Your instruments of destruction aren't spectacular, but they're varied enough to make shooting a pleasure, even when the flow of time takes its normal path. The two shotguns are particular delights; they feel weighty and dispatch most enemies with a single bloody blast to the noggin. The hammerhead is another delight, filling your foes with neon barbs and potentially affixing them to the wall behind. However, shooter fans should consider playing at higher difficulty levels, given that F.E.A.R. 2 feels noticeably easier than its predecessor.
The AI can offer occasional challenges, particularly in levels featuring intersecting corridors in which human enemies will flank you, use cover effectively, and tumble to the side should they find themselves gazing down the barrel of your automatic shotgun. They will also tip over furniture or other objects and use them as cover (a trick you can use, though will likely never need). However, enemy behavior is inconsistent; a table-tipping guard may not follow through, running away from his improvised cover rather than ducking behind it. Some enemies will blindly fire from behind low obstacles but may also do so when in plain view. The best adversaries are those not governed by rules of human behavior, such as ethereal foes that take shape as you enter reflex time. And in some cases, your enemies are so visually elusive that you're better off finding a way out of the dark environs that spawn them.
The most notable additions to the formula are a couple of armored-suit sequences in which you climb into a giant metal mech and riddle your attackers with machine-gun spray and rockets. These sequences aren't tough--you're a powerful death machine plowing down your weakling foes--but the mech controls nicely and you'll be treated to some impressive displays of environmental destruction and general chaos. You can move through these areas on foot if you like, so these levels do offer a bit of replay value, though you should take great pains to wreak fun robotic havoc when given the possibility. You'll also take control of the turret atop the squad's armored vehicle, but this weapon isn't all that enjoyable to use, and these bits feel like filler.
Armored exoskeletons can defeat everything except heavy grain filters.
F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer component also feels like filler, and though we've come to expect online play from most of our shooters, there's nothing special about this suite of lackluster options. For fans of the original, the most notable omission is that of the slow-motion modes, which brought reflex time into an online arena and made for some clever and enjoyable showdowns. Without these modes, F.E.A.R. 2 feels a bit hollow online, serving up helpings of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, a couple of Conquest variants, Capture the Flag, and a mode called Failsafe that owes a large debt to Counter-Strike. The best of these is Armored Front, in which a player on each team can hop into one of those robotic exoskeletons while his or her teammates capture control points. Otherwise, the shooting mechanics don't translate as well to a multiplayer environment, and the by-the-numbers levels are unimpressive. You have the ability to customize your loadout and level up in ranked matches, but this just isn't enough to breathe life into the musty online play.
You'll get the occasional heebie-jeebies from F.E.A.R. 2, but the magic of the first game hasn't been re-created here. It's true that some of the changes in the new game seem like they were intended to address criticism of the first F.E.A.R.: tedious and claustrophobic environments, lack of enemy variety, and so on. Sadly, though these changes were made, the resulting sequel, while fun and well-crafted, seems to have lost sight of the strengths that made its predecessor so unique. Nevertheless, playing F.E.A.R. 2 is a worthwhile way to pass the time while we wait for the inevitable next installment.
Editor's Note: This review previously contained inaccurate information about the melee combat system. GameSpot regrets the error.