PC REVIEW: F.E.A.R.

What scares you? Things that go bump in the night or facing off against a legion of the sneakiest AI bastards ever created? If your answer is "both", welcome to your next game purchase.

F.E.A.R. which is in acronym for First Encounter Assault & Recon returns the FPS genre to the "shoot first, ask questions later" style of blastathon, games like Doom 3 and Quake 4 have strived for recently with varying degrees of success. Where F.E.A.R. manages to best the aforementioned titles is in its adrenaline pumping firefights combined with its edge of your seat downtime that just gets the guts churning as you explore the empty corridors. Monolith has to be commended for their phenomenal attention to AI detail. I think it's fair to say I've never faced off against such brutal enemy AI and since I probably play more games than you, I'm guessing you haven't either.

In terms of story, F.E.A.R. starts off interesting but quickly descends into "meh" due to the cliched method in which it unfolds (via voicemails and laptop email messages ala Resident Evil, Doom 3 etc) although your attention will be so deeply focused on staying alive that you probably won't notice nor care for that matter. Without giving too much away, your job involves containing a situation involving a rogue army of cloned soldiers who can be controlled via psychic powers. These clones were once on your side but alas, all good things must come to an end. You're the new guy, sent in to find out what's going on.

Perhaps to make up for the lack of story, Monolith filled F.E.A.R. with moments of pure gaming mind-candy. I can't tell you what those are for fear of destroying the experience, but let me just say that there is no chance in Gosh Darn Heck you'll be disappointed. Once you've encountered a few waves of the AI from Hell who provide cover fire for partners, will circle back around you if possible, leap over obstacles to get closer - you'll realize that F.E.A.R. is not your garden variety mindless shooter. Some of what you'll actually "fear" doesn' t just take the form of hella cool AI opponents; you'll be faced with creepy things that do more than bump things in the night. The only knock I can level at the developers in terms of "scare factor" is the use of the dirty little ghoulish girl with long black hair. That's kinda been done....to death in movies and games.

Providing you with a competitive edge is another cliched videogame mechanic which you'll be so thankful for you won't have time to debate whether "bullet time" (Concentration) has also been done to death in recent years. The ability to slow down time in F.E.A.R. really does provide you with the edge you'll so desperately need throughout the game. Without it, the game would be almost impossible in certain areas. But it's best used as an appetizer rather than the main course. Concentration replenishes as time marches on and you'd be forgiven if you thought a good tactic would be to engage it, jump out, shoot everything that moved and then hid while it recharged. That doesn't work so well because of the already talked about AI. They will snuff you out while you hide either by actually flanking you or simply tossing a grenade in your general direction.

Visually F.E.A.R. is a cornea searing treat but really only when it comes to the creepy monsters and the animations of the swarms of enemies. The environments are fairly stark and due to the "scientific complex" nature of the story, tend to be confusing and repetitive - almost needlessly so as you'll no doubt find yourself going around in circles more than a few times. F.E.A.R. is a pretty big system hog too and you'll want some juice under the hood if you plan to play it and see it the way Monolith intended you to.

More so than visuals, F.E.A.R.s ambient soundrack and sound effects will send chills up your spine as you wander the empty halls (or so you hope) of the complex. If you don't have a decent set of speakers I would recommend investing in some, as F.E.A.R. gets props for such fantastic music and effects. Not only are the effects well done, but they are also well placed. Normal everyday sounds like bumping into a wall usually aren't that frightening, but this game will have you jumping like a chihuahua with a nervous disposition.

Control is a real mixed bag. On the one hand Monolith went above and beyond the call of duty in regards to the amount of control they have offered to the player. You will be able to jump, duck, melee attack, shoot, concentrate, zoom in, look around obstacles, throw grenades, strafe etc. With all of the possiblities in terms of movement coming to terms with the controls in the middle of a firefight can be overwhelming. Purists will definitely want to spend some time in the configuration menu as the default setup is the least intuitive and will definitely require tweaking, unless your a tried and true WASD player.

Once you do manage to come to grips with the maneuverability Monolith packs a one-two punch with their robust firearms selection. You won't have oodles of weapons to experiment with, but the firepower you do have is more than enough to get the job done. The only disappointing aspect of the weapons is the remarkably small amount of grenades you'll have access to. In a game like F.E.A.R. where enemies are often clustered together, a few pineapples tossed in the right direction can even the odds in your favor. You'll learn to really cherish those moments when you manage to use one effectively. Hell, it just might be your last so you had better not waste it.

Since the single player game is really the star of the show, the multiplayer games (Capture the Flag, Deathmatch etc) don't really shine. It was very ambitious of Monolith to include "concentration" in the online aspects of F.E.A.R. (your online opponents will find their movements slowed down and thus be susceptible to attack) but aside from that one flourish, taking F.E.A.R. online isn't anything spectacular. It's certainly no deal clincher if you're sitting on the fence.

F.E.A.R. is all about messing with your head in single player. If you aren't freaked out by the ambient noises and ghoulish aspects during the games "downtime" you'll be on the edge of your seat trying to stay alive during the extremely intense firefights. Since the fear you'll experience isn't the result of scripted or canned events, F.E.A.R. comes off feeling fresh and inspired even though it sometimes relies on parlor tricks to get the heart puming a little faster than usual. It's a wild ride to be sure and fans of both FPS and horror will get a lot of it.

Preview by Vaughn

Monolith has been responsible for some very kick ass games in the past and some coming your way in the future. No One Lives Forever 2 and Aliens vs. Predator are a couple of their greatest hits while The Matrix Online will hit storeshelves eventually....and so will F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is an acronym for First Encounter Assault Recon which means that these bad dudes are the first to arrive on the scene when the contents of your large intestine hit the fan. Unfortunately however, they are about to encounter a force that will quite literally blow them all away and we're pretty sure you haven't encountered these kinds of enemies in a FPS since Clive Barker's Undying....

The single player mission begins with a helicopter drop in your typical hozone. But as your team gets torn up by the enemy and you haul ass into the complex, you'll encounter other beings decidedly less than human. The Delta Force team sent in ahead of the F.E.A.R. (which is strange since you ARE First Encounter...but I digress) is holding down the fort inside but you watch as a tiny little girl advances in their general direction and completely mutilates the bunch of 'em without even touching them. Then she turns her attentions on you....nice.

Monolith is promising some very cool FPS advances in F.E.A.R. The least of which is a bullet time mode available in both single and multiplayer. I saw this one in action last May at E3 and was extremely impressed with the whole shebang. Visually the game is dynamite - literally - as the screen explodes with sparks, electricity, smoke, dust...it's something to see.

We hope to have some more info regarding the multiplayer features soon. We can't wait to hear how they plan to implement the bullet time mode while playing online. Could this be the start of adding funky cool effects to FPS? Let's hope!

Story:

The story begins as an unidentified paramilitary force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound. The government responds by sending in Special Forces, but loses contact as an eerie signal interrupts radio communications. When the interference subsides moments later, the team has been literally torn apart. As part of a classified strike team created to deal with threats no one else can handle, your mission is simple: Eliminate the intruders at any cost. Determine the origin of the signal. And contain this crisis before it spirals out of control.

Features:

  • * Hyper Stylized FPS Action - Experience intense, cinematic combat using a vast array of equipment and abilities:
    o Powerful arsenal: Utilize a diverse selection of weaponry, from obliterating enemies with a remote charge to sticking them to a wall with the nail gun.
    o Melee combat: Use your body as a lethal weapon with intense melee attacks, like the powerful roundhouse kick or the devastating slide kick, to eliminate enemies with one swift blow.
    o Slo-mo: Manipulate time and slow down the action around you to gain the upper-hand on the enemy.
  • * Supernatural Storyline - Expect the unexpected in an atmosphere of extreme tension and unknown danger
    o A mysterious, unidentified military force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound.
    o An entire special forces team is slaughtered with no signs of struggle and no shell casings anywhere.
    o Can you, as a member of the classified strike team F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) contain the situation?
  • * Larger-than-life enemies - The enemy A.I. makes you feel like you are battling against live players. Maneuvering like a true squad the AI will flank, seek cover, and use the environment as they respond to your attacks. The enemies also sport state-of-the-art suits with special abilities including invisibility and heavy duty armor that protects against specific attacks, making them a compelling challenge in combat.
  • * Advanced Graphics Engine - A graphics engine that has been judged among the very best in the industry.
    o Cinematic Special Effects - Get the feeling of being in your own action movie complete with sparks, smoke, debris from surrounding walls. It is all here when you unleash your arsenal in the world.
    o Advanced Game Technology - A world so convincing that you’ll feel like you are actually in the game and not behind a keyboard.
    + Utilizes the newest rendering technology employing real-time per pixel lighting, shadow volumes, normal mapping, and advanced shaders.
    + Havok Physics 2 system makes unleashing hell on your enemies visceral and satisfying. Bodies will fall, collapse and recoil accurately along with objects reacting to being shot, pushed or blown up as they would in real life.
  • * Multi-Player Action - Multiple game play modes for up to 16 players online or over a LAN. All single player capabilities exist in the multiplayer modes including all of the powerful weapons, melee combat maneuvers and the slow-motion capability.
System: PC
Dev: Monolith Studios
Pub: Vivendi
Release: Oct 2005
Players: 1 - 16
Review by StewXX
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
3.0