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Remembering… F.E.A.R

On Wednesday 26th October 2005, feckless college student and videogame enthusiast Nick Horth sat down to record an all-night gaming session with F.E.A.R, Monolith’s beloved horror FPS.

A year later the audio recording of this session was discovered:

[6:25 PM] Okay, so it’s getting dark outside, I’ve got a wide variety of snacks within arm’s reach, and a pristine new copy of F.E.A.R: First Encounter Assault Recon in the CD drive. I’ve heard this game can be pretty intense. Let’s jump in and see if that’s true.

Right, so I’m another mute supersoldier on a special mission. Nothing particularly new there. Hunt down a psychic cannibal with telepathic control over an entire army of clones? Sure. What could possibly go wrong?

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[7:35 PM] Situation update. Right, first of all I’m having strange visions of shambling figures who disintegrate into the ether when I get too close. This would normally be totally fine, except I’m also being toyed with by an insane cannibal, and my initial recon team have just been reduced to a pool of tepid human slurry by a psychic toddler called Alma who may or may not be a primordial manifestation of ultimate evil.

Still, this submachine gun is pretty darn fun to shoot! Take that, unidentified clone! Wow, this combat system sure is great, it really feels like I’m playing an awesome Hong Kong action flick. Yep, that’s the last of them, I’ll just enter this perfectly normal corridor. Hmm, it’s rather quiet in here, I’ll just wander up there and- … — oh God!…..[yelping sounds]….SHE’S COMING—xxzzkk..

[9:19 PM] Okay seriously now, this is getting bloody silly. How many times am I going to be separated from my useless sodding team. At least I have my trusty shotgun. You’ll never let me down, will you old friend? With your glorious, defiant, thunderous bark and your firm and satisfying cocking animation. Ahem. Anyway, onward.

[9:36 PM] Normally I’d moan about the fact that as a genetically enhanced supersoldier, there’s not much of a sense of personal danger, but that’s not really the case here. Because there’s no real physical manifestations of the horror that’s stalking you, you’re always aware of how useless all your weapons and strength are in the final count. It’s the difference between a game which relies on tangible physical dangers to overcome, and a ghost story like this. It’s why the scariest mission in Vampire: Bloodlines was always that one set in a haunted hotel with a poltergeist flinging saucepans about.

[10:36 PM] If I hide behind this bin she can’t see me, if I hide behind the bin I’m completely safe…[repeats mantra for seven minutes]

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[10:59 PM] I would imagine that I’m still going to be wandering down brown and grey corridors eight hours from now. Not the most attractive environments, aesthetically speaking. Still, the layout of the maps is well done, allowing for some pretty insane gunfights on multiple levels; the best have a sort of freeform verticality with different floors and approaches, and it’s satisfying to be able to flank and sneak up on enemies. Makes a change from the more straightforward room-by-room approach of other shooters, and it keeps the action interesting.

[11:48 PM] Finally another combat bit. Thank the Gods. Couple of grenades over there- ouch that looked painful, sorry old chap. Blam, blam, blam. Seriously, Maurice [subject appears to have named his combat shotgun Maurice] once we’re out of here it’s a civil partnership and a long honeymoon in Venice. Room service on me.

Room clear. Bollocks. That means she’s probably going to show up again… Dum de dum de dum- CHRIST! What just ran past that window?

[1:03 AM] You know, this is really pretty formulaic. Shooty bit, shooty bit, scary bit, shooty bit. A little more variation in the gameplay pattern would be welcome. Unfortunately it’s still completely effective at shitting me up. Everything just comes together, the lighting, the sound design, the excellent enemy A.I- and I’m always in the thick of it, there’s never any boring bits when the game takes control over and starts playing me cutscenes.

That’s unfortunate actually, because I could do with a breather. I’m so catastrophically high on caffeine and sugary snacks that the next time some hideous yowling thing jumps out at me from behind a desk I’m definitely going to evacuate something—- YAH! [unidentified liquid sound]

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[1:45 AM] Oh goody, the fat, crisp-guzzling comic relief guy is back. How hilarious, he just fell out of a vent. Jar Jar Binks. This was a mistake, Monolith.

[2:15 AM] Lots of varying enemy types to keep me on my toes here. My favourite are the cloaked assassins, who have a nasty habit of ambushing me inside darkened offices. They do some serious damage, too. When you glimpse one charging at you there’s the same rush of blind panic that the poison headcrabs in Half-Life 2 caused. Mind you, the heavily armoured troopers with rail cannons that pop up every now and then are no picnic either.

[2:45 AM] Stuck in a lift with the little girl from The Ring. THIS IS AN APPALLING SITUATION—–[cuts off]

[3:37 AM] Phew, survived again, just about. Hiding in an office. Oh look, there’s another answerphone message. I usually hate it when developers make you root around for ‘exposition laptops’, but it sort of works here. I’m slowly working out exactly what’s been done to Alma, and why she’s so tetchy all the time. It’s pretty grim. I like the matter of fact storytelling, relying on background details rather than endless cutscenes to fill you in.

[4:46 AM] I believe we’re approaching the endgame. I’m infiltrating the corporation’s secret base, with the help of that interminable, fat tech-support clown. Wait! Haha, he’s dead! Shot in the guts by an evil scientist! See how he bleeds, Maurice? I’ve still got Alma to deal with, but ultimately, I think the greater evil, the evil of misjudged comedy sidekicks, has already been defeated. O Frabjous day!

[5:13 AM] This is a good example of a well paced plot that ramps up to an appropriate conclusion. I like the way there doesn’t seem to be an awkward boss fight pasted in because the developers felt they should have one. Instead, the escalation of threat seems appropriate to what I’ve uncovered over the course of my mission. Not looking forward to finally meeting Alma in the flesh, though.

[5:24 AM] No, evil scientist guy, don’t throw the Alma release switch! That’s a terrible idea for many, many reasons. Goddamnit…..zzzzKKzzZZZsshhh–

[5:32 AM] OK, sitrep. Turns out I’m the progeny of the psychic monster that’s been chasing me, and I’ve just shot my cannibal brother in the head. I’ve a really terrible day and all I want is a mug of tea and a hot bath, but I’m still determined to finally destroy this facility and Alma herself. I’ve just got to fight my way through a horde of nightmare-conjured phantoms first.

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[5:37 AM] Back off, psychic mum, I’m packing heat! Yes, you can stop creepily advancing towards me down this abandoned street now, thank you very much. Say, what’s that bright glow in the distance. Kind of looks like a nuclear explo—

[6:01 AM] Man, I’m beat. My rescue team finally found me in the ruins of the destroyed city, and I’m being airlifted back home in a military chopper. I’m drained, completely exhausted. I feel like I’ve just given birth to quintuplets without an epidural.

You know, now I’m no longer quite so terrified, that was a really great game. I sure hope they don’t fart out two uninspired sequels that do away with any sense of atmosphere in favour of by-the-numbers action set pieces, increasingly stupid plotlines and boring, scare-free bloodshed, thereby ruining everything completely.

Hey what was that bump? Probably some harmless tubulence, eh Maurice? Hmm, that rotting, cadaverous hand reaching into the chopper from below looks awfully familiar….

[recording ends]

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2012.

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