Project Origin E3 Preview: New Ways to Die

In every way but its name, Project Origin (PC, PS3, 360) is unquestionably F.E.A.R. 2.

Though former publisher Vivendi has retained the rights to the F.E.A.R. name, developer Monolith Productions has retained all of the shooter's hallmarks and story: slow-motion shooting, unsettling atmosphere and creepy dead girls galore.

Getting my hands on an early build of Project Origin's Xbox 360 version at last week's E3, it was immediately clear that the developers have worked hard to improve upon F.E.A.R.'s previously established foundation. The demonstration level took me to the streets of a ruined city populated with shock troopers, but these punks were different than the soldiers I mowed down in F.E.A.R.—they were actually quite smart. Really?

My string of tactics from the original game—find cover, wait for idiots to march into my field of fire, shoot, celebrate—didn't really apply. For those players who like a little challenge, be advised that the enemies of Project Origin sport improved A.I. and are quite capable of flushing you out of your foxhole. My enemies hid behind debris and provided cover fire while their associates made a move on my location; bunkering down was a quick route to a swift death.

A Monolith employee noted that Project Origin will feature more open, outdoor areas such as the demonstrated ruined city than its predecessor. It's not just a refreshing change of pace from the confined facilities featured in F.E.A.R., it's useful in a practical sense—more space and more obstacles allows for tricker maneuvering and better tactical firing locations.

Project Origin sports a new HUD similar to the curved, helmet-set displays of Bungie's Halo and Retro Studios' Metroid Prime, and the environments and enemies are richly detailed. Visual effects enacted during the series' trademark slow-motion feature enhance the oft-abused "bullet-time" mechanic.

There's still a good deal of work to be done insofar as Project Origin's technical aspects are concerned. This early Xbox 360 build performed sluggishly, with a struggling frame rate marring an otherwise visually impressive experience.

The clunky, chunking frame rate easily draws focus away from these eye-catching details—an issue that will likely see some improvement before the game hits retail.

Technical issues aside, there's a lot to appreciate about Project Origin in this stage of development. While the game is undoubtedly moving towards console-oriented conventions of the shooter genre—health packs are gone in favor of a regenerative health system, a la Epic Games' Gears of War—I walked away from the title wishing I had a mouse and keyboard, which is more than I can say about a number of throwaway console shooters I've played in recent years.

Project Origin will hit the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year.