F.E.A.R. review

PC Gamer confronts Monolith's paranormal FPS head-on

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About two hours into FEAR I find myself in an open area. A rooftop, to be precise, criss-crossed with metallic steps and walkways. And on every raised section I can see patrols.

Handily, there's also a low, flat wall to the left offering enough cover for me to make some headway. I'm halfway along it when I hear a shout of "Grenade out!" and an ominous chink from a few metres behind.

I run - into a little cubbyhole just beyond the grenade's blast. Now I'm in trouble. FEAR's levels are never entirely linear: they're a pleasant mixture of direct lines through each space with a few neat detours when things get hairy. The one place I don't want to be is stuck in a corner.

I sneak out again and peer around: I've got two options. I can go left and head into the unknown, or go back the way I came and try another route. I take the cowardly way out and head back. This is an FPS, dammit: I'm the hunter, not the hunted.

Big mistake. The guards are smarter than I gave them credit for: a pair are already flanking me on that route. The unknown is the only option if I want to avoid confrontation. Guess what? Another group are on their way, and beyond them are more guards in support.

So here I am, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea: what do I do? The answer is simple: quicksave.

FEAR is all about the risk and reward of close combat. Monolith has gone to great pains to give me the tools to deal with this situation in the most violent, bloody way imaginable.

As part of First Encounter Assault Recon, it's my job to extricate myself from this sort of situation. They're a military XFiles on steroids: they take care of things that you can't possibly imagine.

The guards closing in on me are part of a clone army under the psychic command of military-experiment-gone-wrong Paxton Fettle. The clones are protecting their commander because it's the only thing they know how to do. They know I'm after him. He knows I'm after him.

So I quicksave, because things are about to get nasty and what FEAR does best is nasty.

I've got plenty of skills for this and it could go shootout style or Kung Fu. I stow the kicks for a later replay. I hit SlowMo instead and cock my shotgun.

My supernatural reflexes are part of what makes me part of the FEAR team. I can move faster than anyone else, and slow my enemies down to a crawl. The world warps, my vision sharpens, focuses and I take aim. BAM.

The first grunt to my left disappears in a cloud of red vapour. He's so broken up I can run through what remains and straight into his backup, who's turned and fled.

I catch him one in the back and he falls, his finger instinctively jerks on the trigger and he empties a full clip as he dies. A few bullets wing me. By now, the support is double-timing. I can hear their panicked radio chatter. They're scared. They're right to be. I've swapped guns.

In SlowMo, nothing is more satisfying than the Penetrator. I watch the projectiles as they fly into the two clones, pinning them to the wall. I can hear a retreating scamper as a final enemy backs off hastily. My reward is a snippet of radio talk: "Shit. He wiped out the whole squad". Quickload.

FEAR's not your usual tale of run and gun. There's a mystery at the heart of the game that continually breaks through to the surface. Why would Fettle want to invade Armacham Tech and why are Armacham so interested in the water supply?

That's what you're sent in to find out, but strange things start to occur. A little girl called Alma continually flickers in and out of your vision, as does Fettle.

It's Alma's tale that drives you through FEAR. The spooky little girl in the red dress is used to great effect to scare the living bejesus out of you, appearing in the corner of your eye, behind warped glass and, at the most terrifying moments, coming straight towards you before disappearing in a gust of ash.

What Alma's doing there and why she's beckoning you forward lies at the heart of the story. And why she's infecting your mind forms the core of the game.

Fettle's deployed in the same way: he'll appear out of nowhere, whisper and vanish in the space of a millisecond, just enough time to push your heart into your throat.

There are more implicit horrors in play too: FEAR is a game of mutilated corpses, blood-smears, piles of bodies and cannibalism. It's used sparingly, to good effect.

But for all the tingles of terror, this is a game about shooting. An FPS is only ever as good as the enemies it places in front of you.

Often in games, my tactics revolve around little tricks that flummox the bad guys: I'll find a bit of scenery that they can't bypass, or a way of blindsiding them. The most impressive thing I can say about FEAR is that in all the time I spent with it, I never found anything that I could exploit to any great extent.

The AI is too slick. A good example of FEAR's goon behaviour occurs when you put a bannister or small barrier between you and the bad guys.

Instead of running parallel to it, hunting for a gap so that they can sneak down into your line of fire, FEAR's clone troopers leap over it and hit the ground running, guns blazing ahead so they can drive you back while they find proper cover.

Like I say, slick.

More info

DescriptionScary first-person shooter where you play a member of an elite assault unit on the trail of... a creepy little ghost girl?
Platform"PS3","PC","Xbox 360"
US censor rating"Mature","Mature","Mature"
UK censor rating"","",""
Alternative names"F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon"
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)