Blogtober 2020 – F.E.A.R

An FPS title that I’ve known of since it was released, but had never gotten around to actually playing, today’s Blogtober selection is F.E.A.R. The psychological-horror shooter was developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sierra/Vivendi Universal, being released in October 2005 to a very positive reception. The game went on to become a successful series, receiving two sequels and a handful of console ports. It is also considered one of the benchmark FPS titles of the era, along with games like Crysis or Half-Life 2. Its influence can still be seen in many modern first-person games, such as BioShock or Resident Evil 7. Interesting note: the two DLC packs released for the first F.E.A.R title were written by Richard Pearsey, who later assisted in the narrative for Resident Evil 7. All one needs to do is compare Alma and Eveline to notice one of many similarities…

The story begins with the First Encounter Assault Recon(F.E.A.R) team being sent in to eliminate Paxton Fettel, the psychic commander of the army of genetic supersoldiers created by the Armacham Technology Corp(ATC) and known as Replicas. The Replica force is telepathically controlled by Fettel who has taken over the ATC headquarters. You take control of the newest initiate simply referred to as Point Man. Once inside the facility you experience a number of disturbing visions of Fettel himself and of an unknown girl who slowly proceeds toward you. Fettel escapes capture in the ATC headquarters and the F.E.A.R unit tracks him to the underground facility which served as the site for ‘Project Origin’ where a woman with psychic abilities named Alma gave birth to Fettel to eventually serve as the commander of the Replica forces.

Even by today’s standards, F.E.A.R features an exceptionally creepy atmosphere, mostly within the closed confines of the ATC headquarters or the Origin facility. The shadows and lighting used in the empty(?) ATC building and warehouses are still pretty impressive. You will begin to feel a sense of discomfort and apprehension while venturing down a long corridor after a few run-ins with Alma. At first glance, the game looked like a simple copy of Half-Life 2, but it does establish its own atmosphere and identity. It also manages to create a sense of unease as you gaze into the darkness, but unlike Doom 3, doesn’t shroud the entire game in darkness, making it near impossible to see anything and creating a sense of annoyance rather than, um…fear.

The game provides some pretty solid gameplay too. The movement is nice and fluid, with there being a satisfying “weight” when firing the game’s array of weapons. The game’s A.I. is good, especially considering the amount of games currently released that have issues with a combination of enemy OR friendly A.I. The most unique aspect of the gameplay loop in F.E.A.R is the Reflex Time, which is essentially a few seconds of slow-motion in which to quickly fire a few extra rounds into an enemy. Reflex Time is displayed in a meter in the lower center of the screen and like the flashlight, will recharge when not in use. As you progress through the game you can discover a number of items that will increase either your health or reflex time, buying you more time to line up headshots while peering around a corner. Reflex Time is not a requirement for the game however, you are able to turn it off in the game options if you would prefer a more strategic approach to your encounters with Replica forces.

There doesn’t seem to be much feedback when taking damage, this is a similar complaint I had with the most recent Wolfenstein games. It’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re taking damage in the middle of an intense firefight and can’t always have your eyes glued to your health meter. I’ve had this relatively minor complaint with other FPS games, the most recent Wolfenstein games being one of my examples of a shooter in which you can’t always tell when you’re in need of health until it’s too late. There’s a satisfying weight when firing at Replica troops, but when on the receiving end of the onslaught of bullets it feels like you are the paper target.

You have a flashlight that can be turned on or off while playing the game. In contrast to Doom 3 where you have to choose to hold the flashlight or a weapon, F.E.A.R allows you to see as well as shoot. The frustrating part of this isn’t the fact the flashlight battery will drain, but rather, how rapidly it depletes – roughly 30 seconds. This wasn’t as much of an inconvenience as it could have been, mostly due to it recharging about as quickly as it is drained, but still an inconvenience.

I also felt the game’s story fell a little flat and never really went anywhere. The many laptops and voicemail messages you come across didn’t add too much to the overall narrative and as a result, the game feels like it has a solid gameplay loop and setting, but the storyline is definitely the weakest aspect of the game. Depending on your expectations for story in shooter games such as this, a weak storyline is likely not the biggest criticism one can bestow upon an FPS from 2005.

Speaking of fifteen years ago, I couldn’t help but feel that another aspect of F.E.A.R that felt a bit dated was in some of the in-game dialogue. The game features several female characters, but they were commonly referenced in a rather toxic manner – “what a bitch” or “she’s a stubborn bitch, isn’t she?”. There’s also a moment when the game’s unnamed protagonist catches up with the Delta Force squad and the squad leader acknowledges with “it’s good to see you in one piece”, which prompts Commisioner Betters to quip “you two can make out later, you’ve got a job to do”. Dialogue such as this honestly dates the game more than the gameplay or graphics. Coming from 2005, when gaming was still (mistakenly)perceived by many as an exclusively male hobby…

My biggest personal hurdle to overcome while playing F.E.A.R was the fact I could only play it for scarcely over a half hour before getting motion sickness, another similarity to Half-Life 2. I did eventually turn the head sway all the way down in the game options and it seemed to help; not a critique of the game itself, but more an obstacle that made completing it more difficult than initially thought.

While not the most terrifying first-person game out there, that distinction would likely go to something like Outlast, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or Resident Evil 7. F.E.A.R provides a memorable, and creepy experience due to its setting and atmosphere. It’s definitely worth checking out during the spooky Halloween season for FPS fans who also enjoy venturing into psychological-horror….you know, ones like me that somehow hadn’t played this yet.

My Friend Pedro

My Friend Pedro was developed by Dead Toast Entertainment and published by Devolver Digital and was released on June 20 for the Nintendo Switch and PC. I played through the game on my Switch, being an indie title I was eager to play after it was announced. The tagline for the game is – Blood. Bullets. Bananas; even with my highly refined tasted in video games(pinky fingers up!) I was sold on this pretty quickly and it has provided some of the most exciting, enjoyable moments of gaming in 2019.

The game begins with our unnamed protagonist regaining consciousness in the depths of an abandoned warehouse and hearing a voice emanating from a sentient banana named Pedro, who then guides him in escaping the warehouse. Any narrative aside from the opening moments of the game quickly take a backseat to gameplay elements.

My Friend Pedro is first and foremost an action game, requiring our nameless gunman to shoot his way through five different levels – Old Town, District Null, Pedros World, The Sewer, The Internet. Each level consists of roughly 6-10 individual stages which you will attempt to not only reach the end successfully, but also do so with the most stylish badassery as you will be graded for each stage. At front and center of the gameplay is the time-slowing effect which allows you to dive, roll, and swing your way across the 2D levels while gunning down waves of enemies.

The game has clearly taken inspiration from the Gun-fu style of films which were popularized in the later 80’s and into the 90’s in Hong Kong Cinema by directors like John Woo. This style of action within games and movies wherein the character performs very stylized maneuvers, usually in slow motion, such as diving through windows and doorways and unloading a barrage of gunfire; this has also been referred to as a “gun-ballet”. Another prominent example of this within recent years would be the term “bullet-time” which was famously used in homage of Hong Kong Cinema by the Wachowski siblings in The Matrix. The effect was used and parodied in many movies and games since The Matrix introduced Western audiences to the filming style. Bullet-time has also been (over)used in countless video games which allow the player to momentarily slow down time during gunfights, which for the most part didn’t necessarily add anything to the game other than look cool or to make you say, “whoa”<see what I did there?>. The biggest example of bullet-time within games would be the Max Payne series, which is heavily inspired by John Woo’s film Hardboiled. Indeed it is near impossible to play My Friend Pedro and not think of the Max Payne games, though the former eschews the film noir aesthetic and narrative for the most part.

The more you combine stylized, flowing gun acrobatics the greater score multiplier you will receive, similar to other action or fighting games which reward you for your hit count or combo multiplier. Throughout the game you will acquire a range of weapons, from the action movie staple of dual handguns and Uzis to shotguns and assault rifle and sniper rifle. If dual weapons are equipped you are able to dual-target enemies which will allow you to dive into an adjacent room filled with enemies and begin mowing them down, or many sequences feature a long passage straddled by enemies on each side in which you can ascend or descend the area in style with guns blazing from your akimbo weapons. In several stages you will come across a spare skateboard lying around(why not?) which you can hop aboard and roll down various floors as you can utilize the time slowdown ability to dodge incoming fire as you jump over obstacles while returning fire; just think Max Payne mixed with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater….that’s right, pretty awesome. The game itself never moves along at too fast of a pace as the movement overall feels little slower than other action shoot ’em up games, but it’s taking advantage of the slower movement and pulling off all sorts of dramatic maneuvers that make the game such a blast to play. The excitement of diving through a glass window and then tuck and roll before spring up and emptying a couple clips of bullets into the unsuspecting enemies has been hard to match in nearly all of the games I’ve played this year.

The gunplay works impeccably well in My Friend Pedro, but the game also displays some impressive physics at work. In many stages you will come across explosive barrels that you can jump on and roll them along a walkway and drop them onto the baddies below you. You can also line up more than one to before shooting one to set off a chain reaction sure to boost your combo multiplier. You will come across hanging metal…signs(?) that you can use to your advantage as any bullets will ricochet off the metal surface and deflect in the direction of enemies above or below you. Along with the metal signs are a few odd iron frying pans that you can kick up in the air and allow a few well-placed bullets to deflect at anything from enemies to switches restricting your access to the next room or floor. One of my favorite moments of the game was shooting a switch which dropped a frying pan from an elevated area which required you to quickly shoot the pan in mid-air to hit another switch, opening the passage below the pan as it is still falling and shooting the pan once again to take our the enemy guarding the exit.

The levels themselves are nearly all 2D or more as you may describe as 2.5D as they are not completely viewed from the side by will take on slightly different angles to provide you the best vantage point to traverse the stage, and look badass doing it. A few of levels find you fighting a level boss which show you from more of a top-down angle as you speed across a bridge in a gunfight with Mac the Butcher in his food truck equipped with mounted machine guns, as if out of a Twisted Metal game. It will take roughly 4-5 hours to complete all five levels, but there is a fair amount of replay value as the game was enjoyable enough I found myself replaying stages to go for a better ranking and unlockables. You wanna feel like a badass? My Friend Pedro’s combination of gunplay, physics, a few light puzzles within the levels and some goofy humor really made for some of the coolest gaming moments I’ve had this year. 2019 is coming to a close and My Friend Pedro is already on my short list of favorites I’ve gotten to play. Thanks for reading!