F.E.A.R. (PC CD)
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- Platform: Windows XP / 2000
- BBFC Rating: Suitable for 18 years and over. Not for sale to persons under age 18. By placing an order for this product, you declare that you are 18 years of age or over.
- Media: Video Game
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A paramilitary force infiltrates a multi billion dollar aerospace compound taking hostages, but issuing no demands. The government responds by sending in its best special operations teams, only to have them obliterated. Live footage of the massacre is cut short by an unexpected wave of destruction that leaves military leaders stunned and in disbelief.
With U.S. Special Forces in over their heads, the Commander in Chief turns to his final option: you. You've been trained to handle the inexplicable, armed with experimental high tech weaponry, and given full executive authority to end the crisis by any means necessary.
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A few of my criticsms include the very linear (very linear) nature of the game - there is a path to follow and actions to take and you don't deviate. The game is basically a corridor, in location and in the way it is played. Actions are also very limited - there are times when the logical thing to do would be to climb through a window or clear an obstacle with a grenade, but if that isn't the route then you can't - with no explanation. Also you can't lie down and crawl, enemy soldiers can, you can't. The A.I. is reasonably good but doesn't progress with the game so you soon learn how to avoid flanking moves and grenades - or at least how to predict them. The sound and graphics are good if a little repetitive; first rule of ambush, don't yell to everyone else that you can see the target. My final criticsm concerns the length of the game - it just ended with little sense of climax, a sort of 'oh, is that the end?'. In fact I'm wondering if I've missed a big chunk out somehow......
Despite all the above I did enjoy the game, but it in no way matches the likes of Far Cry or Half Life. There are a couple of moments that get somewhat creepy, but I feel the games designers could have made a lot more of this element without going over the top. I have a feeling the game was released with a sequel in mind and I hope this builds on the slightly missed potential of this game.
Let me start this review with the graphics. When making a good horror game, graphics play an essential role. What matters most is not the actual graphical rendering quality itself (polygon count, bump mapping etc.), but the lighting - playing with the shadows, illuminating rooms and hallways in just the right manner and, to a lesser degree, also the physics (i.e. objects flying around, etc.). F.E.A.R.'s Jupiter EX engine hits the nail on the head in all these aspects - in some levels, rooms look incredibly realistic thanks to the proper lighting. However, the game engine's stark limitations become noticeable in big, open locations, where objects in the distance are very bland and have a low polygon count, but in the small, confined areas that make up most of the game, the graphics are just right.
Let's move on to the story. It takes a while to "get into" the game, as the beginning is hazy, at best, and it starts out as a sub-par shooter with boring levels. However, perhaps half an hour into the game is when things start to get interesting. Nevertheless, the problem with F.E.A.R. is the fact that the developers stuck to a very old, very annoying formula to keep the player on his feet: making him chase the villain through the entire game. Almost every...what am I saying? EACH and every level's mission objective reads "locate and neutralize Paxton Vettel". If you're playing the game for the first time, you are successfully fooled into thinking that in this level, you'll get him, but no...not going to happen.
The next factor that curbs the fun is the limitation of locations. If I think about designing a horror game, a thousand locations immediately come to my mind. But F.E.A.R. only has four to five distinct locations - the level design is a double edged blade: On one hand, I laud the developers for creating slightly non-linear levels, but on the other hand, a great deal of them are extremely monotonous - you spend at least half the game winding your way around office cubicles; there I said it.
Another thing that I greatly missed was enemy variety. Through the entire game, you usually only encounter little groups of soldiers, ranging from 3 to 5. The A.I. is solid, but the firefights are always carried out in the same scenario: you pop up from a corner, use your superior reflexes (aka bullet-time), gun some down, and once your ability runs out, you gun down the stragglers in the normal fashion - one thing I sorely missed here was a "getting hit"-indicator, i.e. the screen going red. It only happens when you're shot from the side, but never from up front. It gives you a false feeling that your health is fine until you drop dead in a pool of your own blood. Another interesting bit is the fact that enemy grenades do too little damage. When you lob a grende at some Replica soldiers, the ensuing detonation turns them into little more than red mist. But if they hit you square in the face with one of theirs, you lose a fraction of your health - this could have been reworked, but oh well.
There are 8 weapons in total - ranging from duel wieldable pistols, to a semi-automatic rocket launcher and arcane particle weaponry. Ammunition is limited, though not scarce. I find this a welcome change to the recent Call of Duty ammo madness, where you start each level with 600 bullets and seemingly, never ran out. It is a good thing to make you watch your ammo count at all times.
Where F.E.A.R. scores, is in its atmosphere - unlike Doom 3, which literally spammed you with monsters around every corner, there are a fair few sections in F.E.A.R. where you encounter no enemies, but the dimly lit corridors, the eerie music and moving lampshades really induce a sense of creepiness that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Regarding Alma, well, she definitely looks like a well thought-out, characterful antagonist with an aura of mystery surrounding her, until you realize that - if you have watched The Ring (2002) - she is a carbon copy of Samara, bearing so many parallels that it is not even funny. Both have long, black hair obscuring their face, both are apparitions ranging from little girls to emaciated adolescent hag-women; both were trapped alive to die a tormented death being sealed off, and both have telepathic powers which they use to exact revenge on the world that abandoned them. The only difference being, Samara wears a white dress and was sealed off in a well, while Alma wears a red dress and was sealed off in a psychic dome.
So is F.E.A.R a scary game? Not really. I'd rather say it gives you the creeps oftentimes, but downright scary? Nah. The gameplay can be summed up as 15% scripted scary moments, 25% fear generated through atmosphere, and 60% gunfights. F.E.A.R. yields approximately 10 hours of gameplay. If you want to extend this, checking out one of its two expansions, Extraction Point and/or Perseus Mandate is certainly worth a mention.
Overall, FEAR is a good looking game (more so for its age), which however has its shortcomings due to repetitive levels, lack of enemy variety and thin story, which only gets interesting towards the end. A four, out of five stars - but only three for gameplay.