For the uninitiated, F. E. A. R. , or First Encounter Assault Recon is a first person shooter developed by Monolith, and published by Sierra in 2005 for the PC. It was well received by many critics, and even won some awards for its story, gameplay, and atmosphere.
In F. E. A. R. you assume the role of “the Pointman" (for lack of a better name) during his first assignment with the secret U. S. Government organization “First Encounter Assault Recon". There was an uprising at the headquarters of Armacham, a weapons research corporation where a man called Paxton Fettel took control of an army of clones using his psychic link with them. You are dispatched to find, and neutralize Fettel before he can cause any more damage. Of course, the game would be ridiculously short if you killed him in the first mission, so things don't go as planned resulting in an escalating catastrophe. People blow up, pigs fly, cats and dogs rain from the sky, and little girls in red dresses control fire with their minds. If you're into action and horror stories then I suppose FEAR could be considered solid in terms of plot, but it wouldn't be wise going into it and expecting a good deal of depth. The game is after all first and foremost, a first person shooter.
The atmosphere receives nothing but praise from most critics, and fans. My question is why? As I went through the game I found the atmosphere to be fairly average. You probably were supposed to feel like a creepy little ghost girl called Alma was watching your every step, but I didn't. I was too focused on fighting the legions of Replica soldiers to care if Alma was hiding in generic dark office number twenty six. There were some interesting segments where you received “visions", but these were few and far between and a good deal of them were so similar that by the end of the game I wasn't particularly interested in them anymore.
Onto the meat of the game, the gameplay. FEAR doesn't stray far from the average first person shooter formula because hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it. The game uses a system which was made popular in the Xbox game Halo where you can only carry three weapons at any given time. This adds some layer of strategy to the game as you may end up going against a heavily armored robot with only a pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle. You do get a variety of melee moves to go along with your ranged toys, though; if you holster your weapon you can do a variety of punches, and with your weapon out you can do multiple styles of kicks which can kill enemies in one hit. To add to the fun your character has an ability called “SloMo" which allows him to briefly slow everything around him down making it easier to take down a significant amount of enemies. This can be useful since the enemy artificial intelligence is actually quite formidable. Your opponents will take cover, use flank tactics, throw grenades if you're hiding in a corner, try to dodge you if you attempt to slide kick them, and engage in melee if you get too close.
The gunfights in FEAR are a blast even with all of the cool new titles that have been released since like Crysis. Unfortunately the level design in FEAR doesn't have the same quality as its gunfights. The areas in the game are small, cramped, and generic looking. You've got deserted buildings, generic facility, generic office building, more deserted buildings, and more generic facilities. I'm well aware that FEAR is not Unreal and is trying to go for realism, but come on. . . if you want realistic at least give the player some realism with variety.
FEAR was a pretty impressive looking game in 2005, but now it's really showing its age. Still, characters and objects are detailed, when using SloMo you can see air displacement around bullets as they fly through the air, etcetera. Like everything concerning graphics, though; you stop caring about these little details after the first few minutes since you begin to take them for granted. I noticed that some of the game world textures are pretty low resolution, usually in the deserted buildings while some world textures are exceptionally detailed such as the office building textures. I'm not a graphic junkie, so it does not bother me much, but I do appreciate some level of consistency.
FEAR features some decent audio, the sound effects are all fitting. The game's voice work is great, the publisher definitely did not shirk on the voice talent budget. The music, however; is bland and forgettable. Naturally the background music is supposed to be ambient, so it can't be roaring heavy metal with mullet wielding rock stars screaming at the top of their lungs, but none of the tracks stood out for me.
F. E. A. R. is a great game for the gunfights, but the story is pretty simplistic, the atmosphere fairly lifeless, and the level design is nothing special. Still this is all a matter of opinion, and while F. E. A. R. has aged better than some other games out there, it is not the be all end all of first person shooter gaming.
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