Opinion: F.E.A.R.

Craig Hubbard sold his soul to Satan for the chance to make the perfect Sci-Fi FPS (First Person Shooter). The result was F.E.A.R – First Encounter Assault Recon. Of course the Devil never plays fair (and he has always wanted to be a computer game designer), so while the team at Monolith worked to create their Sci-Fi shooter masterpiece Satan was secretly encoding a second, much darker, game onto the disk. The result is that as you play through Monolith’s creation horror starts to bleed through the fabric of the game, until you find yourself trapped in a finely crafted Sci-Fi Horror game. A game in which you won’t ever know if what awaits you around the next corner will be a squad of dangerous clone soldiers or the bloody remains of those soldiers and the knowledge that you may have to fight what just ripped them limb from limb. I haven’t encountered Horror and Sci-Fi so finely blended since the original Alien movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078748/) from 1979.

F.E.A.R. - All I did was knock over their sodasF.E.A.R. - UPS will deliver anythingF.E.A.R. - Cook your clone soldier in a moderate oven for 20 minutes per 500g

A cursory glance at the game’s feature list doesn’t reveal the true quality within…

  • Lone soldier fighting against a host of enemies? – check.
  • An array of impressive weapons with which to kill said enemies? – check.
  • Advanced visual effects for an intense “action movie” experience? – check.
  • The now ubiquitous “bullet time”? – check.
  • Enemies with adaptive AI? – check.
  • Slaughter your friends in online multi-player (up to 16 players)? – check

However, just as many movies today aren’t original but still manage to be great, F.E.A.R. is far, far better than the sum of its parts. The first person action is impeccable. The weapons feel deadly, the enemy are dangerous and when the two come together the results are explosive. Teams of enemy soldiers work together to take you out using flanking tactics, suppressing fire, grenades and a lot of expletive laden team talk. When your bullets hit home the rag doll physics are a little OTT but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Likewise, when your aim is off target, the environment suffers in a similarly impressive way with large calibre bullets ripping large calibre holes out of walls, pillars and boxes. The game is filled with numerous set piece battles, in which the weight of enemy fire will have you cowering behind a flimsy desk, franticly reloading your weapons before tossing out a grenade (for suppression) and calling on your time distortion abilities for a slowmo break from cover, in which the final few enemy are reduced to bullet riddled corpses.

As for the story it is both gripping and thought provoking focusing on issues of family, revenge, greed, evil and even child abuse. The tension remains high throughout the game. In the main because the mix of horror and Sci-Fi means that you are never sure what awaits you through the next doorway. However, when I reached the end of the game, it wasn’t the action that impressed me most but the fact that what I really wanted to do was put down my guns and try talking.

F.E.A.R. isn’t perfect. The level design is linear (as with many story driven FPSs) and you soon get to recognise when a set piece battle is looming – because the level opens up into an area ideal for a battle. In addition the few NPCs you meet are simple script driven automata that you long to shoot 1.2 second after first meeting them. But in truth F.E.A.R.’s only real failing is that it was created 15 years too soon. One day we will have the ability to create games which allow you to put down your gun and engage NPCs in meaningful discussion. When that day comes I hope they will remake F.E.A.R. because I would love to talk to the NPC I am supposed to kill. I know it won’t help. I know they are too badly damaged after everything that was done to them. I know that they would almost certainly kill me but I would like to try. I own them that not just because of what they have suffered but also because of the relationship. (You’ll have to play it to find out).
F.E.A.R. - Bullet TimeF.E.A.R. - Dead before he hits the groundF.E.A.R. - The A Team school of shooting

Everyone knows that Quake and Doom are rubbish and that for a long time Half-Life has been the king of FPS games with Half-Life 2 an honourable second. So it is with heavy heart that I must announce that F.E.A.R has pushed its way rudely through the crowds and supplanted Gordon Freeman’s second outing as #2 in my chart. If you have any affection at all for FPS games you need to play F.E.A.R.

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