F.E.A.R. – PC
Developer: Monolith Productions
Release Date: October 18th, 2005
Nerd Rating: 8.5/10
Reviewed by THEbipolarBear
What is fear, exactly? The first definition offered by Merriam Webster is simply “to be afraid of (something or someone).” That’s quite fitting, considering the fear experienced in First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R.) is just that, “to be afraid of (Alma).”
There has never been, in all of my years of horror entertainment, a monster, ghost, or any evil being that has ever caused me more pure, paralyzing panic than the little girl in the red dress. Neither the disgusting grunt from Amnesia, nor the terrifying Walker from Outlast takes the #1 spot on my list of most terrifying antagonists. But instead, Alma Wade, the small child with the black hair and the black eyes, takes the prize hands down. The sole reason for this unconditional fear is for the reason that Alma is totally inescapable, like Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, who exists in the inevitable world of sleep. And what’s worse is that you do not perish instantaneously! If Alma had the ability to kill you at any time, why wouldn’t she? Your mind finally rests on what seems like the only conceivable explanation: she wants you to experience fear.
While her physical appearance may only be that of a little pipsqueak, Alma’s mental abilities are far beyond any Jedi mind tricks. Her mind contains the power to cause hallucinations, random combustions, and the movement of large and small objects, as well as the capability to liquefy you from the inside out, leaving behind only blood-soaked skeletal remains. She also may cause you to enter her own dream world, dubbed the “Almaverse,” in which the products of her demented psyche take tangible life forms and hunt you incessantly. However, all that’s listed above, albeit terrifying, doesn’t hold a candle to the sweaty-palmed horror of catching an unprecedented glance of Alma lurking in the shadows of your mission’s area.
By an awkward series of events, your character, the militaristically gifted and tremendously lucky point man for the U.S. Army’s F.E.A.R team, discovers that a target of his is, in fact, Alma’s son. Of course, Alma’s manifestation as she appears in the red dress isn’t her current or actual form – that’s just how she wishes to be revealed. Paxton Fettel, a mentally insane cannibal, was originally attributed to the atrocities that set this game in motion, but as it turns out, his mind was consumed by his mother, Alma, who acted out her revenge-driven will through him. He is unexpectedly difficult to apprehend, but thanks to the point man’s exceptional reflexes, F.E.A.R. gets the job done. Moments before Fettel is executed by none other than the point man himself, a bomb of unbelievable information about the pointman is dropped, and Alma’s sinister motives become slightly clearer. If you haven’t experienced this shock, I won’t spoil it for you, but I would strongly encourage you to play through the game – it’s worth it.
Before I enlighten you to the immersive gameplay of F.E.A.R., allow me to make you more aware of how I view horror as a genre. As I have stated before in a previous review, horror games are focused around at least one of these three characteristics: atmosphere, jump-scares, and story. This allows for various horror games or movies to be successful even if it lacks in one or two of those three things. The validity of this theory is proven again and again throughout the horror genre; for example, the fantastic quality of the graphically limited System Shock 2, the prevalent fear found in Rob Zombie’s jump-scare-less Halloween 2, and that fact that Slender: The Eight Pages was successful at all. The reason I have attempted to explain all of this to you is so that I could explain to you the quality of F.E.A.R. more effectively. While it is not the most graphically advanced horror game out there, the atmosphere is fantastic. Eerie music coupled by the enemy Replica Soldiers’ heartless dialogue gets the heart racing while near-dead silence accented with flashes of disturbing hallucinations calls for a new pair of underwear. Furthermore, this effective yet effortless use of atmosphere augments simple, still-frame jump-scares into blood-curdling events. And all of the fear-causing effects listed above are sustained by an intricate story of deranged medical tests and pure, vengeful blood-lust.
Most of the tension involved in this game is built purely from your paranoia. Obviously the ambiance and unsettling images of your only accomplices vaporizing into ashes add to your blood pressure, but what really gets your knees shaking is your prior knowledge of Alma’s tricks and abilities. The last appearance of Alma, even if it was through an indirect medium, such as a vision, makes you fear every sound, every doorway, and most notably, every air vent. The classic use of claustrophobia to set up for jump-scares is very well done in F.E.A.R., and as soon as you assume that the opportunity is too obvious, and that the developers wouldn’t choose this moment, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. The moment the lights go out or those elevators doors shut, expect a visit from your favorite psychic. Don’t get the wrong impression, though; Alma also chooses the opportune moments to show up when you least expect her.
Although these moments are petrifying, the gameplay is still conducted smoothly. The mechanics, as far as 2005’s standards, are fantastic. The shift-to-aim works well with the amount of time you have to spend in cover, since you can easily pop up from behind a crate and pick off a couple of Replica Soldiers, which are well-outfitted operatives all derived from the same DNA. The plethora of weapons your character can carry counteracts how outnumbered you are against these minions of Alma, and each one has a satisfying aspect, such as the submachine gun’s unrelenting rate of fire, the shotgun’s pure power, and the bangin’ style of dual-wielded pistols. These awesome arms are found conveniently throughout the game, and lack of ammo or insufficient firepower is rarely an issue.
As far as enemies go, the most common are the Replica Soldiers. While they’re fairly easy to kill, there is strength in numbers, so you may find yourself fleeing a horde of gray-clad agents into a well-planned alternate route, such as a ladder to a catwalk or an air vent. Even still, beware these lonely routes, because they’re Alma’s favorite place to strike. The second most common enemies rely purely on fear to be a worthy adversary. Nightmares, as the game calls them, appear out of black-hole like portals, assumably from Alma’s mind. While they’re one-shot kills, they become extremely dangerous if you lose your cool. And finally, in my opinion, the most notable enemy in F.E.A.R. is the Replica Assassin. Since they’re both extremely fast and extremely lethal, fighting these soldiers is the most difficult action aspect of this game. Combine their already stacked statistics with their ability to make themselves nearly invisible, and they’re reaching impossible difficulty – that is, unless you happened to have a special ability yourself.
And, conveniently enough, you do. The point man has the incredible trait of lightning-fast reflexes. How might you translate this into the gameplay, you ask? Why, the revolutionary addition of the slo-mo button, of course! Not many pieces of gameplay are as cool as firing two pistols simultaneously into your enemy’s heads, and that is a very real possibility in F.E.A.R.. This is what warrants the extra half of a point onto the Nerd Rating, and the extra five hours of gameplay you’ll get out of this game. It is by far the most original and most magnificent aspect of the gameplay, and alongside Alma, it is also what will solidify this franchise’s credibility and success for years to come.
In conclusion, if you’re in the market for an all around exceptional FPS/horror game, or even if you just appreciate fantastic semi-old games, the F.E.A.R. series is definitely the best way to go. However, if you have the chance, make sure to play – or should I say, experience – the first F.E.A.R. game. You won’t miss any of today’s “stunning” graphics or “amazing” ease of gameplay, but you’ll surely appreciate the incredible story and sheer fear that this 2005 classic has to offer.
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