Fear Effect: Sedna aims to be the spiritual successor fans have long dreamed of but falls short in its gameplay and world building. The original Fear Effect was released back in 1999 by developer Kronos Digital Entertainment. Due to the high praise from the gaming community, a sequel, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, arrived two years later. More than ten years on, the indie development team, Sushee, took up the mantle and announced it was working on a third entry to the series via Kickstarter, meaning that the project will only have a fraction of the budget of the original games, despite being published by Square Enix.
Unlike its predecessors, Fear Effect: Sedna will discard the classic Resident Evil-like fixed camera and instead use an isometric angle. However, the viewpoint (which cannot be zoomed or rotated) feels too far from the gameplay, causing a sense of detachment from the action. Due to the extreme far shot design, large portions of the screen are often covered in a black nothingness meant to represent walls that makes indoor portions of the game feel claustrophobic. Comparatively, the outdoor areas allow the art design to shine, as the closed-in dark spaces are replaced with vibrant and detailed rooftops and alleyways.
While exploring the various environments, the protagonists (Sedna and her partner) have to gun down several enemies that roam around, but the process feels rote. Using each character’s unique abilities to take down a foe is relatively easy and rarely requires the player to enter any kind of cover. Furthermore, the animations during combat could use some improvement, as the opposing sides simply shoot at each over with no real reaction to being hit. The mechanics feel uninspired and frustratingly “button mashy” as each of the characters only has four abilities, two of which are typically related to health and status effects.
Occasionally, Sedna will come across larger combat sections that freeze time to allow for meticulous planning of character movement and attacks. Unfortunately, essentially pausing prior to a large conflict removes any sense of urgency, as gamers manipulate either one or multiple allies like chess pieces. In theory, being able to plan the position and trajectory of an assault should give players an advantage over their opponent. However, enemies can freely move and engage in combat at any point should they spot characters moving behind cover. Once a battle has begun, the participants can be moved in real time, which is vital as the situation can easily change, forcing troops out of their previously-favoured cover.
While fans of Fear Effect will be excited to see returning characters, their introduction leaves much to be desired by newcomers. Players are thrust straight into a mission, and possible key characters pop up with little explanation. These characters appear so briefly they are either swiftly forgotten or seem confusing. Furthermore, the characters tend to gesticulate distractingly as a means of making up for the lack of facial expressions. The cutscenes featured in the demo were far from polished, with several clipping issues arising from the cel-shaded design of the models. Making these issues seem worse still, several animated scenes appear almost at random that are either unnecessary or last mere seconds, one of which has Sedna entering a doorway before resuming regular gameplay. The decision to inject cutscenes mid-gameplay seems even stranger when much of the dialogue is portrayed by still images and text boxes.
The project will no doubt bring enjoyment to the franchise’s fans but fails to be enticing enough to warrant any new enthusiasts. Hopefully, Sushee will do more to build on the existing world as the passion for the source material is definitely alive and well despite the many production delays.
After originally being scheduled for release this year, Fear Effect: Sedna has been pushed back to early 2018 and will be available for PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One. In the wake of the delay, Square Enix has also announced a remake of the original game, titled Fear Effect Reinvented, which is also being developed by Sushee and expected to release in 2018.