F.E.A.R. review


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Buy your copy from Amazon.com F.E.A.R. (2006) starstarstarstarhalf star Publisher: Vivendi
Category: Shooter
Available for: Xbox 360, PC
Buy from Amazon.com

When it comes to video games, the horror genre is a mixed bag, much like its cinema brethren. Certainly, franchises like “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” have had their ups and downs. Exactly how many zombies and freakishly contorted monsters writhing in the dark can you shoot down before it gets predictable? Plus, these games’ “scares” often boil down to the old something jumping out at you routine (any of the “Resident Evil” games), or a creepy atmosphere shrouded in fog and darkness (“Silent Hill” and its sequels). Occasionally, though, a new game like “Fatal Frame” comes along and tries to spin the whole genre on its head, and usually becomes a cult favorite.

Suffice it to say that “F.E.A.R.” dabbles in its own usage of some of the aforementioned qualities, but while it does this, it also offers its own take on those elements and makes the horror element fresh again. At any rate, it was a highly successful PC game last year, and now it has found a new home on the 360 with some additional features that weren’t in the PC version. The question is, is it any good? Oh yeah, it’s quite great, even. Fine, but is it scary? I jumped out of my seat plenty of times, and it wasn’t because the phone was ringing.

“F.E.A.R.” (“First Encounter Assault Recon”) finds the player as a sort of super-operative who has been sent in to take out a person by the name of Paxton Fettel. Paxton seems to like eating his victims, and has holed up in a building, and it’s up to you to locate him and exterminate with prejudice. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and soon the mission turns into something decidedly more paranormal than just cannibalistic. Be prepared to keep your wits about you as you navigate through office buildings and construction areas, blasting through enemies while reality itself becomes bent.

Where “F.E.A.R.” excels is in its presentation and fantastic AI. A lot of the scares in this game come just as often from auditory experiences as much as visual. You’ll often find yourself hearing (or thinking you’re hearing) evil just lurking around the next corner. The sounds are especially effective when you’re in a tense moment of the game, and you wind up knocking some boxes on a shelf over, or some other random item. Often, these collisions are made to sound like something evil is creeping right up behind you. There’s also the occasional random spooky noise tied in to the story of the game to get the adrenaline flowing as well.

Visually, the game is impeccable. The lighting and use of shadows are simply amazing. More often than not, you may find yourself shooting at your own shadow, or being caught off guard by it, as the realistic lighting will cast it in front of you whenever you’re stalking around and step in front of a light. In addition, there are freakish nightmare scenes that are reminiscent of the stuff in “Silent Hill” and various Japanese horror movies, but in this game it still looks and feels fresh. There are hardly any moments of things jumping out at you; rather “F.E.A.R.” employs brief flashes of scenes of things that you will encounter on down the line as you progress through the game. There are also apparitions aplenty and a ghostly girl that ties in to the story as well.

As many gamers know all too well, first person shooters often lack when it comes to the computer’s AI. Well, get ready for a new experience with “F.E.A.R.” The AI in this game can truly be called “adaptable.” Players will find themselves having to balance out stealth and going out full force and blasting the enemies. Luckily, you have the ability to slow down time and wreak havoc with your enemies when the going gets really tough. It’s not a slow motion thing that’s used like a “bullet time” reflex as in “Max Payne,” but rather just a good way to get the jump on your enemies and in position to take them down, especially when they’re in a large squad and encircling you at all points. Oh, and they’ll definitely find you, so there’s no point in just cowering and waiting. These bad guys know how to snipe and toss grenades as well as you will.

Of the new features included for the console version of the game, there is a very cool “Instant Action” mode that pits you in various situations from the main story mode. Players can work through these scenarios and see how well they stack up against the rest of the world by uploading their scores to Xbox Live. There is also a new weapon – a machine pistol – that works quite well, though trying out all the weapons in the game is part of its fun. On the multiplayer side of the game, there are some new maps thrown in, but basically it’s your usual grab bag of deathmatch, capture the flag, and elimination modes. The stuff that brings FPS fans together online, in other words.

If there’s anything to complain about “F.E.A.R.” it’s perhaps that the single player campaign is a bit short, but since there are multiple levels of difficulty, each with its own set of Achievements to unlock, players will find themselves enjoying the game more than they think they might in solo mode. Other than that, “F.E.A.R.” succeeds on all its levels. It’s a great FPS with excellent AI, and it’s plenty creepy and scary at the right moments to boot. And, if you have a surround sound system, the thing gets even better with its funky ambiance. All in all, “F.E.A.R.” is a must-have for fans of either the FPS or horror genres.

~Jason Thompson