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.