F.E.A.R. ReviewHave no fear, this game really delivers...
F.E.A.R. or First Encounter Assault Recon takes you into one badly lit office building after another, while shooting a seemingly never ending onslaught of like-minded enemies with a relatively scarce selection of weapons.
This is a game that will make outrageous demands of your old war-torn PC. Oh, and not to forget; this is also one of the most intense, nail-biting, super-spooky games ever made. Let me tell you why.
Who’s afraid of the big bad…little girl?
It all starts with a guy named Paxton Fettel. He’s an insane military commander who has taken over an army of clones with which he is somehow mysteriously telepathically connected. Fettel and his so-called Replica soldiers have gone berserk in an unnamed American town where they’ve taken over an office complex belonging to the Armachem. Apparently they are looking for something and have taken hostages but not made any demands and the whole situation is very unstable. The government dispatches a team to investigate, but communication is interrupted by a mysterious signal and the team is wiped out.
Now you have to go in – along with your fellow Delta Force soldiers in the F.E.A.R. team and find out what happened and uncover the source of the unknown signal. Luckily, you possess supernatural quick reflexes that seem to slow down time thereby enabling you to get the better of your enemies. But you are not the only one with supernatural powers in the Armachem building; Fettel himself isn’t exactly what you’d call normal and there’s also a little girl wandering around the building creating chaos. What’s going on? What’s Fettel’s purpose? Who’s the girl? And from where do you get your own powers? F.E.A.R. is very much a journey into unknown territory.
The filmic inspiration is very obvious. As in the Matrix you have a bullet-time option and it works very similar to Max Payne only here it’s seen in the first-person perspective and it looks much better. The colours change and blend into each other, motion blur is used and every time a shot is fired you’ll see its trail in the air. It all looks amazing. The bullet-time ability enables you to hit your enemies with great precision, gives you time to use medpacks, throw grenades and at the same time avoid the opponents’ shots.
You’ll need this ability – constantly. The enemies in this game are tough as nails and they behave in a relatively intelligent way, often taking cover or ambushing you when you least expect it and in these situations it’s always nice to be able to go into slow motion. Your bullet time ability isn’t infinite and needs to recharge, so you need to be somewhat strategic in your approach.
Another source of inspiration is Japanese horror films. Anybody who has seen the little girls in for example The Ring or Dark Water will know what I’m talking about here – though you’ll not know all. The girl in F.E.A.R. looks a lot like her Japanese, ahem, role models but she hides other secrets. All in all the game makes good use of the distinguished Japanese style of horror; after some weird events in the beginning of the game things get quiet for a while and the atmosphere gets more foreboding and eerie and you never know from where the next scare will come.
There are not many BOO! scares of the more western traditional horror type – rather the game gets under your skin as the Japanese films to which it plays homage. This kind of slow creeping horror combined with rampant action is not something I would have thought worked but it turns out that I have been proven wrong.
After a hectic firefight the ensuing silence works to great effect and the satisfaction from dishing out a can of whoop-ass after having crawled around dark hallways with your heart beating loudly cannot be downplayed.
Know your arsenal
In the game you can only carry three weapons at a time, so you need to make some choices as to which weapons you wish to part with when you find new ones. You can also only carry three types of grenades and only five of each. These vary from regular hand grenades, prox-mines that explode when enemies get too close to remote bombs that stick on objects and can be detonated at a distance.
You need to figure out which weapons are best suited for your current situation; some rifles are equipped with scopes but are no good at close range, the shotgun is nasty up close and personal but enemies do tend to run away, the small machine gun is great against enemies with no armour etc.
Last but not least you must remember to pick up medpacks, which you can carry ten of at a time and don’t forget the boosters that increase your lifebar and bullet-time bar permanently. You also carry a flashlight which battery constantly runs out and needs to recharge – a cheap horror trick to be sure but at least you can use your flashlight along with your weapons as opposed to certain other games…
While F.E.A.R. makes ample use of all the latest graphics achievements it doesn’t look as good as Half-Life 2 or DOOM 3. The level design in F.E.A.R. even appears to be simpler by comparison. Still it seems that F.E.A:R. is the most impressive of the three games mentioned. Try throwing a prox-mine after a group of enemies standing next to an object that can explode or break, go into bullet-time and place a shot in the middle of the mine. Insane pyrotechnics await.
All this doesn’t change the fact that the game suffers from some basic problems such as the weird corner-lag (yup, that’s a neat new expression). Every time I turned around a corner the game got choppy to some degree and it didn’t matter how much I tweaked the graphics settings.
Most of the time the game ran smoothly even in intense situations but occasionally I had experienced these annoying choppy sequences when the video game was first released usually when something exciting was about to happen. I’ve been told that the 512 MB RAM I have in my system is not quite enough but my neighbour experienced the same and he has 1 GB RAM in his system.
I was using a Radeon X800 XT PE and he has a Radeon X800 Pro, so I went to the game’s website which had info on some problems with ATi’s streaming technology supposedly being the reason for the lag. This smells of the game being optimized to run on Nvidia’s cards all over since its logo is both on the box and in the game; The Way It’s Meant To Be Played they say. That’s very good thank you but we Radeon owners would like to get a piece of the cake too.
Another point of note is the sound. It’s almost as if the different sound effects were recorded at various input volumes. A shot from my machine gun ought to be louder than the noise it makes when I tip a can off a shelf right? Sometimes you get a shock when you’re walking around a room alone and suddenly hear a loud noise as a result of walking into a phone or a cardboard box. But maybe it’s meant to be that way.
Interactive film revisited
It’s an old cliché but this game really delivers an experience with production values reminiscent of Hollywood. The firefights of the game can make John Woo jealous and there are plenty of grotesque details such as bodies torn in half and objects that are smashed, torn, burnt, cracked and splintered.
But Monolith knows that this no movie, so you will not be bothered by weird changes of camera angles and there are no specific cutscenes besides the ones in the beginning and at the end of the game. The mysterious protagonist of the game never speaks which may seem a bit odd but at the same time it gives you the impression that it’s the player that plays the main part. It’s you that are in the centre of the fights, it’s you the F.E.A.R. team communicates with over comlink and though you can’t answer there is an understated feeling that you tell the team about everything that is going on.
The game manages to get very personal just like Half-Life 2, but since the experience is much scarier and intense it strikes a deeper emotional nerve than Valve’s masterpiece, and therefore you can forgive it for the faults it has. The story is primarily told through flashbacks and a lot of phone messages and laptop files scattered around the game. But this aspect isn’t the game’s strongest asset even though the voice acting is convincing. The phone messages are plentiful and it can be hard to maintain the interest it takes to listen to them all. Overall, the story isn’t as tight as in Half-Life 2 but the intense gameplay more than compensates for that.
F.E.A.R. gets its high grade from the insane combat and intense atmosphere that borrows a lot from Asian horror movies. The game isn’t so scary that it should keep easily spooked people from playing it – it does help that you play a tough guy with heavy firearms and supernatural reflexes and not some defenceless single mother or what the victims are in all those movies. The game is scarier than Resident Evil and as adrenaline fuelled as Alien vs. Predator when playing as marine but not as diabolically evil as Silent Hill. But make no mistake: the blood, scares and foul language makes it deserve its 18+ rating.
The multiplayer component of the game was somewhat redundant in my opinion. There are the classic game modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Elimination and Capture the Flag and then there are the SlowMo modes. In the latter you search for a reflex booster powerup which yields points when you have it. If you manage to hold on to it long enough you can activate bullet-time. This applies to all players but the one holding the booster moves twice as fast as the opponents. If you’re killed carrying the booster you drop it for others to pick up. In SlowMo Team DM your entire team gets the ability. It works quite well but not as good as in singleplayer.
This game might not be remembered the same way Half-Life 2. But it’s some of the best you can feed your PC if your nerves (and PC) can take it. Remember to check out if your machine matches the minimum specs or else you’ll get disappointed. Which certainly is not a big problem right now because no one have Pentium 3 or old mac's in there homes anymore.