psychomode's F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (Director's Edition) (PC) review

One of the most memorable FPS games of recent times.

(This review was originally posted on GameSpot.com under the name stevenscott14. It appears here ever-so-slightly edited in order for it to not look like an absolutely unforgivable wall of text)

The most creepy thing about my experience with F.E.A.R. wasn't even the silence, the atmosphere, or the spooky little girl that turns out to be much, much more than a Samara ripoff (The Ring, anyone?) The creepy thing was that I actually enjoyed the moments where there wasn't a thousand clones to shoot the hell out of; I relished these moments almost as much as the gratuitous fighting that splattered most areas of the game.

Don't get me wrong, though; that's not to say that F.E.A.R. seriously takes a beating when you're comparing to the most memorable set piece gun battles of, say, Half Life 2, or even Halo - F.E.A.R. doesn't need vehicles; hell, it doesn't even need crowbars. F.E.A.R. compensates for that by including slow motion into a game that is extraordinarily fast paced in nature. Using slow motion takes advantage of your character's superior reflexes to, for lack of a better description, kick the living crap out of any clone soldier that wanders into your path. This tool is quite useful in a couple of the game's larger scale battles, where there might be, say, a full squad of enemies positioned strategically ahead of you at different points. Not only will you be significantly quicker than them, enabling you to peek your head out of your hiding place and sneak in a few shots at a soldier who didn't have the luxury of returning fire quick enough to ensure his survival; but you'll also be able to dodge any slower-moving projectiles coming towards you, which comes in very handy when the game starts throwing heavily armored robots and such at you in the later stages of the campaign.

Slow motion isn't just fun to use, though - at some parts of the game it is positively essential to your survival. Put simply, the AI in F.E.A.R. is some of the best in any first person shooter I've ever played, and I've played a lot of first person shooters. When you hit enemies enough they will retreat back to their insertion point and they'll usually stay there, recuperating while they wait for you to make the first move. They'll also utilize cover far more effectively than in most games - at some points you'll see them duck behind a stack of boxes or something and they'll secretly move to another point of cover and surprise you from springing out from an unexpected place.

And that's not all - slow motion also holds a lot of amusement value. The game uses a brilliant physics engine AND has destructible environments, and these two elements, slowed down, just surmounts to some really beautiful-looking scenes. At many points in the game you'll get to witness flying shards of glass, bullets tearing holes out of walls, exploding bodies, decapitations, random paranormal effects such as swinging lights, hallucinations, and other such like, all in slow motion. I tell you, watching a soldier's body being buffeted with a close range machine gun spurt and then flying down a corridor with the impact is something you've got to experience at least once throughout the course of the game - especially since the game's rather limited arsenal of weapons manage to be extremely satisfying.

Despite all the above elements, its still the parts without all the overblown fight scenes that captivated me in F.E.A.R. The storyline and the few-and-far-between cinematic scenes, for one thing. At the beginning of the game you're just expecting a mildly convoluted psychological-themed ride through a relatively dark facility, much like transplanting Doom 3 with Half Life 2 and then throwing a Samara-esque little girl in there, too. Turns out that F.E.A.R.'s storyline is much more captivating than at first sight - it involves the little girl quite heavily, and the revelations over the course of the game, combined with many intriguingly gruesome hallucination scenes, all build up to an absolutely amazing ending; one of the best endings in gaming ever, in my opinion, and that alone is enough for me to justify buying its expansion Extraction Point, possibly soon.

The portions of the game without dozens of soldiers to shoot at are just as good. The game's atmosphere is literally perfect and for many people, F.E.A.R. will be a game that they will be reluctant to, and eventually refuse to play in the dark. Dimly lit corridors are soaked with silence and the ambient noises that permeate the quiet are usually enough to make you feel genuinely uneasy, and in the sections with no light you'll be telling yourself that you don't want to go down there, you're not going down there... this adds to the game's unpredictability, really. On almost every section where you expect something to happen, it doesn't, and you'll be left with a mingled feeling of relief, disappointment, and shock.

 On the contrary, many of the lighter sections greet you with a nicely unexpected hallucination, whose stark imagery and intriguing climaxes will have you writhing on your seat. But of course, there are moments that involve the two major creeps of the game - the little girl herself, and the psychic cannibal Paxton Fettel, who is linked to every single clone in the entire game. The little girl isn't just some cheap thrill, though - she ends up being more creepy than The Ring's star spook, and she's also got a fair bit of history behind her, and I won't ruin it, but she's also a very central part of the game's amazing ending. Many dark sequences of the game end up being shook up by a skull-crushing ringing sound (this sound precedes every major scare scene in the entire game, and it ends up becoming a telltale sound of complete utter inescapable dread) and then bang, right after that shock of white noise, the girl will appear... or the cannibal... or some innocent guy will be dragged through a ventilation shaft, or a TV will suddenly greet you with a live feed of an antagonist, and various other phenomena along those lines.

The silence and the ambience alone are enough to conjure the best atmosphere I've ever experienced in a video game. The graphics, too, are stunningly well realized - the slow motion is enough to justify that, as the assorted physics-related deaths, the special effects, the explosions... they're all wondrous to behold. The lighting is also used extremely effectively and it works in perfect pairing with the brilliantly freaky audio.

All in all, I think I've mentioned everything that makes F.E.A.R. memorable, and if you really read all the above review, you should be salivating and straight after recommending this, you'll be off to amazon or eBay to buy the game and then play it over the course of a weekend or so, and spend the entire two days shivering in despair and shock. It's difficult to sleep in the dark after playing this game in pitch black and with headphones equipped, I'll tell you that much - and if you're not in it for the psychological fright, then despite the fact that you're missing the point slightly, you won't be disappointed with the overblown firefights you'll trawl through over the game's rather short 9 or 10 hours. Definitely one of the most memorable FPS games of recent times.

1 Comments
Posted by Dudacles

Very good review, well done.

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