Review: F.E.A.R

11 12 2005

First Person Shooters (FPS) have become an almost clichéd genre in the video game market, falling into the same traps and contrived conventions that make many of them fairly identical, if not tedious. Monolith Games—the minds behind popular titles like Alien vs Predator 2 and No One Lives Forever—promised to avoid contrivances in FEAR, a horror FPS that, for the most part, succeeds in dodging the monotony of the genre, though not completely.

In the game, you play a nameless, newly assigned point man of FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon), a secret military organization that investigates paranormal activity. Your team is sent in to stop Paxton Fettal—the insane progeny of another secret military project—a “psychic commander” who has the ability to control a battalion of mindless clones. Your mission is to stop Fettal and to uncover the source of his insanity.

FEAR has a lot of great things going for it, the most obvious being its graphics. Firefights look amazing, with vivid and detailed dust and bullet ricochets. While the level design may seem repetitive (there are plenty of sharp corners and long corridors) and the character models could be sharper, FEAR shines in its ability to create a truly creepy atmosphere. There are dark corners everywhere, thanks to some clever lighting and shadow effects that allow for some genuinely scary moments—a hallmark not only of a frightening horror film but also of a scary horror game. This is helped by the fact that much of the game’s imagery is inspired by Japanese horror flicks, the most notable being The Ring. It doesn’t make the games atmosphere exactly original,but it is exceedingly effective.

The audio in FEAR is also astounding. In a game that plays off of being afraid of the dark, it’s often the little noises that can make you spin around, ready to blast whatever’s there. The combat also sounds glorious—you can hear every noise in a firefight, including shattering glass, breaking boxes and falling shell casings.

Beyond the aesthetics of the game, however, is some very intense action with undeniably the best enemy artificial intelligence of any FPS game to date. The clones seem to tell each other everything, from when you try to flank them, to checking in with their squad leader for advice. They use the dust that flies during a firefight as cover because they know you can’t see through it. You’re given, fortunately, something called “Reflex,” which allows you to temporarily slow down time, giving you a distinct advantage. This ability doesn’t last very long, and in fact it’s its length that makes it a perfect fit for the otherwise chaotic gunplay. All of these factors come together to make some of the most intense shootouts you’ll find—a good thing, since the core of the game rests there.

Still, FEAR does fail in a big way when it comes to Monolith’s desire to avoid FPS contrivances, mostly because they use them to push the story of the game forward. Along with “Reflex,” you also have the ability to access others laptops and voicemail at random, without requiring any sort of pin or password. The only information you receive is by these means, which is a bit deflating, since sub-par storytelling and overly convenient devices hinder an otherwise fantastic game.

FEAR is a phenomenal game that will keep you occupied for a fair while—you’ll get about ten to twelve hours of play from the single -player mode, and ten times more in the multiplayer. It will scare you many times over, as well as challenge you in ways never seen in previous FPS style games. If you don’t mind a slightly unsatisfying story, FEAR is definitely an adventure you’ll never forget.

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