Publisher:Vivendi Universal Games
Release Date: 10/17/05
Review Unit: Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz processor, RADEON X700 PRO, SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS, 1 gig of Patriot DDR400 RAM, 19' LCD monitor; all settings set to Maximum, no overclocking.
Minimum System Requirements: System: Pentium(R) 4 - 1.7 GHz or equivalent, RAM: 512 MB Video Memory: 64 MB, Hard Drive Space: 5000 MB
Reccomended: System: Pentium 4 - 3.0 GHz or equivalent, RAM: 1024 MB Video Memory: 256 MB Video: Radeon(R) 9800 Pro, GeForce(TM) 6600 or equivalent DirectX(R) 9. Sound Blaster(R) X-Fi(TM) series sound card. MB
Traditionally, horror games for either the console or PC have been doled out in the 3rd person perspective, which in essense, strips away 50% of the visceral feeling of true fear. Games like DOOM3 and Quake 4 attempt to scare you with lame tricks like demons popping out of dark corners and sudden loud disturbances, but no game is able to match the undeniable tension and terror that F.E.A.R creates in its ingenious world.
For the most part of the game, you are known as "F.E.A.R. point man", as described in your mission objectives. As a F.E.A.R operative, you are part of an elite task force that is called upon to investigate, and eliminate supernatural forces before the public ever gains wind of it. Your main task is to track down a maniac known as Paxton Fettel; who not only has control of a batallion of clone soldiers, but also has a nasty habit of ingesting the unfortunate souls that cross his path.
To say the least, F.E.A.R is a very nice looking game, with some great environments that you will eventually wreak havoc on later in your mission. Enemy combatants look slick with global lighting in full effect on every reflective surface, from their armor to the barrel of their rifle. The levels are littered with small items that you can bump into, but the environment won't give you any turn-the-tide of battle opportunities like in Half-Life 2; aside from the small items here and there, the environment remains rather static. A nice touch to the environment is that bullets from high-caliber weapony will leave giant indentations in walls when hit, which compliments the sheer power of the games somewhat futuristic weaponry.
The lighting engine is also one of this games strongest points. You will see active shadowing that mimics alot of the lighting and shadowing effects in DOOM3, where light will be broken down if it passes through vents. Similarly, light will bounce off of water to project a real-time reflection on walls or pipes in the area; the game also counts any reflective surfaces on player or enemy clothing or weapons as fair game for this effect as well, which completes the already stunning effect.
The main problem with the environment is that it lacks variety due to the constraints the story places on itself. For the most part, you will be battling through industrial complexes and office buildings, with a few areas that are placed to spruce up the otherwise monotonous locale. But even though you are stuck in this office, the way that levels are laid seems to give you the sense that they developers know exactly how you should tackle each situation. You will never be placed in a situation where you will run out completely exposed to the enemy, you are either given prior notice to their presence via radio chatter, hear their footsteps, or see their shadow. In most situations, you will have the jump, or the advantage based on how you decide to execute your assault. Another dent into F.E.A.R's nearly perfect experience is the low poly-count that can sometimes be caught in certain areas, while nothing you will notice unless you stop and take a look, but dissapointing nonetheless.
As you can easily surmise, F.E.A.R. is not only an acronym for the squad you are a part of, but it is the overall theme of the game. In certain spots in the game, you will be taken into dream-like sequences that will not only catch you off guard, but advance the storyline with horrifying visuals and sound effects that will make your spine tingle. The blood and the gore in this game is almost too real, and the game takes no prisoners when displaying copious amounts of blood during action sequences, and during the nightmare sequences as well. While most of us have been desensitized to blood and gore in most games, this game captures the intense feeling of someone dying, or someone in pain, so very weak stomachs be warned. But for those of you who love a good horror game, F.E.A.R. delivers. If the Silent Hill and Fatal Frame series tickle your fancy, than the up-close, in your face horror epic this game becomes will delight anyone who has a taste for FPS.
One of F.E.A.R.'s main features is the AI, a system so complex, you would mistake some soldiers for real people. The tactics used by some units will actually throw you for a loop, and sometimes even surprise you by turning your seemingly perfect plan completely upside-down. Units will throw grenades in your direction to force you into cover, meanwhile, they will all change positions so that they will have an even greater advantage of surprise attacks. But again, the advantage is given to you by an FPS first: Slow Mo. Provided that your Slow Mo bar is filled, you can slip in and out of this mode, giving you the ultimate advantage of pin-point accuracy and being able to see your enemy react, which gives you time to plan your next attack before your run out of Slow Mo time. Some of the games best effects are presented in Slow Mo; bullets will break sound barriers as they pass through the air (sometimes giving you time to avoid them), explosions will slowly mushroom out, and the best feature of all: being able to detonate a grenade you threw in mid-air by shooting it.
Speaking of sound, what a treat this game is for those who have a capable sound card that can handle the rapid fluctuation of sound in this game. With all of the extra sound options turned off, you actually lose the tactical advantage of being able to hear how far your opponent is away from you, and you will also lose the deadening of sound when someone speaks from behind a wall. Aside from the technical aspects, F.E.A.R. features a nice soundtrack of varied music from techno (and not cheesy techno) for some battles, to absolutely frightening tracks for some sequences. You are also able to know your battle situation by listening to the radio chatter of the other soldiers, so if you happen to hear, "Where do I go!?", that would be your queue to lean out and open fire on someone rushing for cover. As for Slow Mo, everything from speech to gunfire will be slowed down, even so much that you can hear each and every bullet casing from your gun hit the ground while in a firefight.
Finally, the game features voice acting as well. There are only a select few characters that speak in the game besides your commanding officer barking orders and filling you in on the situation, but some of the actors really stand out. Paxton Fettel's voice actor gives a brilliant performance as a raging psycho looking to open doors that should not be opened; I was impressed how well his voice fit his character.
Perhaps one of the best additions to the genre is actually breaking the tradition of "floating point" characters. In F.E.A.R, you can look down and see your legs, you will see your arms reach out to grab a ladder, and best of all, you will be able to use you fists and feet in combat. We first saw this innovation in Breakdown for the XBOX, but F.E.A.R. manages to integrate this system seamlessly.When unarmed, you are able to deliver a 3-hit combo with your fists (when armed, you give them the good 'ol butt of the gun in the face), but with the simotaneous pressing of two keys, you can perform a roundhouse kick; and finally, while running, you roundhouse becomes a flying scissior kick. While these moves are a wonderful breath of fresh air, the opportunites to use them are far and few inbetween. If you try to rush a soldier in an open area with a scissior kick, you will most likely be killed by his buddies noticing your kung-fu, so these moves are reserved for special occasions and when a soldier gets a little too close for comfort.
But with complex systems come complex control schemes, and there inlies the foremost problem you must tackle when coming into F.E.A.R: mapping a stable yet effective key binding. Traditionally in FPS on the PC, you will use the left mouse button to fire, and the right to aim with your weapon, but with Slow Mo an essential factor in your survival, you have to find a mouse click or key to bind it that you will be able hit at almost any time without fail. Grenades are also toggled with the key pad and not the scroll wheel, so this may also need to be fixed if you are not familiar with mapping your weapons to keys. While most people end up changing key binding to their liking in any FPS, th amount of integral buttons needed to play the game is a bit overwhelming, and will take some time for any gamer to learn.
Overall, F.E.A.R. sets the standard when it comes to FPS-Horror games; the chilling story, the excellent voicework, the visceral combat, and the new spin on slow-motion gameplay makes it a game in it's own class. If you have the capababilities to run this monster at maximum, you would be doing yourself a favor by getting the full experience of what this game has to offer.
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