiers, and make him eat people while you're at it since that would be cool).

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