F.E.A.R. Reader Review
I remember many months ago when PC Gamer had fantastic looking screenshots of FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon) in action, glass flying around, enemies getting shot or collapsed over railings, etc. etc. and, probably like everyone else, I was suitably impressed and sorely wanted to play it. I remember this was before Half-Life 2 was out, and then some more screenshots and info earlier this year.
Finally, I managed to play it and it was... okay. I don't know what happened but the game certainly didn't look as impressive onscreen as it did in the magazines (PC spec wasn't an issue), but some of the effects are very good indeed. The sound also is well realised (more later) when you fire off the pistol and hear the corresponding noise of what the bullet struck. And the dust, rubble or sparks that come flying from the impact point are great and really brings the game to life. In fact, it was the effects really made the game as you ploughed your way through the levels.
This FPS puts you in the role of a FEAR agent/cop and ultimately ends up being a one-man army against the 1000-men army of the evil clones that are being telekinetically controlled by some evil human-flesh munching psycho. The much spoke-of 'slo-mo' application is well executed and, just like in Max Payne, can be activated whenever you like (so long as you have enough 'charge') and gives you the edge in fire-fights by slowing the surroundings whilst allowing you to rotate your view in real-time (your movement is still slowed down though). This is to represent your "reaction times [being] off the chart" and the overall concept works well and is extremely fun to play with. Even more so when you see the Matrix-esque airwave trails from the bullets (each and every one of them), the slowly spoken phrases, and the tumblings of enemies (nice to see that this developer has put the 'finger-still-on-the-trigger' death animations where you'll get hit if too close).
And you'll want to play with the slo-mo as much as possible, if not for the effects of flying dust (also excellent) in front of your face as a bullet just misses you, but for the fact that it actually makes the game that bit easier. Because there is no criteria to replenishing your slo-mo gauge bar (just don't use it and it'll recharge), you'll find that after a full usage you'll hide round a corner, wait, and go round for another pop.
Luckily the enemies are clever. Or at least are supposed to be. It's not usual to find these clone soldiers working solo as if you find one standing on their own there are normally some just round the corner out of view. And this is good as it makes each fire-fight a bit more fun, and because the level are varied in design with different heights and obstacles around, each fight is unique and exciting. To watch the soldiers jump down to your level, vault over railings or pipes, hide behind walls, corners and crates, diving through windows, melee attack if you get close enough, throw grenades properly, actually flank and make you worry about what's coming from behind, it's all absolutely amazing and makes the game great, great fun to play. There's a good selection of weapons available - one of which disintegrates soldiers to their bare bones (watch the effect in slo-mo, it's even worse) - but you're only allowed to carry three at a time. However, there's no worry because the various weapons are dropped frequently so you can switch between them regularly. And finally there's some semi-decent melee attacks that actually do strike the enemies down within a couple of blows, including bicycle and round-house kicks, slide tackles and standard weapon butts. Fisty cuffs are also possible if you holster your weapon.
And that's where the problem lies, because that's all there is to FEAR - it's just fire-fight after fire-fight and with all the above possibilities and large shoot-out arenas, it can get slightly tiresome. Not tiresome, but just verging on it. Obviously there's the storyline of you figuring out why there is this one-man psycho mind-controlling these soldiers, and who this little girl in a red dress is (long black hair just like in Ring). And just who is Alma Wade? In fact, I didn't get 100% of the storyline so I'm playing it again and seeing if I can't complete the puzzle - there's no replayability in this game at all, but only for the gunfights.
And the scary nature of the game is put through in an okay way. There are some genuine shock tactic moments and the game is quite gory (heads come off with shotgun shots, as to legs and arms - grenades and mines make a mess), but otherwise it's just a romp through the woods of dark corners and pre-killed people lying in a pool of blood. It does get a little freaky towards the end with your protagonist having stranger and worse bouts of day-dreaming (or day-nightmaring, to more exact).
The level design is good and varied, but is let down by the graphics and texturing. It's just so unbelievably bland, and I know that most of it is played in office buildings and warehouses, but the grey cement isn't at all interesting and there's very little variation. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the developers didn't bother to make many different types of pre-fabs of a particular class of item (say phones or computers) as they all look the same and it's a real shame. I know that offices usually have the same equipment but surely there must be some variation in something in there - it's just so boring to look at. Like I said, it's the effects that make the game and not actually the graphics.
It's not actually that hard although it is a good length - it doesn't feel like anything has been tacked onto the end just to extend it, nor has it been cut short (ending on a nice 'what the fuck?!' moment). I started on Moderate and then cranked it to Difficult half-way through. My second run through now sees me on Extreme difficulty (highest setting) and I'm making good headway with the challenge it's trying to throw at me (again, it's the slo-mo that helps out).
Finally, is it as good as Half-Life 2? I think not, because for all the lovely effects, slo-mo, and good set-pieces, it isn't anything more than just a scary gunfight-fest. HL2 has an on-going storyline (I know it's unfair seeing as it's a sequel, so I'll take that into account on FEAR's own inevitable sequel), it has variation in environment, it has vehicles, it has open space, it has a gravity gun! and it has clever physics puzzles. FEAR has potential, most definately, for a great sequel - they just need to put some colour in its cheeks and in those dull, dull rooms.