We all know F.E.A.R. right? Ever since its announcement, we knew this would easily be the scariest shooter ever (Doom 3, eat your heart out!). The many trailers showed us many unexplainable phenomenons and a young girl that can easily massacre an entire squad of soldiers. References to Ringu/The Ring and Ju-On were rife, as were the rumours about the storyline. But now, it’s finally here. Prepare for the thrill of the year.
In F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon), you assume the role of a special operations operative, sent in with his squad to capture a man named Paxton Fettel. He’s the man behind a number of weird events and that’s why you need to bring him in for questioning. Oh, and he has a mysterious appetite for human flesh too. But when you arrive at the abandoned warehouse where Fettel is presumed to be, things go wrong, horribly wrong. Your F.E.A.R. team is wiped out in just seconds and so you’re on your own to find Fettel and clear up a few things. And what about the mysterious young girl?
And that was just the beginning. In the first few hours of the game, you won’t know what’s going on. Needless to say, the game sometimes scares the living daylights out of you. You’ll see numerous delusions, the girl will appear several times, but -for some reason- she lets you live. This raises a lot of questions, but little by little, the surprisingly deep story unfolds. Unanswered phone messages and notebooks lying around will give you bits of background info, that will help solve the puzzle by the end of the game. Without spoiling anything, let me just say that the ending of the game is very satisfying.
Of course, a captivating storyline alone won’t do. Unsurprisingly, the game has quite a few other tricks up its sleave. What truly makes this game great, is the challenging firefights. Unlike so many other shooters, the enemy puts up one hell of a fight in F.E.A.R. and you’ll often find yourself outnumbered, outgunned and -a rarity in first-person shooters- outsmarted. The A.I. uses the (cleverly designed) environments to its full potential, as they’ll often turn tables around to hide behind and take secondary paths to flank you. They also use intelligent squad tactics to flush you out. One or two soldiers will give supressive fire, while a strike team goes hunting for you. When they notice you have a hallway covered, they’ll retreat or throw grenades at you before making an all-out assault.
Here’s another example of the nearly brilliant A.I. At one point I needed to cross a water pumping station. I silently walked out of the building I had been in and I surveyed my surroundings. I spotted two guards in front of me, so I picked up my assault rifle, activated SlowMo (more on guns and SlowMo later on in this review) and picked off one of them. The other one immediately ducked for cover and called for back-up. Within seconds, the place was swarming with about half a dozen soldiers that all went after me. Since I held the high ground (and thus had an advantage) I easily shot down three of them. But when I ducked for cover to reload my gun, I noticed a two-man team trying to flank me, by going into a stairway alley through which they could reach me. So I concentrated my fire on those guys, not knowing the survivors of the main team would just come running up the main stairway I was covering to finish me off. I ultimately killed everyone and survived, but with barely a sliver of health left. And that was just one of those adrenalin rushes in the game.
Luckily the developers added SlowMo (also called Reflex time) to the mix to even the odds a little. When you activate this neat trick, the edges of your screen become blurry and grainy, but the area around your crosshair will sharpen up (due to cool graphical filters). Sounds will dampen and voices will come out distorted, but, more importantly, your enemies will move and react lot slower and won’t shoot as accurately, which gives you a few seconds to thin out the competition. As you’ll progress through the game, you’ll find hidden syringes that further lengthen your stay in Bullet Time land (you can find comparable boosts for your health too, by the way). This is quite handy, as your enemies will grow stronger and more numerous during the course of the game.
Naturally, SlowMo alone won’t cut it. Against fierce competition, you need guns, lots of guns (please excuse the Matrix-lingo, but with all the SlowMo and stuff, it’s hard nót to think of the Wachowskis’ epic). Luckily, F.E.A.R. also delivers on that. The weapons range from submachine guns, assault rifles, pistols (that you can also dual-wield), sniper rifles, a very satisfying shotgun and a rocket laucher to more unique toys. Take the Penetrator for instance. This cutie fires nine inch nails that can literally pin a man to the wall, ragdoll-style. How’s that for a new wallpaper? Or better yet: the Plasma Rifle. Hit an unsuspecting enemy with this baby and he’ll literally go up in smoke. The only thing left of him will be his skeleton. Furthermore we have grenades and mines (an excellent way to lure your enemies into a trap) and even several melee-attacks to round out F.E.A.R. immensely satisfying arsenal.
Visually, the game sits near the top of the class. Next to the aforementioned filters, F.E.A.R. also uses a plethora of great particle effects, such as fire, dust and smoke. Save for Call of Duty 2, F.E.A.R. is the only game to actually feature thick smoke you can’t see through, which gives the firefights another edge. The environments in the game are all pretty interactive. Most objects can be moved or shot around and walls and pillars can be destroyed to some extent. Another great thing about F.E.A.R. is its great shadowing and lighting, which gives the game its creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, all this eyecandy has a downside: the system requirements. I can easily say F.E.A.R. is the first and only game thusfar that can really push my system to its limits (A64 3200+/1GB DDR/Radeon X850XT PE). With every single option turned to max, the game suffered from several framerate drops in 1280x1024x2AA, mostly in dark areas. Luckily those moments were pretty rare, but its clear you’ll need a high-end system if you want to see the game in full glory.
Even more impressive is the game’s sound and music. F.E.A.R. brilliantly uses sound to keep you at the edge of your seat the entire time. In dark and narrow alleyways, sound and music will simply disappear. As every film-devotee will tell you, those are the moments that let your heartbeat soar up to 160 beats/minute, even if nothing happens afterwards. Every delusion is also announced by short radio interference.
With all the focus on creating one hell of a singleplayer experience , it was inevitable the multiplayer had to suffer from it. I wouldn’t say the multiplayer component is bad -which it certainly isn’t-, just a tad uninspired. You have your everyday deathmatch, team deathmatch, elimination and CTF modes and a number of maps that all seam to lack open spaces to do large-scale firefights in. There are just too many corridors and hallways, in my opinion. There are some innovative ideas though, as you can play all the modes with SlowMo power-ups. In individual modes, the person with the power-up has Reflex Time, which gives him a great advantage over the others. He’s not invincible though, so that says something about proper balancing. When playing the team-based styles, the entire team profits when one player activates his Reflex Time.
Now that I’ve finished F.E.A.R. and spent quite a few hours on the online multiplayer, I have to say this is the best first-person shooter I’ve seen this year. The firefights are amongst the most intense ever -thanks to the incredible enemy A.I. and the cool SlowMo feature- and the story will keep you glued to your chair until it’s over. F.E.A.R. can scare you in a way that even Resident Evil can’t. The creepy atmosphere is further enhanced by the good visual presentation and the incredible audio. Unfortunately this comes at a price, since F.E.A.R. is quite easily the most demanding game to date. But if you have a decent system: by all means: go buy it!
Second opinion by Speed :
I disagree with Zwan on the hardware requirements. Playing on a medium-range PC (A64 3000+ with 1GB ram and ATI 9800XT) I found things running extremely smooth in 1280*1024 when putting all details on medium and turning off AA. So personally, I think Vivendi did a great job on the graphics as even then things look very impressive.
On the A.I. I do agree that it’s the best I’ve seen until now except for the fact that some of the bigger “boss monsters” tend not to have the same intelligence as the normal opponents. They follow you where-ever you go except when you turn a corner. Then they just keep standing there like a chicken without a head, waiting for you to show your face. Shoot – hide – shoot – hide is then an excellent tactic to get rid of them.
Still, all in all, F.E.A.R. is without a doubt one of the best FPS games I’ve seen for a long time and it has no problem standing next – or even above – Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.