Here’s a move I pull in most gunfights in Trepang2: slidekick into an enemy, grab them out of mid-air, briefly hold them in front of me as a human shield, only to pull the pin on their vest’s grenade and hurl them into a the group of their pals, who do try to scatter before this meaty bomb bursts but sadly forget that they also need to avoid me and my chunky shotgun. Often this is all in slow-motion. Trepang2 is unashamedly aiming to be a new FEAR and does a pretty great job of it for a game made by a core team of only four people (plus external artists and such). Give me a shotgun, a slide kick, and slo-mo, and I’m happy.
It’s the near future and you are a super soldier fighting for a secret organization. Corps and cults are engaged in questionable science, creating meaty bioweapons and poking at incomprehensible otherworldly entities, so here you come in your black helicopter to invade their offices and secret bases. Many parts feel familiar—SCP, Resident Evil, creepypasta horror stories, maybe a little Hitman, and a lot of FEAR—but Trepang2 assembles them in a mostly fun way. More importantly, hey, it basically plays like FEAR with a dash of Crysis, and that’s great.
I will explain the key keys and you will understand the possibilities for cool murder. Press Q to enter bullet time, depleting a generous gauge which refills with kills. Press E to turn invisible, which doesn’t last long but does recharge quickly by itself. Right-click is your melee attack, contextually ranging from a pistol whip to a jumpkick. Press Alt to drop to your knees and instantly whoosh forward into a slidekick which tosses enemies into the air like toddlers whose comedic ignorance of Slip ‘N Slide safety protocols will soon earn them £250 on You’ve Been Framed. Hit F to grab unaware or staggered enemies, holding them up as a human shield (their pals do hold fire) before snapping their necks, throwing them, or pulling their grenade pin and then throwing them. Press to G to throw your own grenade, axe, proximity mine, or other doodad. And left-click to fire guns which shake and kick and boom and remove heads from this plane of reality with great style, especially once you gain the ability to dual wield.
Trepang2 feels like how FEAR exists in my memory. Loud action followed by quiet exploration. Healthpacks and armor kits (though with the tiniest little emergency bar of regenerating health). Occasional jumpscares and ghost nonsense. The mild frustration of shooting without aiming down sights (ADS here is limited to a handful of guns with specific attachments). Grenades exploding with a spacetime-bending bubble effect. Mostly it’s in the fast and stylish fights against enemies who are trying their best to stay alive.
Aside from a lack of caution around open flames and the poor decision not to quit their job the instant I arrived holding a drum-loaded grenade launcher in each hand, the human enemies felt smart. They reacted to my actions to lay down suppressive fire, drop flares in dark places, hunt for me, position themselves in anticipation of where I might attack from, and work as squads to flank and cover. Like FEAR’s much-praised AI, part of its success is the clever trick of enemies vocalizing their behavior. They have a huge range of voiced lines covering just about everything they or I might do, and easily shout them. A respectable flanking maneuver feels more intelligent when I hear one fella request cover then his pal shouts back confirmation. And I do appreciate a mook’s sweary realization that I’ve absolutely monstered through his squad and he’s next. The allied troops who sometimes fight alongside you actually seem to be helping too.
Stealth is an option, mind. Enemies don’t magically know where you are, and can lose track of you. You can use silenced weapons. You can shoot out lights. You can silently crouch-walk. You can snatch people and snap their necks. You can lurk in shadows, and the crosshair indicates darkness. Your cloak recharges quickly. You can even snipe, though most spaces are too close to it. If you wanted, I suppose you could carefully pick a squad to pieces like a curious child dissembling a spider. That seems like it might be fun. That might be important at the highest difficulty levels. I wouldn’t know much about stealth because I can dual-wield SPAS-12 shotguns with incendiary ammo and I don’t want to put them down.
Every gunfight trashes the place. Windows, wooden walls, desks, statues, benches, columns, giant hams, lights, and so much more can be destroyed or broken. If not, it will at least shower debris and sparks. People burst into blood and limbs and viscera when violenced with an appropriate method. Their blood also temporarily coats your guns and clothes, growing to a thick layer of chunky plum jam if the fight is intense enough. Flames linger too, burning breakables and roasting corpses.
Sometimes destruction is important. Trying to defend my position in a rickety two-storey shack was easy at first, with generous vantage points, plenty of cover, and only two ways to reach me up top. Soon, the balcony fence and external walls were blown to pieces, the internal wall I retreated behind was on fire, and oh a squad just breached the front door. As I finish shotgunning the intruders, big boys with grenade launchers arrive and now I desperately need to escape my splash damage coffin and fight in the open. Other times, destruction is simply pretty. I particularly enjoyed the running gunfight in a grand multi-level library which swirled with a blizzard of paper fragments from injured books and left so many elegant busts de-faced. And this being a game spiritually from 2005, it absolutely has multiple The Matrix-y lobby shootouts full of pillars.
I’m focusing on the joys of moment-to-moment murder because the campaign overall is, sure, yeah, it’s fine. Trepang2 is a 2005 FPS through and through. Levels are combat arenas connected by meandering corridors littered with collectible lorelogs. The obligatory multi-phase boss fights are perhaps a bit better (or less bad?) than in many 2005 shooters. The plot is justification enough to visit a variety of places and fight a variety of enemies. The tone bounces around uneasingly, switching between FEAR, creepypastas, and Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil movies while passing through clear inspirations including an Aliens reactor sequence and one popular Internet horror setting which felt so out of place that I initially thought I’d stumbled into a large Easter egg. It’s not a long campaign either, taking me 8 hours including all side missions.
Missions start out at your secret base, picking assignments from a big world map table which looks like it was intended to fill up with a lot more dots than it ever did. As you complete story missions in sequence, a scattering of optional side missions unlock. These littluns boil down to surviving waves of enemies in a smallish area. Some side missions have fun with this, adding a good ghost story or wrapping themselves in spectacle with helicopters battling overhead or AA guns blasting at a colossal skeletal UFO. Others are boring killboxes whose hollow presence only makes a small game feel smaller.
Back home you can also lark about in a VR combat simulator with loads of little levels, change your uniform colors (important: yes, you can see your legs), and set your starting loadout. While you can grab weapons in the field, completing missions and finding hidden attachments lets you deploy with your favorite gear customized the way you like. Click on a laser sight, fold that stock, screw on a silencer, and hey, maybe give your minigun a spinning bouquet of bayonets. The base as a 3D space could functionally be replaced with four menus but I quite like the procedure, globetrotting, and self-indulgence of it all.
I can gripe about Trepang2’s tone and I can shrug at its plot and I can pout about its length but that’s all fine, really. Criticisms fade when I launch it to double-check a detail then get lost bursting heads for 20 minutes before remembering I have a review to finish. I already fancy returning to check out higher difficulty levels or the many cheats and modifiers unlocked after finishing the game (ranging from ‘Only Headshots Kill’ to ‘Squeaky Voices’), or just to shoot faces all over again. Oh, I do enjoy shooting these faces! I’m hoping new missions might follow if it does well, or even that 2005 FPS staple, an expansion pack.
A demo is up on Steam, though I think that might be a bit old now.
This review is based on a release copy of the game provided by the publisher, Team17.