Fear Effect Sedna Review

I believe I wasn’t the only one who was excited when Square Enix announced that it will revive the Fear Effect franchise. Fear Effect and its prequel Fear Effect: Retro Helix were hard-boiled and cinematic action-adventures released on PlayStation One. Their unashamed millennial violence was something that captured imaginations of players who were sick of pansy mass-marketed games. French indie studio Sushee is already busy building up re-imagination of the original Fear Effect, but first they came up with a new entry to the series.

Fear Effect Sedna picks up five years later after the first game’s so-called best ending. The familiar mercenary gang is back together, led by half-Chinese, half-French Hana. She’s joined by her girlfriend Rain, trigger-happy Deke and brooding Glas, who had some severing experiences in hell but is now in full health – at least physically. On a mission to Paris, Hana runs into Axel, an agent for the French embassy. He joins the group when an appointed art theft case leads them to Greenland. There, in the coldest hell of places, they will not only face an ancient prophecy awakening but personal horrors too.

Really, the plot is quiet nonsense and only there to give some shoddy motive to keep on playing. However, it’s carried over with some neat cel-shaded cartoon cutscenes. They’re frequent and always welcomed to punctuate the gameplay. Especially Hana, the rightful main character, is foxy as hell. Her character model for the cutscenes is greatly improved since the work-in-progress versions, making her look more characterful and Asian. She’s just like the heroine I want to see! There are also gruesome death scenes to be horrified at in the vein of the original series, most often after failing in several minigames.

You’d be fooled to think that Fear Effect Sedna is a turn-based tactical combat by its isometric viewpoint and weeny characters trotting on the bleary game world. No, it’s basically a familiar Fear Effect experience with all the real-time action and puzzles of the original games, just presented in a different way. There’s a pausable tactical view for the action too, but I, for one, never needed to use it, save for the mandatory tutorial part.

Fear Effect Sedna relies on tried and tested old-school gameplay mechanics; maybe too much. For starters, there’s no proper feedback when the enemies are hit, apart from their miniscule health bars diminishing, nor do they react to being wounded. Same goes for the mercenaries. The infamous fear effect meter from the original games makes a return, but it’s almost useless here. Supposedly you deal more damage when the characters’ heart rate goes up, but it’s hard to tell. Following the health bars are everything that matters, so that you know when to consume collectible health packs.

All characters have special attacks and abilities. Hana, Deke and Glas wield additional firepower at their side while Axel and Rain can also distract enemies. Too bad the specials are clunky to use, and it’s better to strafe and gun than click the abilities on and off. Strafing and gunning in theory, that is, because semi-smart target acquisition seems random. The targets can be changed with the right thumbstick, but more often than not the characters try to shoot enemies behind the walls than those in right front of them. It looks hilarious for sure but makes otherwise easy-going combat unnecessarily tricky. I feel that the game would have benefited from twin-stick controls, especially when some specials need already be targeted with the right thumbstick, like Deke’s flamethrower and Axel’s crossbow. Also, it would be nice to be able to customize controls so I could get rid of accidentally crouching (pressing L3) when running! Stealth action is fun, though, but it too suffers from clumsy gameplay mechanics. I just hate it when I catch enemies unaware by running up to them but having to crouch before making a stealth kill.

I guess that the boss fights should be a culmination of both the gameplay and players’ skills but here, rough controls and wonky targeting are only highlighted. After an initial confusion on each encounter and a few curses (and retries) later, bosses are actually pretty effortless to beat due to their predictable behavior and clumsy movement. It doesn’t matter that AI partners (four in the most) can’t for their life move out of the danger and instead stand there like idiots, sucking up hits. Then you go running around reviving them, like in some moronic ring game.

The game is at its best when exploring indoor areas, like shady laboratories carved into ice with their gruesome secrets. Outdoors, things are far worse. The graphics look shoddy and the perspective is badly defined. It’s especially hard to read elevations. It’s as if indoors and outdoors are from separate game development periods. There are some technical problems on Xbox One version I reviewed. Save games didn’t always register (reloading through dashboard fixed it, thankfully) and in the busiest set-pieces there were noticeable slow-down and sound tearing. Stylish cutscenes, however, were consistently beautiful and something to look forward to.

When I played Fear Effect Sedna, I felt like I was sucked through a wormhole into mid-90’s, playing some rad PC game taking advantage of then-new high resolution SVGA graphics. Actually, I’m not sure if the rigid old-school mentality, resulting in some awkward gameplay, is entirely purposeful but in fact an unfortunate end result. Despite admittedly numerous issues, the game wasn’t entirely unpleasant to play, if only to see if it redeems itself at some point. And it did.

The final act saved the game I had already cursed to hell for not pleasing an old Fear Effect fan like myself. After mercenaries’ harrowing individual trials, the journey culminates in meeting up with titular Sedna. There’s some fascinating character design, ambience-building and moral openness at play, drawn from Inuit legends and turned into modern conventions. Also, all the different endings were rewarding, each plausible within the context of the story.

It took a rocky trip through hell (both metaphorically and in-game) to finally appreciate what Fear Effect Sedna tries to do. It’s clumsy, controversial and at times even ugly (not Hana, though!), but if it was too perfect it wouldn’t be Fear Effect; rough around the edges and morally dubious. In the end, the game did respect its characters and origins, opening a possible future for the franchise.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.