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I don’t really care for the horror genre in general. There’s very few horror movies I do like and when it comes to video games I tend to avoid them or I’ll beat them once and be done with it. But I’m not blind to great gameplay even if the tone of the game is not to my liking. And that’s pretty much how I feel about the F.E.A.R. series and specifically the first game. F.E.A.R. is a story driven horror first-person shooter with great, intense gunplay and some fantastic AI. I could never get into it because of it’s dark and creepy atmosphere but for me, that applies to any horror game and I’m not holding that against it. I will also cover the expansion packs, Extraction Point, and Perseus Mandate in this review.
You play as the Point Man, a silent protagonist and a team member of an organization known as F.E.A.R. or First Encounter Assault Recon. You’re objective is to eliminate Paxton Fettel, some dangerous guy who telepathically controls a battalion of replica soldiers and eats people. Almost immediately after you and your team are deployed, the other members of your team are killed from what seems to be a paranormal force caused by a mysterious little girl named Alma. It’s obvious from the beginning that something very strange is going and that this Alma girl may be somehow linked to Fettel and the Armacham Technology Corporation. As you progress through the game the story unfolds through various voicemails, NPCs, and radio messages from your commander. F.E.A.R. definitely nails the creepy atmosphere and even throws in a few jump scares. Point Man will frequently see hallucinations and throughout the game you’ll occasionally hear voices and creepy noises, see mysterious figures moving about only to disappear, including Alma herself, doors randomly opening and closing, lights flickering, objects flying around, dead bodies, blood trails, and it does a good job of keeping you on edge. But as creepy as the game is, the “scary little girl” thing gets old after a while.
What really makes this game amazing is its gunplay. The combat is intense and can even be brutal at times, even on the Moderate difficulty setting, but it never feels impossible. Point Man has these super fast reflexes and you can press a button to slow down time which you’ll want to do often because the replicas have great aim so it’s very easy to get killed. In fact, I found that if I wasn’t using slow mo most of the time, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting shot. You can only enter slow mo for a limited time before the meter runs out and then you need to wait for it to recharge. You can also stand behind objects to use as cover and lean out to shoot back when needed but standing in one spot for an extended period of time is never good due to the amazing AI in this game. During combat you really need to keep moving. The replicas won’t just stand around and when they spot you, you’ll hear them communicating with each other, taking cover or trying to flank you, maybe one will lay down suppressing fire while the others rush you. Even to this day the AI is impressive, making each encounter interesting. What’s not so interesting is every other enemy type. There are these ATC guys you fight every now and then but they act just like the replicas and are easier to kill. Then there are these invisible dudes that are extremely quick and extremely annoying. Every now and then and more so at the very end of the game, you need to fight off some paranormal-type enemies, these ghost things or whatever they are. Yeah, they suck. The replicas make up a majority of the enemy encounters and you always engage them in squads of about half a dozen or so. Sometimes you’ll encounter an armored enemy but he’s just a bullet sponge and later on are these mech-like enemies that remind me of ED 209 from RoboCop. Another bullet sponge with better firepower. You fight your way through mostly indoor environments so battles can feel claustrophobic at times which really just adds to the intensity of the combat.
There are various weapons at your disposal but the shotgun is by far the most fun to use. I’ve heard many players say if you’re not using the shotgun most of the time in this game then you’re playing it wrong and, yeah, I have to agree. Slowing down time and firing a shotgun blast into a soldier at close range is extremely satisfying as is watching a grenade explode and seeing body parts fly every which way. Another stand out is the particle weapon which can vaporize enemies instantly. Point Man is also a master at hand-to-hand combat and can perform various punches, kicks, and even jump kicks.
Littered throughout the environments are med kits that you can acquire and store and you can press a button to apply a med kit when you’re low on health. You can also pick up health boosters that permanently increase your maximum health and reflex boosters that permanently increase your reflexes, meaning the slow mo ability lasts longer. The game is linear but some areas have multiple paths but the boosters are a great incentive to actually explore. The multiple paths feel more useful for combat situations like if you need to escape quickly or get the jump on some enemies.
My biggest issue with F.E.A.R. is its environments. The game takes place in some unknown city and you traverse through only a handful of areas, most of which are indoors. The problem is each area is repetitive and everything looks the same. You’re either navigating through dark hallways, basements, vents, and throughout most of the game, Armacham Headquarters which is just an office building full of cubicles and desks and similar looking rooms. You’ll see the same textures repeated over and over making it very easy to get lost. It’s just a shame that the environments lack any kind of diversity. The final third of the game has you navigating through some abandoned building and then a secret facility, but they, too, manage to become boring and repetitive after only a few minutes.
For 2005, F.E.A.R. was a visual powerhouse and it still looks pretty good. It’s the particle effects that really steal the show. Watching walls come apart from gunfire, smoke filling the room, dust flying everywhere, it’s all fun to watch and even more so during slow mo. Combine these effects with the intense combat and amazing AI, F.E.A.R. was on another level for it’s time. It also has some great sound work going on which really adds to the dark tone of the game. It’s got this really creepy and iconic little theme you’ll hear at the main menu and even throughout the game here and there. From the destruction to the little things like footsteps, the sound effects are fantastic. I would like to point out that the voice work of the replicas is the only comedic element of this game and they always managed to make me laugh which I don’t think is intended. Either Point Man has super hearing or these guys are just extremely loud and I’m going with the latter. They don’t know the definition of quiet and as soon as they see you they just start shouting, even if you haven’t fired a shot yet. It’s really quite ridiculous. When a replica is killed you’ll usually hear an extremely loud and dramatic scream followed by another squad member commenting on how they lost a man.
While F.E.A.R. was developed by Monolith Productions, both expansions were developed by TimeGate Studios. F.E.A.R. Extraction Point was the first expansion pack, released in 2006, and the plot starts from exactly where the original game left off. After the explosion, the helicopter crash lands and you and your team members must reach the extraction point. It retains the dark and creepy atmosphere of the original. In fact, I think it’s even darker in tone and the horror shit feels more in-your-face this time around. The story is nothing to rave about but if you enjoyed the original game’s gameplay there’s no reason not to try this expansion.
Luckily, the environments in Extraction Point are little bit more diverse. You navigate through several outdoor and indoor areas including a church, construction site, and even the subways. The replicas are just as fun to fight as they were in the original game and the battles normally take place in bigger areas now with more enemies to deal with. You’ve even got some new weapons like a laser weapon, minigun, and these little deployable turrets which are really cool. The laser weapon looks very basic and isn’t modeled very well but it’s probably the most powerful new weapon. There’s even some new enemies and for some reason they felt like another invisible enemy type was needed.
Perseus Mandate is the second expansion pack, released in 2007. You play as another member of a secondary F.E.A.R. team. He, too, is silent and it’s never explained how he has the same abilities as the original Point Man. The story takes place during the events of the original game. You and your team are sent in to investigate the Perseus Project. There are some new enemies that are just like replicas but talk in a different way and then you got these dudes called Nightcrawlers. They’re some kind of elite soldiers that have the same abilities as you so they move extremely quickly. They can be annoying since you pretty much need to be in slow mo whenever you fight them.
Perseus Mandate actually starts out really great and I was really getting into it. You engage in some awesome firefights and even fight alongside allies during certain sequences and primarily deal with replicas and other humanoid enemies. But the end is where things become all too familiar and everything starts going downhill. You’ve got these paranormal enemies that can pull you through the floor and I guess it’s supposed to give you a jump scare. But if you look hard enough you can see the holes appear in the floor and can just jump over them. It’s like these developers feel the need to introduce annoying enemies and by the time I got to this expansion, the whole creepy thing had run it’s course.
Perseus Mandate feels a little more polished than Extraction Point and feels less like a rehash of the original game. It’s some cool new weapons and retains that same intense combat you’re so familiar with from the original game. The dark atmosphere is toned down experience until the end and it sometimes feels more like a military shooter. At one point you’re dropped at Armacham’s bio-research facility and engage in what may be the best series of gun battles seen in this entire F.E.A.R. package.
These expansions are not really canon from what I understand and I lost interest in the stories about half-way through both but they have their moments. Both add some neat new weapons and some uninteresting new enemy types. I think Perseus Mandate is my favorite expansion just for the sole fact that the whole creepy atmosphere is almost nonexistent throughout most of the experience. Also, Extraction Point has this terrific sequence where you get to watch one of your allies get thrown around to his death. It’s supposed to be dramatic and scary but ends up being extremely overdone. I was laughing hysterically.
F.E.A.R. is truly an amazing game. It has incredible gameplay that consists of excellent firefights and impressive AI. I don’t really care much for the horror aspect but horror fans will find plenty to enjoy. The developers did an amazing job creating a creepy atmosphere and I won’t lie some of the jump scares got me. The story is pretty good and the entire mystery surrounding everything always kept me engaged. The repetitive environments are definitely a problem but it never detracts attention from the gameplay which is really what makes this game shine. The expansions are pretty much more of the same with new weapons, enemies, and areas to battle through. And although they’re not canon to the overall storyline, if you enjoyed the original F.E.A.R., they’re definitely worth playing. In the end, F.E.A.R. is a great shooter, plain and simple.