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Shooter / FPS video game by Sierra Online, Inc. for the Xbox 360

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Dark Side of the FPS Genre

  • Jul 23, 2013
  • by
Price Paid: $7

You know those times when you hear about a certain movie/book/game through the enthusiastic ravings of publications or your friends, and reading a description of it, you feel like you HAVE to experience it? But finances or other factors get in the way, so you wait several years for that special day when you have it all to yourself and experience it just the way you dreamed about. And then comes the day when you FINALLY set aside time and money for it and...you find out your expectations had way surpassed reality. Well, FEAR was kind of like that. When I first set out to buying a 360, this was one of the first games which always came to mind, the kind of game I anticipated would hold a golden crown in my collection. I thought it would a dark disturbing experience comparable with DOOM in its original intensity. But when I booted it up for the first time, outdated graphics, repetitive and derivative design elements slowly chipped away at the awe I was hoping to experience. While FEAR is certainly a good game, it feels outdated, even more outdated than games that were released a year before its debut on the 360.

In FEAR, you play as Point Man, a super soldier working for a special military group (known as F.E.A.R.) designed to deal with paranormal disturbances; those types of threats the normal military can't handle. And they've got an odd one on their hands. Recently some nutcase commander named Paxton Fettel has gone on a rampage, cannibalizing his coworkers and causing hell for a lot of people. Unfortunately he's also got an army of clones under his commands which he manipulates with special telepathic powers. Your job is to go in there, apprehend Fettel and discover the secrets of the cryptic government project known as "Origin".

Although relatively sparse on answers, the story is actually one of the better things about this game. Unlike DARK SECTOR's botched and vague narrative, FEAR relies on a simple premise (the ole' government secret experiment going out of control) that slowly becomes more complex as you go through the game. Much of the backstory is conveyed through cryptic phone messages and computer which you find in spooky abandoned office buildings. These start out vague, but begin to make a lot more sense as characters are identified and the pieces start to fit together near the end. Although this tactic of storytelling is blatantly borrowed from games like HALF-LIFE and DOOM 3, it still is effective and creates an unnerving atmosphere without being too vague or nonsensical. Make no mistake though, FEAR is a horror game just as much as it is an action/special military ops FPS shooter, although the horror elements don't really become prominent until the end. My only complaint about the story is that it's also blatantly ripped from the cliches of the cinematic horror genre, especially the J-Horror boom and ESPECIALLY their classic THE RING. In fact if you've seen THE RING (American or Japanese), the story will be predictable to you right off the bat. But if by some chance you haven't you'll be in for a spooky ride.

As far as gameplay goes, the main gimmick that FEAR brings to the FPS formula is the "heightened reflexes" action of the super soldier protagonist. Unfortunately this is also borrowed too, not from J-Horror, but MAX PAYNE's "Bullet Time" effect. You press a button, the world slows down, you aim and shoot and bullets fly and explode in a very MATRIX-esque fashion. It's really nothing new, even for the time despite many publications raving about it. However with the extra technology FEAR has over MAX PAYNE, it LOOKS fantastic with some wild gibbing, rag doll effects, environmental explosions, flying debris, that would have difficult to achieve back in the days of PAYNE.

The other gimmick FEAR brings to the FPS genre are those "paranormal encounters", which are basically just jump scare moments used to convey the narrative along. When you're walking through a dark room sometimes, your HUD will flicker, the music will turn creepy and you'll start seeing these hallucinations of your antagonist and sometimes be momentarily teleported to another plane of existence. While these beginning of the game does these moments incredibly effectively, they get REALLY repetitive by the middle of the game where you're always transported to the same room and chased by these conventional "flaming wraith" opponents. The fact that you can sometimes lose a lot of health during these sections makes them more tedious than scary. However by the end of the game, the hallucinations start to pick up again and get pretty wild and disturbing (this is where the J-Horror influence becomes most apparent).

Another disappointment I had with FEAR was the weapon selection. True to FEAR's derivative nature, the weapons in FEAR seem really rather generic, with recycled designs from just about any FPS classic in days past. The automatic shotgun looks and functions almost identical to HALF-LIFE's counterpart. As Gamespot's review pointed out, there is a scoped rifle in the game which is a "dead ringer" for HALO 2's battle rifle. Even the more powerful weapons feel weapons feel derivative, such as the Particle Cannon which is a ripoff of the Railgun weapon from QUAKE 2. I understand that FEAR was probably intended as a homage to classic FPS games (just as it was intended as a homage to J-Horror films), but I also think that people going in expecting some radical new change in the FPS formula (or even a unique selection of weapons ala UNREAL) will be disappointed. Thankfully all the weapons look and sound REAL powerful though.

Another thing that does down for me too is the lack of a coop mode. While this would be difficult to accomplish given that you couldn't really handle the bullet time effect properly, they could have easily created a short alternate campaign without it. Heck, they went out of their way to create a "bonus mission" for this port which didn't have the bullet time effect, so why didn't they go out of their way to create a couple of more levels with some coop action? I know that was probably expecting too much, but given that this addition in games like HALO and even PERFECT DARK ZERO, it's omission in FEAR is noticeable.

But the whole appeal of FEAR seemed to be based around its advanced graphics engine, which did look rather fan...no wait...I take that back. The game actually looks worse than PERFECT DARK ZERO, which was a 360 launch title released a year before FEAR (in 2005). Textures are rather muddy, it's not heavy on bump mapping as the aforementioned game, shadows are off, etc. Perhaps the reason for this is that FEAR was a port of a PC game also from the previous year, so apparently it was built with older technology than PERFECT DARK ZERO. Still, that's not to say its an unattractive game overall. It's a SPFX extravangaza with those wild slow mo gun battles taking most of the attention. And indeed, these do look real good with the aforementioned confetti of environmenal debris, spark showers and stuff. Practically every object in the environment is interactive, making for some pretty crazy effects when they go flying during battle. And there's nothing quite like slowing down time, blasting a guy point blank in the head and watching his body do this ridiculous slo-mo backflip as the rag doll physics take effect. It's a shame there aren't more areas to blast these baddies in. The level variety is pretty limited to just dark, urban industrial complexes or office buildings, nothing of the adventurous places you visited in PERFECT DARK ZERO.

And it also sounds extremely good too. The soundtrack is just like something you'd expect out of a dark Hollywood blockbuster and it's effective, unnerving you just as much as it gets your blood pumping (although some parts do feel kind of similar to HALO's soundtrack). The weapons all sound incredibly powerful, just as any dreamy 13 year old would hope them to (the shotgun is so loud it can rock your speakers). The voice acting is also really good, with Fettel's hissing voice probably being the most memorable performance. My only complaint in this area is that the game doesn't have SUBTITLES for you to turn on, so if you're playing alongside friends or relatives, you'll probably be screwed trying to figure out what the hell they're saying a lot of the time. You can compensate by turning the speech volume really high and SPFX and music low, but would it have been too inconvenient to just throw in some subtitles?

After playing through FEAR, I quickly switched back to HALO 3 for a moment, and realized that FEAR's wildly stylized, violent shootouts made the action in the latter game feel kind of tepid. That a game can get under your skin like this is a testimony to how effectively all the elements work together, and probably explains why the game sold well enough to spawn two sequels (which I've never played). Although the cards FEAR plays are derivative, althought the graphics could not compete with the best 360 titles of the time, it still does well enough to be a profound experience. I'm actually disappointed it wasn't longer. In the end, your experience with FEAR will probably depend on a couple of factors, such as your susceptibility to horror films and how much you relish the "dark side" of the FPS genre.

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More F.E.A.R. reviews
review by . March 24, 2007
Pros: solid gameplay, scary imagery and sound, good multiplayer     Cons: a few annoyances, but nothing that should keep anyone away     The Bottom Line: A solid shooter that doesn't bring much new to the table. But it remains consistently fun, adequately scary, and very satisfying.      F.E.A.R. was one of the most successful PC shooters from 2005. It required a very powerful PC and only those lucky enough to have the hardware could enjoy …
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About this video game


F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon) is a first-person close-quarters combat game for the PC. The story begins when a paramilitary force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound, and the government responds by sending in Special Forces. The group loses contact with the government when an eerie signal interrupts radio communications--and when that interference subsides moments later, the team has been destroyed. That''s where you come in. As part of a classified strike team created to deal with threats no one else can handle, your mission is simple: eliminate the intruders at any cost, determine the origin of the signal, and contain the potential crisis before it gets out of control.
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ESRB: M - (Mature)
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Sierra Online, Inc.
Release Date: October, 2006

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