Fear Effect Sedna – The Switch Island Review
It’s not often that I sit down to write a review and am genuinely unenthused to even start, but then again, it’s not often that I play games to completion that make me sit back and think “what the hell happened there?”. This was, however, the unfortunate case with Fear Effect Sedna – a game so bafflingly bad that when the end credits began I could hardly believe what I’d just been through.
Before I get too far in, it’s worth noting that I never played either of the two Fear Effect games that came before this, so it’s entirely possible that I may be missing out on some inside knowledge that would negate some of my qualms. That being said, when it comes down to it I’m not going to ignore them outright and will gladly call a spade, a spade – or in this case call a bad game, a bad game.
The two previous games were released around the turn of the century, both for the original PlayStation, and so I don’t think anyone could be blamed for assuming that the series was rightly dead and buried. Apparently this wasn’t the case however, as a fairly successful Kickstarter campaign saw around 2,500 people donate over €100,000 for French developer Sushee to have a crack at a sequel. So say what you like, but there was clearly enough of a cult following to warrant demand for a third entry into the franchise – even if it did come nearly two decades (and several console generations) later.
Taking place four years after the events of the first game, Fear Effect Sedna jumps right into the action as we’re reintroduced to the pair of mercenaries, Hana and Rain. Old fans will no doubt welcome back the pair with open arms as they seem more or less the same characters as before – a faithful continuation indeed – but as a newcomer to the series I must admit that I was slightly worried I’d be out of the narrative loop. I’m glad to say however that familiarity with the previous story isn’t really needed; I’m less pleased to say that even if I was a die-hard fan I’m not sure it would have helped at all. The story in Fear Effect Sedna is all over the shop; it starts out fine with Hana and Rain being contracted by a mysterious figure to steal an artefact from a gallery in Paris – the pacing is decent and there’s a good mix of character development and narrative intrigue.
Anyone who played the demo would only get so far and the game might seem quite appealing. It doesn’t take long however before any semblance of a coherent story is thrown out the window. Characters are introduced and forgotten in what must be record pace, the protagonists move from location to location with little rhyme or reason, and the tone changes from grounded to supernatural as if it was any other Sunday.
The more I played the more I kept thinking “it’ll all be a dream” and “they’ll explain it soon”. It wasn’t so much that it didn’t make sense, but more that the characters responses and decisions are so out of left field it’s almost impossible to take them seriously.
This was perhaps most noticeable in one cut-scene where, after having just been reunited, the characters decide that splitting up was a bad idea and they should probably stick together. Well that sentiment lasts all of 30 seconds, as in the very next scene they decide to split up again. Such is the logic of Fear Effect Sedna.
Gameplay wise it isn’t such a travesty. From an isometric perspective you control up to four characters, each with their own unique weapons and abilities, in somewhat real-time strategy. You can move the characters one at a time or as a group through levels that offer a healthy mix of combat, stealth and puzzle solving, and at any time you can pause the game to switch between characters to issue individual orders that are then acted out simultaneously once time is resumed.
This is a game mechanic that I’m particularly fond of, though every time I used it I couldn’t help but think of other games that utilised it to much greater effect, Shadow Tactics for example. Because even though the option was there, most of the levels are designed in such a way that it’s easier to just send in one character at a time and abuse the one hit kill stealth mechanic, then fall back when your health gets low and switch to a different character, then rinse and repeat.
The problem here comes from the fact that even if you wanted to take the more interesting approach of tactically setting up the characters to work in unison, the unresponsive and, at times, idiotic AI means that the game always feels like it’s working against you. In fact, the only time I ever really needed to pause the game and issue commands was in the very last boss fight, and this was mostly just to change characters to get them to move out of harms way, and what this equated to was a very stop-and-start fight that completely changed the pacing of the game, and not for the better.
The biggest let down is that because of these shortcomings you may find yourself making it through most of the game without ever really needing to use the characters’ unique abilities. These range from offensive tactics like grenades and turrets, to stealthy distractions and confusion effects, and while it’s obvious these were designed to be used together, most of the time they were easily ignored altogether.
The same can be said for what is arguably the most unique mechanic in the game; a heart rate monitor for each character that rises as the characters get more scared. Supposedly the way this works is that, as the characters heart rate increases, they will start to take more damage – an interesting mechanic for sure, but one that clearly wasn’t thought out enough as it never seems to affect the gameplay much and isn’t tied into the narrative at all. What this means is you’ll likely end up forgetting all about it after the first hour of gameplay. I know I did.
By this point if you’re still reading and haven’t been thoroughly put off I can only imagine you’re the kind of masochist who gets pleasure out of sheer frustration or better yet, someone with a great sense of humour who enjoys watching terrible movies like The Room. If you’re either of these then boy do I have some good news for you; the writing and voice acting in Fear Effect Sedna could easily rival that of Tommy Wiseau’s god-awful masterpiece. It’s so bad in fact that if you were to play this with a group of friends you may find you soon have a whole host of new catchphrases to spout off alongside the classics like “Oh hi Mark”.
There are no good voice actors here but easily the worst has got to be any one of the lines delivered by the Australian character, Deke, who comes across as the most stereotypical Aussie you’ve ever met, guaranteed to get in his quota of calling the girls “Sheila”, and reacting to seeing other-worldly demons simply by saying “Crikey!”. It’s so comically bad you’d almost think the voice actor knew what he was part of and decided to go all out and channel his inner Steve Irwin. It’s bad, but at least it’s memorable.
So with all the ways this game fails to hit the mark you may be wondering if there’s anything redeemable at all, and surprisingly the answer is yes; the one thing that really does shine through here is the visuals. Fear Effect Sedna uses gorgeous, crisp, cell-shaded graphics that make the cut-scenes an absolute joy to watch, even if they do consistently confuse. Even out of the cinematics, when you’re running through the world, the attention to detail in the levels and locations is undeniably impressive.
It harkens back to the classic PlayStation games of old but with a noticeably cleaner HD effect, and as someone who regards art-style as one of the more important aspects of what makes a good game, I can say that I really did appreciate the obvious effort that went into it here. The quality of the art and animation really is worth commending, even if it is because it may only seem better by comparison.
In the end Fear Effect Sedna proved to be the most disappointing type of game; not one that’s outright bad, but rather, one that’s filled to the brim with unfulfilled potential. Every aspect of this game seems like it should be fun, but just ends up being frustrating – from the interesting but ultimately useless time-pause mechanics, to the action-packed but mostly bafflingly confusing story, Fear Effect Sedna never seems to hit the nail on the head. I would call it a ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’, but even Jack was at least competent.
Game: Fear Effect Sedna
Release date: 06/03/2018