Monday, February 2, 2009

F.E.A.R. Review

With the sequel coming out in just about a week, and since I mentioned it in my "5PC Games You Should Play" post, we're going to get a little retro and talk about F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R, or "First Encounter Assault Recon," is a special military unit created to deal with paranormal threats. And when the mysterious Paxton Fettel telepathically takes command of an army of genetically-clone super-soldiers, then starts killing and partially eating employees of Armacham Technology Corporation, well, that falls a little outside the scope of local law enforcement or your run-of-the-mill military types. You take the roll of the F.E.A.R. team's "Point Man," a man who's past and even his true identity are a mystery.

As the Point Man tracks Fettel, he has strange, often terrifying visions, often including a little girl in a red dress, whom he eventually learns to be named Alma. And when others around him are violently killed by a paranormal force, solving the mystery of Alma and how she relates to Fettel
isn't just necessary for his mission, but for his survival.

At first glance, F.E.A.R. might seem like any other first-person shooter. Sure, the Point Man has a slow-mo gimmick, which might not be ubiquitous in FPS games, but it's certainly not a new concept. Encounters are generally very satisfying, though. Every gun in the game, from lowliest pistol to the trusty shotgun, radiates a sense of lethal power. Enemies jerk when hit, bits of scenery will chip off and fly away, gas canisters will explode and shower the area around it with flames, and dust will leave the battlefield covered in a haze. Enemy AI is smart, and will look for cover, lob grenades at you before moving up, and attempt to flank you.

While this would be enough to make for a good shooter, it's the horror elements that truly make F.E.A.R. stand out. Little is explained to you at the beginning of the game, so when you start having visions, they make little sense and leave you wondering what the hell is going on. The environments are broken into open areas for massive gunfights, combined with narrow, poorly lit corridors that leave you wondering when something is going to happen. Developer Monolith does a wonderful job of subtlety. Very overt instances of supernatural events are few, and the more minor ones are spaced out just enough that you don't get used to them, but you don't relax either. Combined with the often very dark levels, you'll really start to wonder if something actually happened, or if your mind was just playing tricks on you.

F.E.A.R. does have it's flaws, although they can be easily overlooked. For one, you can only carry three weapons. This means that you'll settle on three fairly early on, and you'll be inclined to ignore other weapons you find in favor of keeping the ones you already know are effective and you already have ammo for. For me, this was an assault rifle, a shotgun, and the Penetrator, a wonderful gun that shoots spikes that can penetrate armor on stronger foes and pin weaker ones to the environment. Speaking of environments, although the game takes place in a few different areas, you'll hardly know the difference. There's really only two types of environment in this game: dark mazes of basements, and creepy abandoned office building at night. Finally, while not having a clue what's going on adds to the tension, most of the story information comes from hacking laptops you find, or from messages left on answering machines in the buildings you're tracking Fettel through. This often leads to the player not really knowing who people are, why they're supposed to care, or what's going on even after the game is over. It's worth taking the time to find out, though, because once you know, the story's actually pretty good, and the game's ending is great.

Fans of first-person shooters will enjoy F.E.A.R. Fans of horror games or Asian-style horror movies like The Ring will also enjoy F.E.A.R. Fans of both will find F.E.A.R. to be an instant classic.

Final Score: A


science412 said...

I loved F.E.A.R., mostly for the twisted storyline and incredible AI, but my biggest gripe is that there just wasn't enough happening. The entire game was atmospheric, which made it scary, but the amount of credible scary events that happened in the game was limited. I'm hoping that there will be more going on in the sequel.

Mike said...

Dude, trust me, they paced it right. I'm playing the first F.E.A.R expansion, Extraction Point. Scary stuff happens constantly in it, and after awhile, you're seriously like, "Man, the walls are bleeding again. Glad I'm not the janitor." Too much scary = not scary anymore.