F.E.A.R. Reader Review
First Encounter Assault Recon is a game of contrasts. On the one hand it is a generic linear first person shooter, set in uninspiring warehouse/office locations. On the other it is a Japanese horror-inspired linear first person shooter, whose use of bullet-time makes for very cinematic combat sequences.
Letís start with the negative view. There are already too many first person shooters for the PC. Far Cry had beautiful jungles, wide open spaces and intelligent enemies. Half Life 2 gave us great physics, a gravity gun, ant lions and no feet. Doom 3 provided dark corridors, zombies and (sorry) boredom. And into this blood and sweat saturated area is thrust F.E.A.R.ís offices, patrolled by enemy soldiers who, while bright, are not particularly difficult to kill. Guns, grenades and health packs can often be found lying on desks, just like they, you know, donít, in real office blocks. More problematic is the way that, unless you have a brand new top-of-the-range graphics card, F.E.A.R. will make your computer cry like a little girl with a skinned knee any time something interesting is about to happen. Or sometimes when you simply want to look in another direction. As a result, most gamers will be playing it with graphics settings that are best described as ďaliased to hellĒ.
But fear not! (Har har.) What the gameís locations lack in originality, they make up for in atmosphere. As previously mentioned, F.E.A.R. borrows heavily from Japanese horror films. Dark, often claustrophobic surroundings and brooding, oppressive audio create a tension-filled environment. The addition of the occasional corpse falling from vents or through ceilings and other such sudden events provide for added psychological trauma, along with paranormal incidents which leave the player temporarily confused and disorientated. The effect is diminished, however, by that same need for a cutting edge PC - shocking events are made less so by a preceding second of hard-disk thrashing. And the choice of a young girl with long, lank hair falling over her face as the cause of these events is a tad clichťd to say the least.
None of this is F.E.A.R.ís main selling point however. That honour lies with the slow-motion ability your character is blessed with. As Max Payne taught us 4 years ago, bullet-time is fun. And F.E.A.R. embellishes everything that Max Payne (or any recent FPS) has done. Glass explodes into hundreds of flying shards, individual bullet-casings tinkle as they hit the ground, chunks of mortar fly from walls, corpses fall from walkways with a particularly pleasing thud. Each battle is a beautiful, deadly tapestry of bullet trails and spraying blood. But once again there is a downside. The bodies of fallen soldiers disappear after a short time, as do bullet-holes in the walls - odd design choices for a game which prides itself on its graphical achievements, if not important enough to spoil the enjoyment.
Because, in the end, thatís all that really matters. Games are (or rather, should be) created for their players to enjoy. F.E.A.R. is not particularly original in its choice of location or plot, but it is undeniably enjoyable. Fighting battles against enemies who use cover to good effect, attempt to flank you and exhibit generally impressive AI is fun. Doing so in slow motion to the accompaniment of stunning visuals (even on my mid-range system) is even more so. It seems unbelievable that itís taken this long for bullet-time to feature in a first person shooter. And F.E.A.R. should be played on the strength of this alone; regardless of anything else it fails or succeeds in achieving.
8 / 10