Striking FEAR into people’s hearts
This review originally posted at MentalGamers – www.mentalgamers.com/game_reviews.php?r=3
On the recommendation of a work colleague, I picked up a copy of F.E.A.R. last week. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting too much as this guy has slightly different tastes to myself – we both like FPS games, but I have a preference for the more tactical war games whereas he tends to go for the “run-about-shooting-everything-in-sight” games. Intrigued by mentions of “something like bullet time” I sat down and started installing.
Now this next paragraph is on a slight tangent but I feel it is well worth mentioning, so skip it at your own risk… After installing the game the first thing I did was to load it up (none of that reading the manual nonsense). After a minute or so up popped a message telling me that “Emulation software / virtual drives” had been detected and the game wouldn’t run. Great, F.E.A.R. uses SecuRom… Not having any virtual drives or emulators I was slightly perplexed, so went to the VU Games forums and checked the list of programs that could be causing the error. Ahhh CloneCD, forgot about that one, but wait, it’s not running. Bizarrely I worked out that I had to have CloneCD running to start the game, the complete opposite of what you’d expect. Not really using CloneCD that often I just removed it, no problems. After loading the game informed me a patch was available, so naturally I installed that. Restarting the game with 1.01 newly installed I got a different error – SecuRom couldn’t authenticate the disk. After another check of the forums I found a link to a patched exe from SecuRom, no joy there though – I still couldn’t play. I shelved the game for a few days, and another patch was released, 1.02. I installed that and suddenly I’m back to the emulator/virtual drive problem, except this time I didn’t have anything on the list. Well to sum up this little side-story, if you have a program called “DVD Region Killer” like I do to play my R1 DVDs, you’ll need to disable it while you play. I have no idea why that suddenly became a problem after 1.02, especially as its nothing to with emulation or virtual drives, but there you go.
Slightly peeved, I loaded up the game and started to play.
My foul mood was instantly lifted, this game looks *nice*, the 3D sound is spot-on, and much to my satisfaction it isn’t a “run-and-gun” shooter. It’s really hard to write a review for this particular game because I don’t want to spoil any of it you need to experience this game all for yourself – but here goes.
You play the newest recruit to a secret military task-force called First Encounter Assault Recon – F.E.A.R. – and your job is to investigate paranormal phenomenon. Of course you’ve been assigned to this squad for a reason you have some “special” abilities of your own. Your first mission for your new employers is to track down a man called Paxton Fettel – A military commander gone mad. Paxton Fettel has linked himself telepathically to an army of cloned soldiers and they are causing havoc in the city. Your task, with the aid of the rest of the F.E.A.R. squad as well as backup from Delta Force, is to find out why, and to track down Paxton Fettel at all costs.
Without a doubt I can say that this is the most creepy and atmospheric game I have ever played. You thought Doom 3 was bad? Doom 3 was a kid’s fairytale compared to this. As I said before, I was worried this was going to be a bit fast paced for me, expecting to just be running along corridors blasting my way past the enemy. Wrong, I’ve played at a snails pace since the start. There are some absolute underwear-changer moments in this game, and I think if I went into some of them any faster I’d be at risk of a heart attack. Not that going slowly makes them less frightening, trust me there are quite a few moments that you just won’t expect. I really want to describe one of them in particular that nearly made me go for a quiet lie down but I’m not going to take that moment away from anyone who buys F.E.A.R. on the basis of this review.
I can almost guarantee you will be creeping along the corridors twitching at every sound and pausing at every corner to lean around for a peek before moving on. There are long stretches where nothing happens and you *could* have sprinted your way along, but the game keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, waiting for the next surprise or enemy patrol. Some rooms you enter will switch you to a sort of trance-like scene where everything is in slow motion. Sometimes you hear some static over your radio and then the lights will flicker and a shadow moves across your vision before dissipating, and then there are the ghostly voices. Most disturbing of all is little girl that keeps appearing when you least expect it. Then of course there are those moments where you are convinced something is about to happen and you edge forwards bracing yourself for some hugely terrifying thing, only for it to never arrive. Basically this whole game is designed to scare you and even though you know it is coming, it gets you every time.
The battles you will encounter in F.E.A.R. are a thing of beauty, largely down to the special ability I mentioned earlier. This ability is your superb reflexes, which when used give you what can only be described as “bullet time”, a la The Matrix. With the click of a button you essentially slow the world around you – sounds become lower and more drawn out and people move slower around you. A great deal of attention has been paid to the little details which stand out more when time is slowed down – You can almost see the look on the enemy’s face as he scrambles for his gun and starts to lift it all in slow motion. You can watch the slide on your gun going back and forth, and you can watch the sparks, shattering glass, and explosions, all in glorious detail and of course slowed down. Another thing that makes the battles as good as they are is the fantastic particle effects used. When guns are blazing all around the place the dust starts to kick-up off the floor obscuring your vision, chunks fly out of the walls as the bullets hit them, and certain barrels explode with impressive blasts, not to mention the grenades you can lob around as well. Combine this with the “bullet time” and it’s almost like directing your own movie.
By far the best thing about the battles, though, is the enemy AI. It is truly awesome, by the far the best of any game I have ever played. When you come across a lone enemy, you can bank on his squad being nearby. Catch him unawares and you can him in a single shot, but the squad commander will call a radio check and realise he’s a man down and alert the others who will then start to look for you. If on the other hand you get spotted first they will co-ordinate their attack and if possible they will pin you down while one of them flanks you. Or even sneakier, lob a grenade into your cover and then concentrate their fire to keep you there. All the time you can hear their radio chatter as well, and I have to say its quite satisfying when the commander gives the order to move up and they refuse with a solid “No Way!”. Some of the profanities also made me grin with satisfaction. Unfortunately the squads you encounter tend to get a bit boring after a while, even with the great AI. However there are a number of larger scale battles against greater numbers of enemies, and these provide a welcome break as well as a huge challenge.
At your disposal is a solid arsenal of weaponry, as well as a torch (very comforting in those dark rooms) and of course your reflexes. The guns range from pistols and sub machine guns up to more heavy weapons like rocket launchers, plasma beams and shoulder-cannons, although my personal favourite is called the HV Penetrator – A sort of nail gun which will leave your enemies pinned to walls/crates/whatever is behind them, in sometimes interesti
ng positions. Also available are frag grenades, proximity mines, and remote bombs. You can also pull off some very satisfying kicks and slides for those moments when you need to reload, as well as being able to bash with the butt of your weapon. Scattered around the levels are a plentiful supply of health packs, and if you look hard some nice reflex and health boosters that will let you stay in “bullet time” longer, and increase your maximum health. Don’t think you have an unlimited inventory though – you can only carry three weapons at a time so you will sometimes be torn as to which three you want to take with you.
So to sum up – First off you are going to need a pretty decent machine to run F.E.A.R. smoothly I noticed a few chugging moments while I was playing and my system is not exactly slow. The game has a pretty decent plot, Incredible AI (I really can’t stress that enough), great sounds, and some great attention to detail. And of course it has suspense in abundance. There are only really two complaints I have about this game:
1. The “same-ness” of a lot of it – You are fighting a clone army so most of the enemies are the same, there are only a few different types and you don’t encounter them nearly enough (The weird disappearing ninja guys being my favourites – bullet time a must for defeating them). The locations are also very much the same, ranging from empty office blocks to empty warehouses.
2. The general textures – The particle effects are superb but a lot of the rest of it (walls, chairs, tables etc) just looks blocky and unimaginative. Thankfully the tension and fantastic fire fights draw your attention away from this a lot of the time.
One final thing – Check out the machinima bonus content on the DVD, its fantastic and you’ll laugh your socks off…