Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Monolith Productions/Day 1 Studios
Release Date: April 24, 2007
The horror/FPS sub-genre only has a few games, as most shooters opt for aliens or a warfare setting. One of the first horror/FPS titles was Clive Barker's Undying on the PC, and it mixed guns and explosions with ghouls and spirits. Back in October of 2005, developer Monolith tried their hand at the very small sub-genre with First Encounter Assault Recon, or F.E.A.R. The game was met with moderate success and favored by critics, so an eventual next-gen port was fairly inevitable. Day 1 Studios handled the porting duties, and the game has just now finally made its way onto the Playstation 3 gaming console, a year and a half after its original release on PC. How well does it hold up 18 months later? It's definitely still an entertaining game, but sadly it's already beginning to show its age.
A lot of the textures in F.E.A.R. look extremely bland compared to other titles on the PS3, and this probably has to do with the fact that the original game is older than the gaming console itself. A good portion of the visual effects has also been outdone by newer games on the market, but F.E.A.R. still manages to stand its own ground in a few areas. First off, the enemy A.I. is probably still some of the best you'll encounter on any current platform, and even though slow motion has been done to death, it still looks really impressive in F.E.A.R.
The game's story revolves around a military technology corporation, known as Armacham, and an enigmatic man named Paxton Fettel who takes over an army of telepathically controlled clones. While this may not seem like it would have anything to do with a horror theme, there's also the haunting spirit of a young girl tied into the overall mystery. Along the way, you'll jump and probably scream like a girl a few times, as you'll be host to a decent amount of supernatural scares — including some moments where you can't tell what's real and what's not. When the confusion sets in, it ramps the suspense and fear quotient to an even higher degree, since you won't know what the hell's going on and what you're really up against.
Of course, a few spooky phantoms and the random blood-oozing wall isn't the only way F.E.A.R. will keep you puzzled and on the edge of your seat. The lighting engine does a great job of leaving you in the dark also ... and I mean that literally. If you have your television's brightness function set at the right level and tone (the game's options screen will help you find the sweet spot), throughout most of the game you'll only be able to see where you're going and what's in front of you with the assistance of a flashlight mounted on your default sub-machine gun weapon. Your inability to see will result in the occasional cheap death now and again, so it doesn't come without its frustrations. The exaggerated darkness is a gimmick in its own right, but in the end, it does substantially add to the game's overall level of suspense.
Beyond the absence of light, what makes F.E.A.R. thrilling is the sophisticated enemy A.I. Your foes will react realistically to however you act in a fire fight situation. They will duck behind cover, jump through windows into cover, flank you in groups and run if they feel overwhelmed. Rarely will one of them come running straight at your gun barrel, like the enemies in most FPS titles. This advanced level of artificial intelligence forces the player to rely more on strategy and less on pinpoint aim, and that is quite the refreshing change of pace for the genre.
F.E.A.R. also manages to get the controls right, for the most part. Having the firing button mapped to R2 just feels right, and you won't get confused tossing grenades either, since the game utilizes the familiar left trigger for grenade control. On the default setting, however, the targeting reticle moves a tad bit too slow. It's hard to line up shots in time before the enemy soldiers have wiped out almost half of your health bar, so it's for the best that you set the targeting movement speed to be slightly faster. You press R1 to change weapons, and you can only hold three different weapons at a time, so you'll want to be selective when it comes to deciding which weapons to carry. The directional pad is used to toggle your flashlight and cycle grenade types, and also to lean left or right from behind a cover position.
As mentioned earlier, F.E.A.R. has slow-motion gameplay, and you activate it by holding down L1. You're limited on how long you can slow down time, as indicated by a meter, and that meter will recharge after time passes. The action slows down drastically, enabling you to dodge bullets or get the drop on an enemy hiding behind cover or around a corner, and it looks amazing all the while. You'll see bullets ricochet and shrapnel and sparks light up your surroundings like a small parade of children holding sparklers. Yeah, slow-motion gun battles are no stranger to the FPS genre, but at least the developers give you an explanation for why you possess the ability. According to your in-game character's file, you have superhuman reflexes that allow you to move faster than the average person for short bursts of time. Sure, it's kind of silly, but it's better than other games that don't even try to establish any sort of credibility behind why you can alter time.
If you happen to grow tired of playing through the single-player campaign, F.E.A.R. on the PS3 also offers a variety of multiplayer modes. However, you can only access them by taking your console online with a high-speed broadband connection. Once you're online, you can either host or join a game that supports up to 16 players. On the positive side, the developers have added a menu into the multiplayer interface that shows how many players your connection can handle without complications, if you decide to host a game. There are the usual single and team deathmatch modes, capture the flag and elimination. You're unable to activate your reflex booster in a normal multiplayer game, but if you join a Slow-Mo Deathmatch game, a reflex booster pick-up is placed on the map. Whichever player picks up the boost will be granted slow-mo gameplay, but it comes with a price, as you'll instantly be designated on every other player's radar indicator as the primary target.
I've already mentioned that a good portion of F.E.A.R.'s visuals look a bit dated, but the character models still look fairly good. They animate realistically, for the most part, and the game makes use of excellent ragdoll mechanics with its powerful physics engine. The lighting engine is still impressive to this day, as your flashlight's artificial light source reacts much how a flashlight would in actuality. The textures don't seem to have improved from the PC version released in 2005, though, and that really detracts from the overall quality of the graphics. The scare tactic moments are executed wonderfully, however, and will easily leave you shaken or disoriented. F.E.A.R.'s soundtrack doesn't really stand out, but it's not hard on the ears, either, and the gun and explosion sounds efficiently get the job done. The vocal work in the game could've been better, though.
Overall, F.E.A.R. is an above-average shooter with some fright tossed into the mix. The game's campaign is fairly lengthy, so you won't barrel your way through it, but in the end, the scary moments never fully live up to expectation. And that mostly has to do with the fact that after the initial area, the frights become less and less frequent as the game progresses, and it turns more into your average FPS shooter. The later stages of the game can also become rather unbearably difficult, but if you're an FPS fan and you've already finished Resistance, F.E.A.R. is still a great alternative.
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