Developer: TimeGate Studios
Release Date: November 6, 2007
This is exactly the kind of review I hate to write.
FEAR Files isn't bad at all. The controls are rock-solid, the gameplay is tried and tested, the graphics are decent and it allows me the option to obliterate someone's face in slow-motion with a single shotgun blast, sending him flying backwards in utter defiance of all known physics, if not literally reducing him to a fine red mist. Better yet, there are two different games on the disc — the Extraction Point single-player game that begins right at the end of the original FEAR, as well as the brand-new Perseus Mandate — along with several "Instant Action" missions and a multiplayer mode.
If you like shooters, this is a very solid call due to simple math: There's more game packed into this disc than you'll find in many similar titles. If you enjoyed FEAR, there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't enjoy this.
Well, there may be two reasons, which is why I hate writing this review. Those reasons are Halo 3 and BioShock. The FEAR games invite direct comparison to both of those titles because of their shared genre and shared gameplay tropes. FEAR is an infantry-based, horror-themed shooter; Halo 3 is mostly infantry-based; BioShock is, if not explicitly a horror game, a game that is using many of a horror game's narrative "tools."
Compared to either of those games, FEAR is very much just kind of there, and it's difficult to avoid that comparison at the moment. It's coming out at the wrong time, on the wrong systems, and it's the worse for the timing.
At its best moments, it's a well-designed time killer of a game. FEAR — and it's difficult to avoid referring to both games on the disc collectively, as they play almost identically — is suspended sort of precariously between a twitch game and a tactical military shooter, with the gore level of the former and the occasional need for eyes in the back of your head that the latter demands. You have exactly one ability to help even up the odds, allowing you to trigger slow-motion for short periods of time, and after that, it's a deeply unforgiving game.
(That's actually sort of a flaw, honestly. I refuse to believe that an exploding fire extinguisher is that deadly compared to, say, weathering automatic weapons fire.)
The plus side to all of this is that FEAR is a very satisfying game. Weapons have a real sense of power and impact, severing limbs and sending bodies flying, turning the aftermath of combat into the kind of adventure in Havoc physics that I like to see. When you outwit a group of Replicas or knock off a guy's face in slow-motion, it's accompanied by a genuine sense of accomplishment.
At FEAR's worst moments, it's incredibly frustrating. What challenge it has depends largely upon enemies being able to come out of nowhere and nickel-and-dime you to death, or use some kind of horrifically cheap move to kill you before you know quite what's going on. The Replica commandos have a vicious series of unarmed attacks that can actually stunlock you, a trope that should've been left in old versions of World of Warcraft and particularly broken tournament fighters.
The less common supernatural enemies draw much of their challenge from being hard to see and fast, clawing you to death from underneath your field of vision. At the same time, especially in Extraction Point, your environments are littered with objects that are apparently one bullet away from immediate and explosive lethality, ranging from oxygen tanks to (and this one gets me) fire extinguishers. Seriously, one office has a fire extinguisher every 20 feet, and they're all apparently loaded with nitroglycerine. What the hell dark world have I stumbled into?
I enjoy both FEAR games in brief spurts. There are moments where it just clicks and it's awesome, but then it's often sabotaged by a stunlock or cheap death. It's a worthwhile experience, for the most part, but it's not without substantial flaws.
Of course, I'm making this statement with a disclaimer: My ability to fairly evaluate this game is probably tarnished, as I said above, by all these other damn games I've been playing this year. I'm guessing I'm not going to be alone in that, and I apologize.
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