F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is a first person shooter put out by Monolith Production and Published by Sierra in 2005. In it an unnamed and silent protagonist mows down waves of nearly identical looking dudes, loots their corpses for more weapons and ammo, and proceeds to find more dudes to kill. Game play wise, F.E.A.R. doesn't try to stray far from the formula that makes FPS work. Despite that, it stands out in my mind as one of the greats of the genre for its tight game play and fairly original atmosphere and story.

The Plot

In F.E.A.R. you play as the Point Man a member of the eponymous organization tasked with protecting the USA from supernatural threats. The story begins when a psychic named Paxton Fettel decides to go rogue and starts murdering and eating people. This wouldn't be such a big problem if he wasn't psychically linked to and in control of hundreds of super soldiers. Since they want to keep the whole mess as hush-hush as possible it falls to your small team to deal with this huge number of super powered freaks. If that weren't enough Fettel has taken a special interest in the Point Man, sending you cryptic visions . . . except as the plot progresses the visions seem to have less and less to do with Fettel and more and more to do with a little girl in a blood red dress. Who is she, why is she following you, and what does she have to do with any of this? Well, telling you would spoil the surprise.

First Person Shooters are typically pretty light on plot; it gets in the way of the action after all. F.E.A.R. handles this in the fashion of Half-Life by keeping the player in control throughout nearly the entire game. The few cut scenes are visions that are inflicted on the protagonist as much as the player and serve to remind both of you that you are at the hands of malevolent forces that could probably kill you at any time. When exposition is needed it's delivered as radio chatter or invasive voices in your head. The only downside to this style is that it prevents the Point Man from getting any characterization or development, but given his status as an action hero in a horror story I don't think attempts at humanizing him would have done anything for the final product.

The Aesthetic

Some people will tell you about how impressive a game's graphics are but this is always relative to the time and system of origin. What matters is the aesthetic, whether the artistic choices give the game a look and personality of it's own. Visually F.E.A.R. really likes its greys from concrete to cubicles, all lit just a bit too dimly when they're lit at all. The handful of warm colors mostly come from fires and blood. The game takes place entirely in artificial environments of stiff right angles and the rare gentle curve making for a sterile world punctuated by messy violent splatter. The entire effect adds up to grim joyless surroundings with bursts of extreme violence. While it's hardly visually interesting the style works in the context of a horror game and ties nicely into all of the evils, even the supernatural ones, being of human devising.

The sound effects and music are pretty forgettable. In a way this is to their credit. Most horror movies owe as much to the sound effects as the costume design and lighting. If you don't believe me try watching just about any horror movie muted and subtitled. Most horror cheats by using short musical sounds or soft slightly discordant music to set people on edge and F.E.A.R. is no exception. The music typically runs from creepy to tense. The sound effects are mostly gunfire, explosions, and radio chatter in the fights and foot fall and some ghostly sounds in between.

The Game Play

Last but not least, how fun is it. As I mentioned at the start F.E.A.R. doesn't stray far from the core of FPS goodness. Combat is fast paced and frenetic, made all the more challenging by the enemies being intelligent enough to use basic squad tactics like flanking and not only using cover but creating it by pushing over objects. It may not sound like much but combat becomes a lot more interesting (and challenging) when you are worrying about when you are going to be blindsided. The combat would actually be too hard if not for the Point Man's ability to enter bullet time in short bursts. The slow motion game mechanic lets you take out enemies quickly but it rarely lasts through an entire encounter. This makes for battles where you really have to think about what to do, maintain environmental awareness, and often retreat. In short, its pretty tactical.

The game play outside of combat is mostly exploration and while the expectation of ambushes, search for power ups, and occasional haunting keep these parts from becoming boring the linearity of the game means that there are few meaningful decisions to make. More over the games horror elements have not aged well. While I'm sure that Fettel and the girl in red were scary at the time they pail in comparison to the scares that a survival horror would subject the player to in today's market in large part because the ghosts don't actually try to hurt you. No, really they kill the nameless NPCs by the dozens but you really don't have to pay attention to them if you don't want to. In this sense I would argue that F.E.A.R. sort of fails as a horror game though that hardly diminishes it's good qualities.

As far as first person shooter go I give F.E.A.R. two thumbs up. The game play is as tight and polished as Half-life 2 and it's flaws are easy to ignore.

IRON NODER 9
Horror Quest 2016