Gaming’s first lesbians are back.
I don’t know if that’s entirely true – Hana and Rain are definitely lesbians, they’re in games, and they are back – they just may not have been the first. Even if they weren’t, I’m not going to sit back and take your nonsense if you think there’s just too much sexual freedom these days. Why don’t you get back in your closet?
We might be in more enlightened times since Fear Effect first came out at the turn of the century, but this spin-off from the main series still has a 90s lad’s mag vibe to it. Obviously, there’s a lesbian kiss in the opening moments, and more than enough instances of lesbians flirting with men because lesbians exist almost only for that reason. Good news for fans of the series then!
Less reassuring for fans of no change whatsoever is that Fear Effect Sedna is not a traditional Fear Effect game. No longer does it operate in the vein of Resident Evil, with pseudo 3D fixed perspective backgrounds and unwieldy tank controls. There is a proper remake of the original Fear Effect coming later in 2018, but Sedna buys some time for that release, following instead the spin-off Tomb Raider model of Temple of Osiris.
If you don’t know, that means it’s an isometric shooter with environmental puzzles. An odd choice for a franchise sold on its visuals, but I’ll come to how the gameplay itself works out in a second. About those visuals, Fear Effect has always been about stylised 3D characters and cinematic action. That’s kind of still here, but limited entirely to pre-rendered cutscenes. Disappointingly, the game itself – while looking fine and everything – just comes across as pretty functional rather than pretty.
More disappointing is that this function over form approach doesn’t quite make the game’s constituent parts all that functional after all. Basic shooting reveals a temperamental auto aim that doesn’t let you reliably pick targets. Returning fire is also impossible to avoid, despite pretentions towards a rudimentary cover system. Even sequencing an attack strategy using the game’s tactical pause feature doesn’t result in any meaningful results – your squad of selectable characters shuffle and shoot for a moment before you sequence the next few seconds.
The developers realise combat doesn’t fully work, because they throw collectible medkits at you after most encounters. Better to not provoke a fight at all perhaps, and just use stealth instead. This is usually possible; enemies display a cone of vision when you’re in stealth mode and they can be assassinated from behind (preferably out of the way of other enemies). If it goes wrong and you have to go into a full assault, at least there are special weapons for each character that mix it up a little.
Punctuating the action are regular puzzles, though they’re often more difficult than they need to be. The challenge is not in finding the correct way to a solution, but in even identifying what the objective is. The first puzzle in the tutorial had me stuck, trying to work out how rotating, flashing coloured lights were relevant to how a bomb might be diffused. As it turns out, they weren’t relevant at all.
If the puzzles are poorly explained, the game’s dialogue is an equal nonsense. At times unintelligible, one suspects it’s the French lineage of Fear Effect that has created some amusing results. This was never going to be all about the story I suppose, but better localisation might have glossed over the loss of cinematic impact with better character engagement.
That said, Sedna is brief enough not to become a chore despite its failings. As a taster for Fear Effect Reinvented later this year, I’m not convinced this was a necessary instalment in the series. It won’t do much harm to curious fans of the franchise, but I can’t say it’s built much hype for the real deal either. Having taken some inspiration from Tomb Raider, one wonders whether it might have been better to ape the more modern reboot of Lara to drag this series out of the 90s. Sedna isn’t that game, but we’ll soon see what lessons might have been learned.
Fear Effect Sedna was provided to us by Xbox/Sushee Games for Xbox One. It was reviewed on an Xbox One S and X.