F.E.A.R.
Reviewed by Eva Cekanska
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-11-15 PC FPS M (Mature) Monolith / Sierra

F.E.A.R. is Monolith studio's latest foray into the First Person Shooter genre. The game has been much talked about since its showing at E3 in Los Angeles this May, garnering mainstream attention compared by some even to the almighty Halo 2. The buzz surrounding the game has made it almost impossible to ignore for any serious enthusiast of the genre. Well, the wait is over, the game has hit store shelves and we can finally find out if it has been worth the wait.

I will spare you the tension outright, FEAR is a fantastic game. It does almost everything right and the few things I can complain about seem like merely nitpicks in face of some glaring problems I've been willing to forgive other games in the past (pop-in textures of Halo 2 anyone?). The first time an enemy soldier tosses a grenade at you and jumps through a broken window to avoid the blast you will realize that this is more than merely another Red Faction. Let's talk about the enemy A.I. first because of all the things FEAR does right, this I believe is the most important. In anticipation of the release of Quake 4 I took a trip down nostalgia lane and re-installed an old time favorite Quake 2. While different facets of the game hold-up even with the passage of time, it becomes glaringly obvious very early on that the enemies you face do not have any artificial 'intelligence' per se. What they do have though is the instinct to run directly at you, stand about three feet away and shoot. This not only makes the game laughably easy, it also takes you out of the experience, it's difficult to enjoy a game when every enemy you face acts exactly the same way.

In FEAR the enemies act like squads, they make decisions that real people might make, they even make mistakes. I remember early on in the game I walked out into an open courtyard and after not seeing any enemies I proceeded straight ahead towards a door at the other end. Suddenly, a shot hit me from the side and when I turned to see who dared shoot me, I saw no one. The soldier had hidden behind the nearest building and was screaming to his team mates to flank me. And flank me they did. After the first few times you die a horribly embarrassing death at the hands of computer controlled baddies you will be humbled. This game forces you to forget almost everything you've learned in games like Quake, Doom or Serious Sam. This is a thinking man's shooter more akin to Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon.

That is not to say the game is without its perks; unlike the two aforementioned titles, FEAR is a futuristic shooter which puts you in the role of a super-soldier with a murky past. This gives you a series of advantages over regular people, like the ability to slow down time for brief periods (think Max Payne without the goofy dives), the ability to recover health and even the ability to slide down ladders without hurting your hands. Activating the slow-motion reflex ads a very cool looking effect to the textures, making everything look almost cel-shaded. The enemy bullets leave trails where they heat the air as they cut through it on their way to eat your Kevlar vest. Another beautiful effect is the grenade explosion. The concussion grenades your enemies drop rip the air upon detonation, creating a mesmerizing blast radius that is as deadly as it is beautiful.

The weapons of FEAR range from your standard pistol which packs a punch but takes a long time to reload, through various sub-machine guns, machine guns and grenade launchers. In essence, it is your standard set-up of any military shooter. However, as the story unfolds the game provides you with some other means of dealing with your enemies that I dare not discuss without spoiling the storyline. There are also some melee attacks that bring back memories of Namco's Xbox shooter 'Breakdown' (and what horrible memories those are indeed!)

Let's take a second to talk about the 'fear' aspect of FEAR. The game has an incredibly involving storyline which I don't want to spoil for any hopeful players, so I will simply say that it is worth playing through the game as the 'First Encounter' part of First Encounter Assault Recon (FEAR, get it?) is explored in some depth. Like the name suggests, this is a scary game. Unlike games like Doom 3 however, this game does not attempt to scare you with cheap tricks which become mindless and repetitive over the course of the game (another monster behind the door!? You don't say!), opting instead to use sounds and shadows to create a feeling of unease within the player. It's not that a monster will jump out from underneath those stairs, it's the fact that it's there somewhere, watching you. If you could fight it, then you could kill it and it wouldn't seem as scary... but all you as the player know is that there is something there following your every move.

Minimum system requirements:
OS: Windows XP, X64 or 2000 with latest service packs installed.
Processor: Pentium 4 1.7GHZ or equivalent Athlon processor.
Ram: 512MB
Video Card: 64MB GeForce 4 Ti or Radeon 9000
Space: 5.0GB of free space for installation

While those are the minimum requirements, my Athlon 3000+ with a gig of RAM and a Radeon X800 pro card runs the game smoothly at 1024x768 with everything turned on high and soft shadows off, but it does stutter when loading new areas. It's noticeable, but totally forgivable as this game packs an insane amount of textures, lights and effects, and then there are the enemies and environmental damage. You might need a beast to play this game, but it'll be well worth it.

Let's recap, FEAR has amazing visuals, incredible enemy A.I., plenty of weapons to help you tare those baddies apart and an engrossing storyline that is at once freaky and involving. Is there anything else to ask for in a game? F.E.A.R is so good it's scary.