David Yun David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-06-10 07:26:55

F.E.A.R. - Rank A

Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Vivendi Games
Date: 10/17/05

Also available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

Minimum Specs: Windows 2000 or XP
Pentium 4 1.7GHz
512 MB RAM
64 MB nVidia GeForce 4 Ti or ATi Radeon 9600 or equivalent with hardware T&L and pixel shader support
16-bit DirectX 9.0 compliant sound card with support for EAX 2.0
4x CD-ROM drive (DVD-ROM for Director's Edition)
5.0 GB hard drive space
Internet connection

Recommended Specs:
Pentium 4 3.0 GHz
256 MB ATi Radeon 9800 Pro or equivalent DirectX 9 compliant video car with hardware T&L and pixel shader 2.0 support

F.E.A.R. stands for First Encounter Assault Recon. Despite the goofy name, it is an excellent first person shooter. The reason for this is that F.E.A.R. excels at the most important aspect of a shooter: the shooting. Monolith's goal was to make F.E.A.R.'s combat as intense as the teahouse shootout in John Woo's Hard Boiled. They succeeded.

I often talk about whether or not a game's guns "feel good". Firing a real firearm is a violent experience, and there needs to be a satisfying weight and power behind their virtual counterparts. F.E.A.R.'s weapons meet all the necessary criteria. They kick, with tangible recoil. They announce themselves with explosive cracks of audio, not like the flimsy pop guns of some games. Most importantly, F.E.A.R. delivers believable environmental physics. From the lighting of the muzzle flash to the kinetic response of flying debris, the weapons produce a sensation that you're truly impacting and interacting with your surroundings. Even the futuristic fictional weapons kick ass. My favorite, the Penetrator, is a nail gun that can pin enemies to the wall through their faces!

This is coupled with one of the best A.I. systems I've ever seen. The enemies react intelligently upon seeing or hearing you. They'll pour on suppressive fire to pin you, then toss grenades where you've taken shelter. They'll knock over objects to use as cover while teammates flank aggressively. By aggressively, I mean that they'll pursue any circuitous route available to them to get the drop on you. At first, I thought that enemies were cheaply spawning behind me, but I came to realize that they were ducking through ventilation panels, climbing ladders, and backtracking to my flank while I was engaged in a firefight. The audio is terrific here as well; you'll hear their radio chatter as they desperately coordinate assaults against you.

The third major component to the combat is "reflex time", which slows the frenetic action allowing for pinpoint aiming. I have two qualms about this feature (aside from having seen it in a zillion other shooters), no matter how cool it looks (and it does look cool). First, F.E.A.R.'s firefights are so intense and dramatic that this feature only serves to interrupt the action. Second, it bogs down the pace of the combat. Has anyone noticed what Halo's regenerating health system has done to the shooter genre? You step out of cover and unload your weapons, soaking up hits until you're about to die, and then pop back into cover. And then you wait. Once your health has regenerated, you pop back out. Repeat. Well, you end up doing the same thing with "reflex time". You hit the slow motion power, pop as many enemies as you can, then dive back for cover when it runs out. And then you wait. Once the reflex meter has regenerated, you pop back out. One of the achievements in the Xbox 360 version is to play the game without using this power. This makes for a far better experience. You're always on your toes, having to move to counter enemy tactics, and the action is absolutely relentless.

Thankfully, your health doesn't regenerate, which would have necessitated a dual layer of sitting-around-waiting downtime. F.E.A.R. employs traditional health packs that you can carry around and use as necessary.

The story is an incomprehensible mess, and ultimately inconsequential. The tone, however, is one of insidiously effective horror. It's best enjoyed at night with the lights out, preferably with surround sound (the audio work is exceptional) to spook you with noises from behind. F.E.A.R. bears a passing resemblance to The Ring in that it uses digital staticky effects to fuck with your head, and features a spooky little girl. Mortal enemies are one thing, but how are you supposed to deal with a creepy phantom girl that eliminated an entire Delta Force team? The game revolves around these two aspects: intense firefights and creepy exploration. Much like Monolith's other franchise, Condemned, the combination is emotionally draining.

Unfortunately, it shares a significant flaw with Condemned. Both games are completely linear, and force you to trudge your way through extremely repetitive environments. I couldn't even hazard a guess at how many office hallways and cubicles I must've passed in the course of one play through.

I always seem to include a mention of multiplayer as a footnote, but that's because it feels like developers usually tack it on as a required afterthought. Nevertheless, F.E.A.R.'s excellent shooting gameplay does translate well to the multiplayer functions.

F.E.A.R. is nowhere near perfect, but its strengths are transcendent. The combat is superlative and, even a couple of years later, holds up to the best of the genre.

The first link below is for the main game. The second link is the Platinum Collection which also bundles in the expansion packs. I personally can't recommend them as I haven't played them, and I suspect that they're just more of the same. F.E.A.R. was just about the right length to not wear out the welcome of its repetitive corridors and gimmicky scare tactics. And the trailer is from the Xbox 360 version, but it is completely representative of the PC experience.

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