The pre-release demo for ‘F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin,” the newest first-person shooter from Monolith, has been making waves in the video game community since its debut on Jan. 22. The demo, available now on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 (I played on PC), generally impresses with its clever addressing of some of the major faults of the original.

The first ‘F.E.A.R.,” released in 2005 for the PC, was met with success, even though it was nonetheless marred by some serious issues. Foremost among these was the sense that the entire game was a series of gray corridors in a gray office building filled with gray soldiers using gray guns while a gray tinted cannibal taunted you about something or other.

Good thing, then, that the fundamentals of the genre were in such fine form: gripping combat sequences were expertly intermixed with effective uses of, well, fear. The plot, although told mostly through the most ubiquitous and played out of video game plot devices, the one-way audio (in this case, via answering machine messages and radio briefings) was passable and ended with a large explosion viewed from the broadside of your escape helicopter.

Here is where ‘F.E.A.R. 2,” or at least the demo, begins, after a scene narrated by that cannibal I most certainly recall shooting at the end of the first game. However, a new, warmer color scheme seems to have spread through the city during that hallucination. Much like the transition between ‘Gears of War” 1 and 2, the grays of the past seem to be burned through with what I must assume are the fires of hell, or at least the game certainly implies that to be their origin. In the first game, your character frequently hallucinated scenes from a hospital: now your visions distinctly resemble some sort of underworld.

The demo contains gameplay similar, for the most part, to the original; in fact, about the only feature missing is the ability to lean. That and the shotgun, which looks like a toy when compared to the original game’s memorable boom stick. The demo concludes with a romp down a ruined city street aboard a two chain-gunned, rocket-firing mech suit that, despite being a robotic suit of armor, has a ridiculously fuzzy and grainy forward display screen.

Great video games surpass the mere sum of their parts. But when examining such a small chunk of gameplay (the demo consists of approximately the first 30 minutes of the game), more advanced methods of evaluation become unusable. The raw contents of the demo illustrate a solid shooter: sharp and often vibrant graphics, combined with tight controls.

As the title would certainly have you believe (despite actually being an acronym for ‘First Encounter Assault Recon”), ‘F.E.A.R. 2″ really wants to be a horror game. It borrows heavily from Japanese horror clichs-or, should I say, sticks spiky hooks into and drags away that exact ‘scary little girl” thing from ‘The Ring.” For the most part, this works. However, the scripted scares in ‘F.E.A.R” are in truth only somewhat startling. This issue presented itself in the first game as well. Although scripted sequences can in fact be very scary, the use of audio queues and the fact that they often lack any actual danger defiantly dulls their effect.

The most terrifying game I have had the ‘pleasure” of experiencing is actually titled with another obnoxious acronym: ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.” The reason ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” is more effective in its terror, despite lacking the willingness to break with the reality and gore of ‘F.E.A.R.,” is that ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” uses a much broader scope of settings, light levels and ambient audio. Large sections of ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” deal with rather non-frightening combat between comparably equipped humans in adequately lit outdoor areas. Other sections have you moving through nearly pitch-black facilities, fighting creatures beyond description: a yellow-eyed, invisible-at-will monstrosity with tentacles where its mouth ought to be; a malformed-top heavy-mutated bore with inconsistently sized eyes; a ball of fire that seems to somehow exhibit poltergeist-like control over the world around it. ‘F.E.A.R. 2″ capitalizes only on the latter of these situations. As such, you get very used to, and thus desensitized to, the terrifying events around you.

All and all, I must say I enjoyed the ‘F.E.A.R. 2″ demo it’s a perfectly delectable slice of single-player FPS. It runs well, looks sharp and plays smoothly. However, it’s not going to redefine your expectation for much of anything. As such, and knowingly overstepping my critical bounds having only played the demo, I hesitate to think that the full game will surpass being anything more than a completely recommendable, fundamentally solid, totally worth your (and very likely my) money genre piece. The full version will be made available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on Feb. 10.

Atlas is a member of the class of 2012.

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