Saturday, August 06, 2011

F.E.A.R.

There is so much in this game, yet it is crafted with brilliant restraint.


The base ingredient for F.E.A.R. is a bog standard, but top quality Special Forces themed shooter. To that, Monolith have added some remarkable icing on the cake, but if the core of the game doesn’t hold up, the rest falls flat. Fear not, for the game is built upon a solid foundation to which magic is layered thick. You are a spec forces badarse sent in to investigate the curious goings on at a major aerospace and weapons technology company. That means walking around shooting enemy spec forces badarses, mostly in the corridors and confined spaces. This is one of those games that is gritty and realistic. Hardcore and humourless. Monolith games have a certain feel, and personally I’ve always loved them.

The company knows how to pace combat so it’s never repetitive. F.E.A.R. mixes it up with tense exploration punctuated by intense bursts of adrenalin combat. The core game is never adulterated by elements that are too often inserted in computer games to make them “interesting”, rather you are simply a fella with a few guns clearing an area. This raw simplicity really does make you feel like you’re just there to do a job.

Combat is especially meaty as a result. The weapons feel more realistic than “gamey” and killing is a visceral splatterfest that’s more cold and shocking that gung-ho grin and let rip. Bad guys are armoured and take some hits before going down, they will jerk and recoil as they take hits, not unlike Bonny and Clyde in the frightening final scene from that film. When they do die you know it because their guts explode out and everything around them is soaked in a physics-engine driven splatterage of gore.


Upon that core F.E.A.R. gives you three thick dollops of icing that make it the stunner it is. Dollop one is the “Slo-mo” effect. Yes, it’s bullet time. There’s nothing fancy about it, just hold CTL and time slows until the little bar runs dry – which starts at about 10 seconds, then extends through the game by collecting boosters. And it’ll save your skin many times. 
Gun recoil is controllable in slo-mo, very useful, and you can take out 3-4 baddies in one 10 sec slo session. When it runs out and snaps back to real time it’s abrupt and explosive. Slo-mo also highlights the killer AI in the game, which is the second dollop. F.E.A.R. is the first single-player game that has you feeling as if you’re fighting a well orchestrated team of real people. Enemies will fight with convincing intelligence. They are completely unpredictable until you start thinking, "what would I do if I were attacking me?", then it becomes fractionally easier. Elements of a squad will vault over obstacles, crawl under others to attack, while others in the attacking group will try and flank you. They will lean out from cover and pin you down with suppressing fire while others sprint to better firing positions. It’s intimidating and challenging, yet wonderfully satisfying. 
Next dollop (3th). F.E.A.R. has the most advanced environment and particle effects yet seen. A gunfight is a cacophony of volumetric concrete debris flying off the walls as they are chunkified away by stray rounds, which fills the room and obscures vision until it clears, adding a tactical element. It is rippling shockwaves from grenades, spreading out like a tsunami. It is shredded books and paper from the office scenes filling the air like New York when the towers collapsed. It is gore spilling into the air explosively. It is heat haze effects from things set on fire. Elsewhere, it is water that sloshes as you walk through it and dust blowing from vents, or chopper blades.

Despite the technical wowee of it all, F.E.A.R’s environment is never eye candy for the sake of it. Rather it is starkly realistic. Its subtlety is spectacular. The world is dank and dark. Never before in a game have I felt like I really was looking through my monitor into the real world. This is design brilliance and it scoffs in the face of games which need to cover up gameplay shortcomings with over-the-top effects. Topping it all off is the sugar frosting. The supernatural scary stuff. Yes, it really is scary. 

I started playing thinking I was immune. Tough and indifferent. That no game could scare me. Wrong. Many times I felt full body chills and had to look away from the screen and take a deep breath before continuing. This part of the game I will not detail, so as not to spoil it, but it is as artfully crafted as the very best horror movies and, almost surprisingly, fits in perfectly with the harsh reality of the gameworld. 

F.E.A.R. is almost a new kind of game, yet is also a cliché of everything before it. It is the skill, creativity and attention to detail that sets it apart and makes it a game you simply must experience. Best served in a dark room with the volume cranked. 



NAME: F.E.A.R.
SYSTEM: PC, XBOX 360, Play Station 3

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