The original PlayStation was my first ever gaming console. When you talk about that console’s finest games, Fear Effect and it’s sequel are mentioned in the same breathe as Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VII and Abe’s Oddysee. Blending sci-fi themes, puzzles and some sharp gunplay, it was a rare crossing of genres for the time. Unfortunately, what felt fresh at the turn of the millennium, feels pretty antiquated now. Fear Effect: Sedna, the kick-started sequel from French developer Sushee has barely moved on in the best part of two decades.
Sedna’s opening missions, other than acting as tutorials for game systems, reintroduce returning characters. Hana, Deke, Glas et al, are all recast and don’t seem to have aged a day. The world is drawn cel-shaded and viewed for the player from a top down perspective. In truth, it’s this graphical panache that catches the eye most and Sushee have really recaptured the look and feel of the originals whilst, at the same time, updating the vistas for modern consoles.
Beyond that however, Sedna falls short in almost every area. Moment to moment gameplay is split between some basic squad based gunplay and puzzles straight out of Resident Evil in the 90s. Let’s focus on the action first. You are very rarely alone in Sedna. Objectives are often approached with 1, 2 or all of your squad in tow. Levels are laid out in linear fashion so your team follow you from one room to the next while you hunt for the key/ door/ cutscene which will progress the story. In most areas you will come across groups of enemies that must be dispatched. You can target an enemy of your choice with the (very unwieldy) right stick and open fire with the right trigger. Fights often get hectic and you’re encouraged to use Sedna’s tactical pause function to gain control of the action.
The options button on the controller pauses the game and allows you to issue orders to your team. This can be as simple as getting them behind cover, right up to triggering your special abilities at the same time as another squad mate to gain a more pronounced effect. Unfortunately, it’s a really fiddly system and the AI takes absolutely no self preservation steps. While you’re taking your time to move your squad to better positions, all 7 of the cannon fodder villains in an area will be gathering within 5 feet of each other just waiting to be put down. I very quickly learned that there was no point in pausing whatsoever. You undoubtedly take more damage but there are 1 or 2 medkits to be found in almost every room. I very often found myself in double figures in terms of healing items. For that reason, any sense of danger is almost completely lost.
The stealth gameplay does fare a little better. A click of the right stick allows you to crouch and approach targets quietly from behind cover. Do this successfully and you activate a button prompt that kills your foe silently. No option to knock out and hide the body here. These guys and girls are working for the enemy and deserve to die just for opposing you. Unfortunately, not every level is laid out to be approached from a stealthy perspective. You can tell when you’re just supposed to kill everyone in the room in a hail of gunfire because enemy’s field of vision cones will overlap permanently, making them impossible to take out silently. It’s a shame because my favourite mission in the game, on the deck of a ship, challenges you to make it from one end to the other without alerting a soul. It’s tense and a completely different type of puzzle to the ones thrown at you the rest of the time.
As I mentioned above, the rest of Sedna’s conundrums are not as nearly as fun. Perhaps the Resident Evil comparison was a little unfair. You’re never quite challenged to find two random objects and work out that they should be combined to create a completely unrelated third object. But, back and forth button clicking puzzles are used with abandon here. Go here, lower the water level, activate the gate, raise the water level, cross the platform, press the next button. Urgh. This is not helped by the lack of a sprint button. When you’ve crossed an area for the third time looking for a switch to press you’ll soon be wondering why you can’t get your team to move with a little more urgency!
I feel like gaming puzzles have become infinitely more clever over the years. I’ve mentioned this in previous reviews: I do understand that gaming will always require some suspension of disbelief. But as a developer, do give at least some thought as to why your antagonists would have made some of the decisions they did regarding access of their secret base. Pin code for a door written down on a piece of paper? Not very clever, but we’re all human; sometimes you need to write down your passwords. But, why on earth would you put the colour coded solution to a door puzzle, writ large across four rooms of your enclave?! Or print a clue to a safe code on the wall, giving your prisoner a clue to help them get out of their handcuffs. These things make no sense!
Story wise, this is pulp sci-fi at its very best/ worst, depending on your perspective. An evil corporation has been digging underground for years to try and find a way to splice the DNA of humans and long dead monsters and then cross between dimensions. It’s guff but, told snappily and with enough confidence in it’s science hoodoo (a la Quantam Break,) it could have worked. Unfortunately, it’s let down by a pretty awful script and quite possibly the worst voice acting I’ve come across in a game ever. I’m only slightly joking when I say that Sushee could have given me £50 and I would have done a better job with the Australian accent put on by one of your squad members. Another ally is French and that’s somehow even worse!
One saving grace to the story: Sedna is not afraid to kill off main characters. I wish more developers would be a bit braver in this regard!