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F.E.A.R. factor

Hands-on with the PS3 version.

It's been almost a year now since the release of F.E.A.R., Vivendi's spooky, gory and really rather excellent PC FPS. It arrived complete with all the right ingredients - good solid gameplay, spiced up a bit by the addition of a slo-mo element; a wide range of big fat weapons (the nail gun, which allowed you to pin people to walls, being a particular favourite); and plenty of atmosphere, generated by everything from flickering light bulbs and mysterious off-screen noises to terrifying demon children and vast rivers of blood.

For a full overview of the original game, you're best off reading Tom's review. It'll also give you a good understanding of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, in fact, seeing as they're almost the same game - featuring the same storyline, environments, weapons, set pieces and so on.

However, there are a few notable additions - as we found out when we got to test the PS3 version on a recent trip to Vivendi's LA office. For starters, there's the new instant action mode, which sees you hammering through levels dispatching of wave after wave of enemies. When it's all over, you can view an extensive list of stats such as your hit-rate, which weapon you used most, how many grenades you lobbed, the number of medipacks you got through and more. You also get bonus points for any time remaining on the clock, and your final score will appear on online leaderboards so you can see how you match up against other players around the world.

Diff'rent strokes

Senior producer Rob Loftus sums up instant action as an "arcade-style mode". Which begs the question, was the decision taken to include it in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions because they reckon console gamers want more of an arcade-style experience?

"I'm thinking maybe," says Loftus. "We wanted to add a mode for console gamers and we thought, well, what do we have that we can capitalise on? And we knew that F.E.A.R. had great AI, so we thought we'd do a mode which highlights that, and allows you to play in different scenarios.

"Instant action mode definitely works more in the console space than on PC. With the single-player experience, uploading scores to the leaderboards, you can really see the fit."

Playing instant action mode certainly presents a new side of F.E.A.R. You can forget the creepy atmosphere and impending sense of doom that pervades the story levels; IA is all about fending off vast numbers of enemies which come at you relentlessly from all sides, relying on quick reflexes more than tactical manoeuvres. The end result is an awful lot of fast-paced blamming, an awful lot of frantic button mashing and - unless you're an absolute master of the game - more than a little bit of swearing.

There are only four IA levels to choose from on the game disc - Distribution, Rooftop, Construction and the impossibly hard Vault (we challenge even masters not to swear during that one). But by the sounds of things, it's highly likely that more will be made available in the future. "Doing downloadable content in an episodic way, or just piecemeal - I'd love to explore that. We're totally looking at it," says Loftus.

So what kind of content will they consider releasing? "I'd consider it all, really. I can't confirm any of it, but think of maps, obviously, for multiplayer; instant action stuff; models... Those are all things that are options for downloadable content. And if it makes sense for the game, we'll do it."

History repeating

The console versions also feature an extra level that didn't appear in the original game. It's unlocked after you complete the Watchers level, during which - as PC players may recall - you come across a room containing the remains of a Delta Force team and awful lot of blood.

In the bonus mission, you take on the role of one of the team members and play through the events that led up to their unfortunate demise - finding out who was responsible for their deaths along the way. Because you're not playing as the main character you can't use slo-mo, which makes for a bit more of a challenge.

Then there are the extra weapons - one for each version of the game. Xbox 360 owners will get to play with SN15 dual machine pistols, while the PS3 game features the SAS 12 - a street sweeper shotgun with a very rapid rate of fire that's highly satisfying to use. "We wanted everybody to feel like they got something special," explains Loftus. "But at the same time, we didn't want to put more content in one version and have the other version suffer for it."

While we're on the subject of extra content - it seems a bit of a shame they didn't also include the content from the PC expansion pack, Extraction Point, which is due out later this month. How come?

"That's an easy question. The reason was because the expansion pack is being developed at the same time, and it's just not done," Loftus says. "It's going through its own process right now, and we wouldn't be able to fit it in there complete, so..."

So is there any possibility it might also be released as downloadable content? "It's not something I can comment on right now, but we're totally looking at it," comes the reply.

Control issues

In short, then, the console versions offer a new weapon, a bonus level and the new instant action mode, alongside all the original stuff from the PC game. However there is of course one rather important difference between the various versions - the control system. How much of a challenge has it been to translate the mouse and keyboard mechanics to console joypads?

"The initial implementation of it is fairly simple, but it's just a matter of getting the ramp up - going from the dead zone to controlling it," Loftus reckons.

"There's something to be said for the precision of mouse and keyboard, definitely, but the control challenges can be overcome. I think we've done a good job with it in F.E.A.R."

However, for some PC gamers, console controllers will never quite match up - a fact Loftus is aware of. "The biggest thing that everybody always talks about is, 'I'd never want to give up my mouse and keyboard'. But you play Halo 2 and somehow you forget that," he observes.

"I like the FPS experience on the PC; I've always played FPSs on the PC. But playing games like Halo 2 on the couch with my buddies - there's something very cool about that, and it's something you just can't replicate on the PC."

Fair enough. But let's say our Mr Loftus could only play F.E.A.R. on one machine - PC, PS3 or 360 - as a gamer, which would he choose?

"As a gamer? Wow... As a gamer, I would play F.E.A.R. on the PC. I like being upfront, having the action right in front of me, that's just my kind of style," Loftus replies.

"On Xbox 360, it's a little bit different for me. I like playing it, it's really cool, but I've been a PC gamer ever since I can remember, so it's kind of hard to get rid of it."

There's a 'but' though, of course. "The one thing I can say that I love on the 360 - and I have to, as part of my PR stuff, but I honestly, truly love this - is 5.1 sound.

"Sitting in a room with 5.1 sound playing F.E.A.R., that's really cool. I can't get that on the PC, I wish I could. Hearing all that sound design in the context of your home theatre system... You can't really replicate that on the PC. If I could blend those two, I'd love it." [Um, EAX anyone? - Ed]

Friendly fire

Then there's the social aspect, Loftus continues. "Console gaming, you're sitting on a couch with friends a lot of the time. With the PC, you're not really trading seats, but with consoles you can pass the controller... I play a lot of games with friends, so for me that's the draw of the console versions."

That, of course, plus the 5.1 sound, the bonus mission, the extra mode and the new weapons. But is it enough to make the console version of F.E.A.R. worth buying if you've already played the PC game? To be honest, probably not. The story mode is just the same, and the extras, while decent enough, are not much more than diversions, really.

However, things might change in the future. There's the possibility of downloadable content, for starters. And consider that the PS3 version of F.E.A.R. won't be coming out in Europe till March now the console's been delayed, which might give them a bit more time to shove in some extra content for us latecomers... Any chance?

"Well, maybe. It's on the table right now," says Loftus. "[The delay] is news to us just as it is to you, so we're looking at that right now and deciding what we're going to do." Fingers crossed, then.

But even if the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of F.E.A.R. don't have much new to offer fans of the PC game, it's worth remembering what a great game it was. In other words, if you're a console gamer who missed out last time around, you might not want to make the same mistake again...

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Ellie Gibson avatar

Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.