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.