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Why Square Enix Collective is resurrecting Fear Effect

There are now two Fear Effect games coming to market 17 years after they were last seen

Over the past few years, we've seen a phenomenon of classic games returning to our TV screens.

XCOM, Turok, System Shock, Crash Bandicoot, Sonic Mania... all examples of titles that have been recreated or recommissioned by the fans that grew up playing them in the 1990s and early 2000s. And some (although certainly not all) have enjoyed even more success a second time around.

Today comes the news of another retro revival. Square Enix Collective - the division at the publisher devoted to indie game development - has announced a remake of the 2000 PS1 game Fear Effect.

The history of Fear Effect is short-lived. Two popular action adventure games were released in 2000 and 2001, featuring an intriguing female lead character (Hana) and a cinematic story. But a planned PS2 game, Fear Effect Inferno, was never completed and that is where the story ended.

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Square Enix Collective head Phil Elliott

Then in 2014 Square Enix created its Collective division. The team wanted to work with indie developers in a variety of ways, and was even allowing studios to utilise some of its back catalogue IP should they wish. French studio Sushee were huge fans of the original Fear Effect titles, so took Square Enix up on its offer and pitched a real-time tactical game: Fear Effect Sedna. It was a different take on the IP and the Collective team was intrigued, so they took the game to Kickstarter, where it received the backing it needed.

Yet the fans wanted more, including the chance to revisit the original titles, so Square Enix granted Sushee permission to create Fear Effect Reinvented - a full reworking of the original.

"As soon as we announced Sedna and the revival of the franchise in April 2016, we got a lot of emails, tweets and Facebook messages to request remakes of the first episodes, and more surprisingly, a release of Fear Effect Inferno," recalls Benjamin Anseaume, CEO of Sushee. "And the messages haven't stopped since then. More than a year and a half after, we still receive this kind of request very often.

"Originally we wanted to see if opening up our back catalogue of Western IP could help indie developers to make a name for themselves"

Phil Elliott, Square Enix

"One thing has always been clear with Square Enix, if the reception was enthusiastic enough, we could imagine doing everything with this licence and it included remaking the old episodes. We said this to the community quickly after the announcement of Sedna and today we are very happy to say that it's thanks to the fan's support that everyone will be able to play, on every platform, this old classic in its new shape."

Phil Elliott, director of indie development at Square Enix London, continues: "Originally we wanted to see if opening up our back catalogue of Western IP could help indie developers to make a name for themselves, considering how tough it can be to make a splash with original IP. So when Sushee pitched Fear Effect Sedna after finishing on Goetia [a point-and-click adventure also published by Collective], we were open to the experiment.

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Fear Effect Sedna is an isometric tactical game unlike the originals

"We've seen a good response to this new game - albeit presented in a different style to make it more appropriate for the budgets available at indie level. And so when the Sushee team suggested revisiting the original game, we felt it was a good idea, especially when you consider that as an original PlayStation exclusive, anybody wanting to sample it now would have a tough time."

GamesIndustry.biz has written a lot about the power of nostalgia in the games market today and the sheer number of remakes, revivals, reimagining and re-releases that are occurring almost every week. Indeed, two of the biggest games of the summer have been remakes of the first 3 Crash Bandicoot games, and Sonic Mania - a game built upon the classic 2D Sonic levels of old.

"It's not unusual to see remakes of old films, or even - as technology allows - remasters to improve visual quality," says Elliott. "It's interesting to see how some projects follow an original game closely, while others use it more as a starting point. Both can work really well, but as with anything in games, it comes down to the execution."

"Making a remake or a sequel for a franchise that you didn't create yourself is very different. You don't have more of a right than most of the fans to create this game"

Thibaut Romaggi, Sushee

Sushee creative director Thibaut Romaggi agrees: "The most important point is the love for the franchise and taking feedback from the community into consideration. Making a remake or a sequel for a franchise that you didn't create yourself is very different from creating your own game. You don't have more of a right than most of the fans to create this game, it's just an opportunity, and paying attention to the community is crucial.

"Crash Bandicoot and the new Sonic are good examples of games created with passion and they reached gamers' hearts. That's what we're aiming for with Fear Effect Reinvented. With support from Forever Entertainment, who are also big fans of the franchise, I'm sure we have everything we need to be successful."

There's no crowd-funding for Fear Effect Reinvented, with Elliott telling us that the original Kickstarter for Fear Effect Sedna proved that there would be interest from gamers. However, Square Enix Collective may return to crowd-funding if they decide to resurrect other former brands.

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Sushee CEO Benjamin Anseaume

"For Fear Effect Reinvented, we're confident that there will be interest - especially given the momentum generated by Sedna. So it didn't seem appropriate [to do a Kickstarter]," he says.

"I wouldn't rule out using crowdfunding to help understand the appetite for other IP. It's a great way for gamers to have a clear say on what sort of games they want to play, as well as being a strong method for developers to raise funding that can help them to remain fully independent."

Yet Elliott says the company is not about to rush release a string of games based on old IP.

"We've had a number of conversations with different teams over the years, but Fear Effect is the only project we've greenlit so far. If developers have a great pitch and a solid plan for funding, we're open to ideas."

Remaking games can be a tricky business. Fans may want a faithful recreation of the game they loved from the past, but what they remember may not be the actual reality of how that game plays today (plug in GoldenEye with its single analogue control, and you'll see what I mean).

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The Fear Effect remake will boast vastly improved visuals and controls

"For Fear Effect Sedna, we were inspired by the Fear Effect universe and story," Anseaume explains. "Working on an evolution of the characters was very interesting and ultimately, it is our take on the licence. But for Fear Effect Reinvented, we have to be as close as possible in terms of feeling, and also make it evolve to a more modern version. That means understanding what the original creators wanted, their vision and how they worked to create such an experience.

"Working on the improved graphics will be the biggest challenge. In the 1999 game, lots of the atmosphere relied on imagination - the low definition textures forced the players to create images in their heads. With today's high definition, a lot of the work we'll do will be creating high definition objects and textures, while staying true to the original atmosphere."

Romaggi continues: "We won't be making a simple remake, we want to stay as close as possible to the original, but important aspects of the game will evolve. Graphics, of course, as you can see in the announcement trailer... we tried to find a very modern, yet respectful artistic direction - and I must say we're very excited with what we've done so far.

"The second big evolution are the controls. I don't know if you've played Fear Effect and Fear Effect: Retro Helix recently, but - unlike the rest of the game - the controls didn't age very well. We will propose a more modern experience with more fluid controls. But we're also thinking about the hardcore fans and we'll let them play with the old controls.

"Beside that, the franchise is still modern enough, in term of story, ambience and characters, to catch the attention of lots of players."

Not that everything will be carried across. One thing Fear Effect became known for during its brief original run was its sexually suggestive marketing campaign, particularly for the second game when it played up the relationship between the two female leads.

"I think there's a big difference between what's acceptable within the context of a game, versus what is spun out to grab attention and try and sell games," says Elliott. "I think the industry and society has moved on a lot in the past 15 years or so, and there's not really any tolerance for sensationalism in marketing - so while we wouldn't shy away from difficult or mature content or stories within games, I would hope not to see tabloid-style nonsense being used to just grab attention."

Fear Effect Reinvented is due in 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

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