Hello all! Last week, we looked at the reinvention of a stealth series. I thought it was fun, if a bit short.
This week brings us to a popular shooter that just sort of disappeared, kind of like the ghostly apparitions that haunt it. Or something.
F.E.A.R. (standing for First Encounter Assault Recon—ugh) was, at the time, pretty state-of the-art. By which I mean, it was damn good looking. You play as the Point Man (that’s somehow his name) of the F.E.A.R. squad as they attempt to eliminate Paxton Fettel, a psychic who’s telepathically taken control of a large amount of soldiers.
There’s also Alma, a creepy girl who continually appears in visions you have as you trek through the game’s myriad same-y environments—it’s a decently lengthy game, but it takes place mostly in offices and corridors. As usual, I try to avoid spoilers in these weekly pieces, but basically, it’s a decent, creepy plot with a couple of twists.
F.E.A.R. still plays great today; it’s a first-person-shooter, so it didn’t exactly break new ground there, but it controls perfectly, and what really makes it great lies in the whole aesthetic of the game.
First, the horror aspect. What F.E.A.R. does successfully is mesh horror and action in a way not really seen before in games—I mean the kind of creepy, jump out of your seat horror, as opposed to the B-movie cheese found in Resident Evil. Of course wandering the mansion in RE was scary, but none of it was unsettling or psychologically creepy. F.E.A.R., on the other hand, uses its Japanese horror influences to great effect, giving you all these gigantic, powerful guns, but then forcing you to confront things you can’t shoot. It’s different territory for shooters, because in an FPS, especially around the time of F.E.A.R.’s release, we’re used to just shooting guys in different clothes than us, not seeing visions and all that.
Then there’s the actual gameplay. There’s this PS2 game called Black, which was a big deal at the time because of its loud, detailed guns and action movie feel. That’s all great, except F.E.A.R. came out a year before Black did, and featured the same action movie feel during shootouts. F.E.A.R. does one better by including slow-motion gameplay which—let’s face it—never really gets old.
I like F.E.A.R.’s sense of place. While I pointed out that the entire game takes place in an office building and thereabouts, it’s highly detailed, and feels like a real place. In a single player game like this (there’s multiplayer, but it’s ordinary), it’s not enough to have good level design; said levels have to feel like a place you can go to aid in immersion. F.E.A.R. does that, and the realistic-yet-movielike weapons help greatly as well.
And what makes F.E.A.R. brilliant is how it messes with this hyper-realistic setting. The game’s office setting is realistic because of its mundane feel; it’s believable because it’s ordinary, just like real life. And then F.E.A.R. turns this on its head through Alma’s machinations and psychological attacks. It’s this kind of attack on the everyday that makes F.E.A.R. so effective in telling its story. Kinda wish the sequels had lived up to this potential, but they’re kind of okay.
I also wish more games would mash genres together like this. I mean, F.E.A.R. still feels fresh even today. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone yields pretty great rewards.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Leave comments and suggest games to cover! Tweet at me! And find more of my stuff (and the stuff of people more talented than me) at Current Digital (like my very late review of Undertale) AND check me out on the latest episode of Cheat Codes Podcast, where I discussed my article on Halo!
Next week brings us another first person game, but it’s a first person...melee game, a spinoff of a long running strategy series and the predecessor to Dishonored.