F.E.A.R is the most intense first-person shooter I’ve ever played. It doesn’t do it by bombarding you with ear-splitting explosions, or keeping you at the brink of death, but through sheer atmosphere, design, and pacing. Even if you aren’t a tactician when it comes to first-person shooters and prefer run-and-gun mayhem, this game will slow you down and get you into the crouch position. F.E.A.R will have you leaning around corners, taking very careful shots at only the most vulnerable spots on your enemies’ bodies. You’ll be more environmentally aware, searching frequently for objects around you that can serve as shields, looking for pillars that can be used to ricochet grenades off of. Bottom line: F.E.A.R will change the way you play FPS games and along the way it will deliver an awesome experience that will have you asking for more.
Isn’t this guy in Tron?
F.E.A.R opens up with a first-person cutscene that reminded me a lot of Half-Life, which is definitely a good thing. It turns out that you’re the latest recruit for the First Encounter Assault Recon team and your first day on the squad is going to be spent tracking down a guy by the name of Paxton Fettel. But the F.E.A.R team isn’t for just tracking down regular punks, Fettel is the real deal. Fettel was presumably just an average guy until the military decided to telepathically link him to a battalion of cloned soldiers. As expected, the military loses control of their psychic friend network and he begins using the soldiers to launch an attack against them and several other targets that he’s chosen. No one really knows why Fettel has lost it, but as you trudge through hallways, laboratories, warehouses and alleyways, you’re going to come face to face with his madness.
From the start, F.E.A.R engulfs you in creepiness. What Monolith’s last huge FPS game, No One Lives Forever, did for humor, F.E.A.R does for horror. The game makes excellent use of darkness, but not to the point of Doom III where you can’t see anything, but to the point where you can’t see everything. This works a lot better than Doom III’s darkness, which gets so predictable throughout the game that’ll you become so expecting of scares that you aren’t scared anymore. Instead, F.E.A.R makes great use of low-lighting which magnificently compliments sparse surprises. While F.E.A.R could startle you with a strange apparition coming at you out of a corridor or a bizarre slow-motion flashback sequence every few minutes, it really ratchets up the tension by making you wait for it.
You’ll be waiting and waiting and waiting, searching around every corner expecting some surprise, but it isn’t until you let your guard down that the game finally does freak you out. Battles follow this same tactic. You won’t encounter a lone soldier in each room, instead, soldiers will more realistically control specific points, and you’ll find yourself fighting against groups of five or six soldiers all at once. You’ll walk through a few corridors, slowly creeping along, expecting a battle just waiting for you around the next corner, and then when it hits, you still feel totally unprepared, outnumbered, and outgunned. Admittedly, I’ve never been very tactical in my first-person shooters, but this game definitely made me reconsider my strategies. You need to be moving constantly, always aware of the positions of your enemies, because if you give them any opportunity to hit you, they will.
In one specific area, I walked through a door and noticed a group of soldiers running through a corridor. I figured that they had probably seen me, so I went back into the room, hoping to create a bottleneck with the door where I could pick them off, one by one. Instead, they did the same thing to me, taking up a defensive position in a nearby room, one that I had to go through to continue. I crouched down and moved towards their position as quietly as possible, taking cover behind a pillar. I lobbed a grenade into the room to get their attention, and upon sight of it, every one of them took cover behind tables and lab stations. I then equipped my assault rifle, picking off a couple of them, when one of them tried to flank me through a window that was blasted out by a grenade.
Modern Japanese horror cinema has a lot to answer for.
One of his friends also decided at that moment that he would go for a flanking maneuver, but now I had my back to him so he pelted me with a few shots from behind. My other weapon was in need of a reload that I didn’t have time for, so I switched to another assault rifle and put him down, albeit with lower health and armor. The remaining two soldiers took up better positions in the back of the room, with one of them turning over a table to create a defensive position where one previously didn’t exist. I lobbed a grenade at an enemy behind a table and took him down, but I was out of grenades at that point. Try as I might to pick off the last enemy off with my assault rifle, I couldn’t hit him behind the high lab station he was hiding behind, so I pulled out my shotgun and ran right in at him, tearing off one of his arms with a blast of buckshot.
That one battle, which only lasted two minutes, was just one in a series of intense and memorable moments that occurred while playing F.E.A.R. I had to use nearly every weapon in my arsenal (you can only carry three at a time), including my grenades. It gave me enough of a battle high that it put me in a heightened state of alert, making me feel tense as I walked through the halls, expecting to be ambushed at any moment. That battle made me forget all about being scared, and around almost the very next corner, I was quite surprised to be bombarded by a slow-motion scene where the ghostly image of a little girl dressed in all black was controlling fire and using it to burn down the room we were in. I didn’t shoot at her, instead I ran for the door I came through hoping to get the hell away from her, not because I thought the fire was going to kill me, but because I was generally startled.
It’s moments like these that really make you glad that you purchased this game. Sure, some of the level design isn’t exactly perfect and the placement of things like medkits and grenades can feel a little unbalanced (sometimes, you’ll be stocked with almost ten health kits and full of grenades, then you’ll go half an hour with only two medkits and no grenades), but the few scattered minutes of fear and battle will make you forget all about those flaws. The incredible graphics really help deliver this game in its fully glory, and while I certainly can’t run the game at the highest settings, the game was optimized almost perfectly and I only saw a few momentary drops in framerate. You’re basically allowed to alter any setting, from the amount of random objects that appear in the environments to how realistic the physics respond. This really allows you to make the experience run as perfectly as possible, and I mention these options because more games should give this much control to the player.
Even the sound stands out. The music sounds like it came directly out of Trent Reznor’s head, full of strange sounds combining with instruments to create a weird sounding, nearly indescribable soundtrack that really sets the mood. Your team members will chat with your via headset as you move throughout the game’s sprawling levels, and the conversations will be marred by random static and interference, which is a really nice touch, but an even better touch is the conversations that take place between enemy soldiers. Through effective use of 3D audio design, you can accurately guess not only how far away your enemies are, but almost exactly where they are in relation to you. This is just another in a series of great design techniques that make this game so awesome.
I think at this point making friends with them is not an option.
The last few levels of F.E.A.R reminded me a lot of the closing sequences of Deus Ex. I won’t spoil it for you, but this is definitely a good thing. F.E.A.R is one of those games that stands out, like Deus Ex and Half-Life stood out when they were released. It combines the best scare tactics that any game has utilized to date with a near-perfect FPS experience. F.E.A.R is a must-own, a must-play, a must-have or whatever generic must-“word” or must-“phrase” that you’ll find plastered on a game box. From start to finish, this is a tight experience that will challenge and entertain you unlike any other FPS of 2005.