Review: 'Fear Effect Sedna' (Switch)

Screenshot from 'Fear Effect Sedna'. Screenshot from 'Fear Effect Sedna'. SUSHEE

I never played either of the original Fear Effect games on PlayStation, so I had no real expectations going into Fear Effect Sedna. This ancient franchise was revived by a third party developer through Kickstarter, with the blessing of IP owners Square Enix. I had no real optimism or pessimism about what the game would be, which ultimately turned out to be a good thing; if I had been a big fan of the franchise, I'm sure I would have been gutted by what turned out to be a scattershot game that doesn't pay enough attention to the details.

Sedna brings back veteran characters Hana, Rain and Deke for another mission, without explaining much about their past adventures to players, even though the original game came out a whopping eighteen years ago. They are offered a large amount of money to complete a mercenary mission, but things quickly become more complicated than they seem as foreign governments start getting involved and new, more mad science-y developments unfold. It's pretty run-of-the-mill, in all honesty, but not to a degree that it brings the experience down. I enjoyed the cutscenes to a certain degree; the repartee was a bit forced and clichéd, but it's hard to deny that they're still a bit fun.

The gameplay is... a lot of things, depending on the moment. The whole game is played from an isometric top-down perspective. Sometimes it's a stealth game, sometimes it's a shooter, sometimes it's a puzzler, and it can also be a tactical game if you feel like it. You can also play as multiple characters at once, switching between controlling one or the other; whoever you aren't controlling will either stand still or act on autopilot, whichever you choose. There's nothing wrong with varied gameplay, but the more genres you tackle, the greater chance that one of them will go wrong - and unfortunately, in this case, almost everything has suffered from this overambition.

The stealth sections seem alright at first - you crouch to enter stealth mode, and you'll be able to see the vision cones of anyone who could catch you. This has a few problems, though. First off, most levels are covered in darkness, and this obscures vision cones as well; this means that you'll often have guards coming out of literally nowhere to catch you, which is just as fun as it sounds. On top of that, you sometimes have to stealth with multiple characters at once, and when they lag several feet behind you, precision stealth becomes nearly impossible. You either have to do the stealth section multiple times, or use my preferred strategy: sacrifice one character, then sneak past with the other while all the guards in the world are distracted. It works like a charm, but you don't exactly feel accomplished for it.

The shooting isn't much better. It's effectively a strategy game whenever shooting comes around, as your options are limited to shooting, healing, hiding behind cover or switching characters; you can't even really affect how well you shoot. By pressing the - button, you can enter tactical mode, allowing you to plan out up to three moves per character ahead of time. Maybe I'm just terrible, but I was never able to strategize very effectively; whenever I popped out to shoot, my character would stand still and shoot an enemy until they were dead, absorbing bullets from all directions in the meantime. I had to tank every single battle because I couldn't get my character to shoot without taking tons of bullets. It didn't help that I never figured out how to dodge-roll while in tactical mode.

So both shooting and stealth are kind of a mess. The puzzles, at least, were pretty fun in my experience. They usually involve a combination of exploring the environment and applying some simple logic, and while they're not horribly difficult, they're not so simple as to be a cakewalk either. There are also some fun sequences that aren't stealth or shooting, like when you have to play the part of a waiter at a party, overhearing critical information without blowing your cover. Honestly, that was probably my favorite part of the game, which isn't too high of a bar to meet.

Through it all, there is a Fear mechanic that tracks how nervous or stable your character is. As your character becomes more fearful (usually when their health is low), they end up doing more damage, but they can also die more easily. I completely forgot that this was in the game, though, as it never seemed to make a difference. Honestly, it feels like a lot of the game's mechanics end up being inconsequential because they never really come into use. That's sort of the sad tale of Fear Effect Sedna.

The presentation is fine, I suppose. It uses a cel-shaded visual style that isn't very ambitious, and it looks a bit cheap - though considering the game was funded through a Kickstarter, it probably had to be cheap. The game's sound is fine, though not too memorable. The voice acting is not exceptional, with some competent characters and others who have outright laughable accents. The game's presentation isn't doing the game any favors, but it's not really outright terrible.

Overall, the developers of Fear Effect Sedna bit off more than they could chew. They decided to take the series in a new direction, apparently abandoning the gameplay style of the original games, and unfortunately their gambit did not pay off. They failed to sweat the details, and most of the gameplay suffers as a result. I hate to rag on a game because I know the developers have plenty of respect for the franchise.  But with so many great indie games on the Switch, I can't think of a good reason to recommend this one.

Final score: 5.5 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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