Retro-review: F.E.A.R. (PC) + expansions

No genre is more suited for horror than the first-person shooter. There are certainly great horror titles, but nothing tops being stuck right in the thick of things.

F.E.A.R. is a game I came real close to buying when it first came out. I still remember downloading the demo and getting destroyed by the armored unit that burst through the door. Couple that with the Ring-influenced atmosphere, and it was a game that turned a few heads. But how does it hold up after six years?

At the moment my favorite horror survival game is Deadspace. I picked it up on a whim and was glued to my TV for the next several hours. Play it with the lights off and the sound up, and you likely won’t get any sleep that night.

I mention that because as I played F.E.A.R. and ran through it’s tricks and traps, I couldn’t help but feel unaffected. But more on that in a second.

F.E.A.R. delivers two things. First, you have impressive A.I. from enemy soldiers. Second, you have the horrific story.

The soldier A.I. is really what keeps the game interesting. Enemies don’t merely sit behind cover and wait to die or charge directly into your gunfire. They throw grenades to flush you out. They flank you. They pay attention to your movements. Obviously, they can’t be too smart because then they would kill you with their superior numbers and tactics (remember, no matter your skill level you only win because the computer lets you).

The only real issue I had with combat was telling when I was being injured. It’s a lot more subtle than I like, and I had quite a few deaths due to my health-monitoring negligence. I’ve never actually been shot, but I imagine it would get my attention rapidly.

The story is the star here. The game throws a ton of tricks at you to make you jump. But there are serious flaws with the way the story is told. For one, your HUD flickers right before anything scary happens. The game literally tells you it’s about to scare you. A lot of the scares are very subtle (a shadow in the distance, a whisper) so at least it helps make sure you don’t miss anything.

The game also tends to reuse it’s methods. For example, any long hallway will inevitably lead to a psychic experience. Usually this involves you running down a dark, blurry fire-filled hallway with screams behind a double-door at the end. It escalates as it happens, but it gets old.

There’s also the problem of pacing. For the entire game you pretty much pick your way through one or two locations. That means a lot of time in an empty warehouse, an empty office building and then an empty subterranean facility. It gets pretty repetitive, especially when you keep fighting small groups of the same bad guys again and again.

These things make the game feel way too long. The lack of variation really starts to eat at you about halfway through the skyscraper. If the developers had cut about 20-25 percent of the action, F.E.A.R. would probably have been much more satisfying.

My one nitpick is that even though the soldiers are controlled psychically, they still seem to need to shout orders to each other. I found that funny.

The first expansion, Extraction Point, needlessly continues the story. It’s worth playing if you liked F.E.A.R., of course. The quality is slightly better, though you still find yourself in a lot of repetitive environments. My favorite part is when the bad guy (whom you killed in the game) reappears and issues a half apology from the developers by saying it just doesn’t make sense. Pretty much… “Hey, I’m some how alive. Just go with it.”

The second expansion, Perseus Mandate, ups the ante a good bit. It’s a different look at the action of the previous game with a new protagonist. There are a few sections that feel like filler, but the scares are a bit different. It still isn’t quite the game you want to play multiple times, but you can see the quality increasing.

F.E.A.R. doesn’t quite hold up as well as it could have. You can feel a lot of the “classic” FPS design in it where a lot of emphasis is placed on shooting rather than story. But you can also see a team finding its legs and showing enough quality here and there to make future titles worth keeping an eye on.

F.E.A.R. 2 and 3 both seem to hover in the 77 percent range from reviewers. It will be interesting to see how the genre progresses.

 

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