F.E.A.R. scares us half to death and reminds us of how powerful the 360 actually is.
Awarded Best Shooter of the Year 2005 by dozens of publications and websites, F.E.A.R. on PC took the world by storm last year and made even the manliest gamer cry for mommy. F.E.A.R. sported some of the first destructible environments, deadly enemy AI, and the creepiest little girl in a red dress in the history of modern entertainment. Add in the multiplayer, and you had what some would consider a near-perfect FPS. Fortunately, the development team handling the Xbox 360 port has done an incredible job of capturing everything about the excellent P.C. title and translating it onto the next-gen console. Every gun fight and spooky event has been handled with care. Some, including myself, may go so far as to say that F.E.A.R. on 360 is a stronger title than it was on the PC. Yes, it’s simply that good.
For those in the audience that missed on the first release, whether because you were buried under a rock or simply didn’t have a power rig to play it, F.E.A.R. stands for First Encounter Assault Recon. Players assume the role of the unnamed F.E.A.R. point man as they hunt down the paranormal leader of a Replicant Army named Fettel. This Replicant force is a group of super soldiers designed to follow telepathic orders from Fettel, who is apparently a cannibal with a generally poor disposition.
Predictably, the story heads towards the “freak accident of a weapons development program” route, but the way that the story is told is what sets it apart from just about every other FPS out there. Little bits of back story and contextual information are portrayed through phone messages and laptops scattered throughout the game. As you download files, hear phone recordings, and catch news broadcasts about the recent situation over the radio, you become entirely immersed in the game’s environment and storyline.
When players advance, first through a water treatment plant and then through a high-rise office and then an abandoned town, they will be jolted, spooked, and weirded out by many visual and audio haunts. Sure, F.E.A.R. has its share of cheap scares, but it genuinely creates a sense of tension as you shuffle through the darkness. Corpses laying in precarious positions, haunting images of a freaky doctor even your HMO wouldn’t send you to, and the ever present girl in the red dress will spook you while you play and haunt you when you sleep at night. Make sure the lights are completely off and the stereo is loud for this one.
Of course, this game isn’t all about the paranormal. Much of the tension you’ll experience is the anticipation of combat with the Replicant soldiers. Since everything around you is pitch-black for a huge portion of the game, you’ll always be wondering what could pop out at you from around the next corner. It doesn’t help that your flashlight has a tendency to die at all the wrong times, or that your enemies will see you coming with it on, but like Doom 3 before it, shrouding players in the darkness surrounds them with one of scariest thing known to man – the unknown.
When you do run into the enemy the action is very intense. Encounters with enemies between three and eight are commonplace in most areas of the game, and some shootouts will go on for minutes as you try and bait entrenched Replicant soldiers from their hiding spots. At any point players can tap the L bumper to engage the Slo-Mo feature and gain the upper hand against superior numbers. Of course, the impressive enemy AI that made the PC version so challenging has been ported intact, so players will certainly find plenty of use for the Slo-Mo to simply staying alive.
The arsenal of weapons that is available throughout the game isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but there is certainly enough variety to keep things interesting as players plow through throngs of enemy soldiers. The standard assault rifle, machine gun, and shotgun all make appearances, but there are a few standouts that are really fun to use. The machine pistol, while underpowered in the amount of damage you do, can really put a ton of lead into an enemy when combined with Slo-Mo mode. If conventional weapons don’t grab your fancy, then stay on the lookout for the Type 7 Particle Weapon that completely disintegrates anyone that’s unfortunate to get caught in the crosshairs.
When someone says that F.E.A.R. is one of the prettiest looking games on the Xbox 360, they are not exaggerating. Enemies and NPCs are rendered with stark realism but look most impressive when you click into Slo-Mo mode. The particle effects and bullet trails that appear during Slo-Mo mode are truly a sight to see. When playing in real time, gamers will likely use the flash of an enemy’s muzzle as a target just as often as firing at their actual bodies. I can’t count how many times I found myself firing at red goggles in the darkness or the flash of the rifle as I scrambled for cover. As a point of reference for anyone that hasn’t seen this game in action in a demo or at their local retailer, imagine the atmosphere and effective use of darkness and lighting found in Doom 3. F.E.A.R. looks even better with its myriad blurs, particle effects, and scenes of paranormal freakiness.
Players that wish to keep to themselves and play solo will find a couple modes to keep busy for a while. The campaign mode is as long as any other standard FPS story mode and the pacing keeps players engaged the entire way through. When they are finished with the campaign they can move on to the Instant Action levels to compete for the highest overall score on the Xbox Live Leaderboards. Both modes have four different levels of difficulty, so rookies and PC-vets alike will find the right level of challenge to keep them blasting away.
The real fun is in F.E.A.R.’s flawed but surprisingly deep multiplayer action. Alongside the typical Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, Slo-Mo pick-ups are used in certain modes to keep things fresh. These pickups allow the carrier to use the Slo-Mo feature against others after it charges, but they also become huge targets since they are marked with a red arrow on other players’ HUDs. Instead of picking it up, players that we played against would often booby-trap it or use it as bait to gain quick kills. For all modes, the host has tons of options to customize their game, such as how quick the running speed is, or what weapons aren’t allowed. Our biggest gripe against the multiplayer is its lack of a lobby system to keep parties together. While testing F.E.A.R. against other journalists, it would take a solid three-to-five minutes or more to get all the players back into our room to play the next game. Hopefully, there will be something done to correct this because the rest of the experience was fantastic. For now it’s a huge pain to set games up with friends quickly.
FPS fans that are unfamiliar with F.E.A.R. on PC will find this to be one of the most engaging and entertaining entries into the genre. Players that have F.E.A.R. on monster rigs, on the other hand, have seen this all before outside of the few new modes and the two or three new weapons. F.E.A.R. on Xbox 360 gets high marks for atmosphere, graphics, and enemy A.I., but a stern finger-waving for a lack of a structured internet lobby or buddy system. FPS fans looking for quick frights, superior enemy A.I. and tons of weaponry should look no further. Pick this baby up as soon as possible.