The lights go dim as I stumble into an elevator. The door quickly slams shut as my heart tries to stop me from thinking. I quickly reload my assault rifle and try to shield myself in the corner. My breath gets louder and I know I cannot wait any longer. They will find a way in. I reach for the button to open the door while my pulse leads my finger to the trigger. Glass shatters as the bullets spread in front of me. I see my own blood and hit the ground in fear. She is standing there. The little girl keeps her head down and is completely motionless. I raise my gun, but it is too late. It is too late.
“F.E.A.R.” is the 2005 first-person shooter for the PC that achieves what every great first-person shooter accomplishes: gripping fear and action. Developer Monolith spent years developing their gem and finished with a solid game that will not be quickly forgotten. “F.E.A.R.” delivers elements to the first-person shooter genre that will leave you breathless after extremely cinematic and glorious gameplay experiences.
On its surface, “F.E.A.R.” is a story about a top-secret paranormal military team, First Encounter Assault Recon, that is basically dropped into a war against a clone army. You never get the opportunity to fight alongside this exceptional team, which leaves you in the typical “lone ranger” role. The clone army idea is becoming quite repetitive in the first-person shooter genre and is primarily used in order to justify the use of a grand total of five enemy models (a wise budget decision, but still an annoyance to any gamer). As the story progresses, however, the standard clone army story becomes far more intricate and engaging as it frightens, disturbs, and leaves you breathless.
Amongst the myriad of first-person shooter games on the market, there are few that are original and creative enough to distinguish themselves from the others. “F.E.A.R.” will certainly always be known for its impressive enemy squad AI. Enemies will always try and flank you or send team members at you one at a time. You can listen to them talking to each other and plan accordingly in how you will counter their strategy. There will also be encounters where the enemy will be more afraid of you than you are of them. The squads use brilliant AI when interacting with their environments, which, while dramatically scripted sometimes, is all too real during gameplay.
The progression of the game is very cinematic, a feature that unfortunately causes a great deal of linear gameplay for a 10 to 12 hour game. The setting mostly takes place in a factory where around every corner tends to be a feeling of deja vu. This setting does, however, allow the firefights to become more involving and the environments to be more destructive, but it also can become very monotonous. The list of weapons available is quite short for a first-person shooter and you will find yourself always resorting to the assault rifle as opposed to the less accurate alternatives (shotgun, dual handguns, submachine gun, rocket launcher and a few other “heavy-hitters”). “F.E.A.R.” includes a "reflex meter" that allows you to slow down time to make ambushes far less difficult and, naturally, more enjoyable to watch. It’s never explained exactly why you have the ability to slow down time and, like most features in the game, serves only in making an entertaining first-person shooter experience. The cinematic feel that accompanies this feature allows the player to witness body parts being torn up by bullets, and in more dire situations, heads may tumble to the ground.
Bugs are inevitable for PC games and “F.E.A.R.” has its share of the classic first-person shooter bugs, such as enemies walking through doors or having the ability to shoot through walls. Beyond a handful of minor bugs, “F.E.A.R.” does well to overcome the common downfalls in the first-person shooter market.
The standard Halloween-style soundtrack is implemented nicely in “F.E.A.R.” and is supported by several well-recorded sound effects that sound beautiful on surround-sound speakers. The sound effects are all perfectly placed and contain creatively composed mixtures of sounds that form chillingly eerie environments and daunting climaxes.
“F.E.A.R.” is a graphical powerhouse that will rip apart most PC video cards. Any card below 128 megabytes of video memory will not stand a chance powering the sterling facial expressions and lighting effects. The overall artistic graphical presentation of “F.E.A.R.” is enjoyable to watch, but could use some variation from time to time.
While “F.E.A.R.” may be a bore for some with its repetitive level designs and drawn-out story that requires time to progress, it knows how to deliver gripping fear. At any given time, you can be tossed into a vision of skeletons chasing you in swamps of blood or a little girl standing patiently waiting for you to face your fear and approach her. Doors may randomly slam shut in front of you as you are forced to follow the trail of blood and enter into your own fear. “F.E.A.R.” is certainly not for those with a weak stomach, but uses all of its art in what I like to call a “disturbing beauty.”
The time for the PC first-person shooter of the year has come. She’s waiting and it’s not too late.
Now that you're done enjoying "The Word on the Screen", why not tune into "Press Start", a gaming news, talk, and music radio show on KCPR that airs Wednesdays from 10-11 AM. Past guests include: Silvio Aebischer (Production Designer at Oddworld Inhabitants), JP aka Zeality (webmaster and creator of chronocompendium.com), Mustin (creator and owner of OneUp Studios) and representatives from Poly Bemani and Poly Game Creation. You know you want to.
Also, a very special shoutout to my wonderful and loving father whose birthday rests upon this day. I hope it's your best yet, you deserve nothing less. Happy Birthday.