Written by Keanu_Edwards on July 14, 2016 @ 5:37 am
I did not originally play F.E.A.R when it was released, but recently acquired it as part of a deal on Steam, and was pleasantly surprised. The story centers around the 'point man' who is part of 'First Encounter Assault Recon', a fictional government department which responds to paranormal incidents. There has been a disaster at a military defense contractor called Armacham Technologies, in which a 'psychic commander' known as Paxton Fettel has taken psychic control of a battalion of replica soldiers (clones) in order to pursue unknown, but violent motives in a district of the city.
The game is a first-person shooter, and much like Half Life, your protagonist is the silent type. Guided through a series of linear levels by your superior Rodney Betters, who communicates with you via radio, your mission is to eliminate Fettel, though for the most part you will be plowing through his army of well-armed clone soldiers. The story behind Fettel, Armacham, and a mysterious young girl called Alma who appears to you via apparitions, becomes more clear as the game progresses.
F.E.A.R tries to balance horror and action elements, and manages to do so surprisingly well. A few cheap jump scares are interspersed between a brooding atmosphere in many cramped and dark locations, but the action gameplay is what shines. Bullets do an untold amount of destruction to the environment (the game can render a terrific amount of bullet holes on screen at one time). Shoot someone between metal ducts and a flurry of sparks, blood, and smoke ensues, making every kill executed with a decent variety of weapons incredibly satisfying. Your health and armor are not up to much, especially on extreme difficulty, so to compensate you can use a Matrix-esque bullet time to take out multiple enemies in a matter of seconds. The amount of time you can enter this hyperspeed mode is augmented by cleverly hidden reflex boosters located throughout the many offices and catwalks of F.E.A.R.
The story is standard schlock, and there isn't much to crow about, but the way in which it is revealed (horrendous Alienware product placement, as well as excellently utilized answering machine messages) is done very well and compensates somewhat for the meat of this tale, which is less than gourmet.
One cannot speak about this game without mentioning the AI because it was groundbreaking enough to have a whole university thesis written on it. Enemies in F.E.A.R behave amazingly realistically, retreating, taking cover, fanning out, flanking, and rushing you, and this unique programming is helped by the fact that you encounter your enemies as squads, having to take down the entire group before progressing to the next area.
It took me a few days to complete the game on extreme difficulty, collecting all the collectibles available (health and reflex boosters) and this was done in hour-ish intervals per day, since the game can become tedious if you play it for too long. There is some replay value, but this largely comes from the fun of battling the AI rather than from any reward for being a completionist. The difficulty even on the highest setting isn't too much of a challenge either, even if you weren't able to quick save whenever you wanted between the generous checkpoints. Most of the deaths incurred in my run were cheap shots rather than actual combat (a truck running me over because I couldn't run fast enough, for example).
The gameplay is F.E.A.R's selling point and it stands out as one of the best first-person shooters of all time when one judges that genre by its gameplay mechanic alone. The enemy AI is phenomenal, and everything has a kind 'weight' to it that is absent in other FPS games, especially those released around this time
The atmosphere is another thing the game does well. F.E.A.R manages to create tension pretty effectively, even if the constant hallucinations can get repetitive. It deserves credit for managing to inspire unease when the main enemies are carbon-copy soldiers.
WHAT'S NOT SO GREAT?
The environments are bland. There is not much differentiation in the visuals of the game and this can lead to a lot of heavy repetition of gray hallways, maintenance tunnels, back to gray hallways, into an office section, back to gray hallways. Even compared to some earlier shooters, F.E.A.R suffers from a lack of detailing and differentiation, and this is evident even among the characters who are less than interesting, with only one or two exceptions.
If you like the FPS genre and atmospheric tension, I can recommend F.E.A.R on account of these elements, and to get the most bang for your buck I recommend you play it late at night with the sound up. That said, a good FPS is not necessarily a good game overall. Several stylistic choices hold this title back from being a great game, and keep its score down to a 7/10.
August 30, 2016 @ 3:30 am