Fear Effect Sedna Review
It feels as though gamers can’t move for the number of game series that are being revitalised in the last few years. Thanks to easier access to tools, and more opportunities through crowd-funded campaigns, rebooting established IPs has never been more popular. The latest game to get a new lease of life in this manner is Fear Effect Sedna, the sequel to Fear Effect on the PlayStation. The original game’s title referred to the player’s life bar, which resembled a pulsing heart monitor that indicated when the character was distressed.
Set in a not-so-distant neo-noir future, the narrative follows the series’ anti-heroes: Hana, Deke, Glas and Rain. They are a group of unlikely allies who band together to accept a lucrative mercenary job with a newcomer to their group, Axel, a Frenchman with a questionable accent. They are set on a course that leads them to discover dark and gruesome events that have manipulated their gathering.
The previous title and its prequel — which was released not long after — are survival games that were praised for being ‘mature’ games for the time. They piqued a lot of interest in their day as they were among the first titles to utilise the cel-shaded artistic style. They followed a formula which offered Resident Evil gameplay, meets Tomb Raider plot, meets Matrix aesthetic. Fear Effect Sedna retains two of these great elements with its plot and graphical style, and drops its vintage survival gameplay. Whilst it’s now more widely used, Sedna still preserves a lot of its classic style by keeping the cel-shaded graphics, cinematic-quality cutscenes and, unfortunately, abysmal voice acting.
It was only natural that Sushee would adapt the series’ established gameplay. It drops its old dynamic camera positions in favour of a top-down isometric camera. The intention — to give the player an overview of the game space that would allow them to coordinate a number of characters in a tactical overview, as well as seeing the social interaction between the characters. Somewhere during the development the latter has regrettably been lost. Players are offered a new tactical-pause feature that allows them to pause the action to reposition each character individually and queue up actions for them to carry out.
Despite being dressed like a strategic game with isometric camera and character control options, the combat has some glaring holes in both its stealth and fight sequences. Players can move individual characters behind obstacles by creeping, or engage in open combat. Although, once enemies are aware of you, they move directly towards their target and will not disengage until that target is dead, making any regrouping, distraction or cover tactics impossible. In addition, cover options are redundant during fights, since you cannot effectively hide your characters from approaching AI or shoot safely from behind it. Friendly AI routinely break cover and do not automatically re-enter it after attacking. Micromanaging your team’s actions past the initial attack tends to be more hassle than it is worth. The overall inability to effectively take control of multiple characters, despite having to take care of all of them, tragically makes the tactical-pause feature useless.
At times it is unclear whether the game expects you to play action or stealth. Deceptively introduced as a stealth game, Sedna almost immediately throws the player into situations where they cannot use stealth due to the positioning of enemies and level layout. From very early on, the game feels as though there is very little direction in terms of gameplay or level design for the combat. This is compounded by the line of sight not always being fully occluded by objects in the level, which alerts nearby enemies with no chance to disengage. Furthermore, the AI pathfinding is a bit peculiar, with enemies walking in unpredictable paths or sometimes to illogical points. Other times the AI will turn around, seemingly randomly, adding an element of frustration. Succeeding a stealth section usually feels luck-based rather than skillful. Unfortunately, players will quickly learn that tactical play is not required to play this game, and running head first into combat is often a more efficient strategy.
In amongst the running and shooting, an array of brain teaser and logic puzzles are scattered throughout the game. These require the player to explore the locations to gain clues, which is genuinely challenging and also addictive. The difficulty of these puzzles fluctuates drastically throughout the game, and most puzzles have an instant game over consequence for failure. Each failure has a unique cutscene, and the first few are humorous, but being forced through the game over screen multiple times in a row is slow and grating.
Sedna is largely an example of a plot similar to any number of action-adventure titles that lead the characters down a rabbit hole of violence and supernatural occurrences beyond their control. The plot is effective in its simplicity. It cannot prop up the weak narrative, however, which is convoluted by a vapid, shallow script with amateur-level delivery. For a game that likes to labour its story, it fails to maintain any emotional consistency. The dialogue is delivered in such a singular, matter-of-fact manner that even the dramatic and sad moments in the story cause you to laugh out loud.
The gang are introduced as straight-talking, sassy rogues with a soft side for each other. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, there is very little character development to support this. It assumes that you have played the previous titles, relying on in-jokes and references that will certainly go over the heads of new gamers.
Where the series may have been considered ‘mature’ previously, it is clear that it is only for its surface-level content. None of the characters are particularly likeable, mostly because they are so one-dimensional. The two leading female characters and their relationship seems to offer little more than titillation.
This is disappointing on two levels: that they didn’t do more to develop the characters in any progressive manner, or offer a satisfying seductive payoff; even their ‘flirtatious’ dialogue is bland. Every group conversation quickly dissolves into a lesbian reference with gauche dialogue like some kind of skin flick.
Characters give heavy-handed instructions to the player through dialogue that sticks out like a sore thumb. It seems as though some of these were initially planned to take place during gameplay, but this was obviously cut in favour of overlaid dialogue sequences. We would like to give the developer the benefit of the doubt, since it feels as though it may have been done this way due to time constraints.
For a low budget, crowdfunded game, it was daring for Sushee to attempt such an ambitious and very different sequel. You can see the principles of some great gameplay mechanics throughout the game, but it never truly focuses on any one aspect enough to do it well. As a result, the features seem spread too thin, with the puzzles, stealth nor action being particularly strong. The script and its delivery may have alleviated the gameplay issues if it wasn’t so painful. The game is terribly ham-fisted about telling the player the story, whilst being obscure to the point of absurdity when it comes to some of its puzzles. Sedna’s saving grace is its fantastic score, offering edgy synth beats throughout to perfectly accompany the gritty futuristic locations, but sadly it isn’t enough to save the game.