Fear is an FPS game with horror elements, more tactical and cover-based rather than focused on speed and dodging, but it has absolutely none of the trappings of the generic modern AAA shooter. It's really ambitious in a handful of ways, and actually succeeds in accomplishing those things, rather than trying to do everything and mastering none of them.
The premise of the game is that you're an operative of F.E.A.R. which is a government special forces group for responding to supernatural phenomena. A corporation called Armacham has created an army of cloned soldiers, under the command of a psychic named Paxton Fettel. Fettel goes mad, which causes his soldiers to go on a rampage, and F.E.A.R. is called in to deal with the situation. You have incredibly fast reflexes, presented in the game as a slow-motion button with a limited duration, and you need to infiltrate Armacham to kill Fettel, which will shut down his rogue army. Chaos then ensues.
The story is pretty simple, and it's mostly moved along by the horror sequences interspersed throughout the campaign. For the first 2/3 of the game I didn't really pay much attention to the story, because frankly there wasn't a whole lot there – the horror sequences are mostly pretty good, but are rather abstract and disconnected, and I viewed them as more of a sideshow. For the last 3rd, though, things picked up a lot and I got really interested – without going into spoilers, I can assure you that the story overall is actually way better than I originally gave it credit for. It's by no means the central focus of the experience, but I was pleasantly surprised and found it really engaging.
The reason I had no problem with the story being mostly unremarkable for much of the game, is because the gameplay is absolutely awesome. The weapons are all satisfying to use, and the slowmo allows you to pull off some really epic sequences in fights. You're not mowing down hordes of mindless soldiers, you're having serious tactical fights against highly competent squads of super soldiers, which leads me to the AI.
If you've heard of Fear on the internet, it's probably because of the AI – while it's not especially impressive from a technical perspective, but it's perfectly suited to the level design. With few exceptions, the game takes place indoors, in rather minimalistic environments – not a lot of furniture, but each "arena" has interconnections, changes in elevation, things to use as cover, and different light sources. You also never have any allies – just you versus them. The AI makes very specific call-outs to their squadmates, calling out your movements or location, giving the order to flush you out with a grenade or to get to cover, or calling for backup. There's a lot of back and forth in these fights – most of the time, you can try to sneak into position for an ambush with a landmine, killing several enemies. But then you might have exhausted all your slowmo, and you'll need to take cover while it recharges. If you manage to take out another soldier trying to push your position, they might try to throw a grenade at you while their squadmate covers them from a different angle. Backup might arrive unexpectedly, bursting through a door you had ignored. It's really great, and it's why anyone who plays this game needs to do so on the hardest difficulty – a huge part of the experience is lost if you're not forced to go up against the enemy at their smartest and most tactical. It's a great mix between power trip and challenge, it reminds me a little of Hotline Miami – you might die several times, and you have to think before you act, but once you finally win, you'll feel like a badass.
Some miscellaneous things that are also worth mentioning -the music provides a pretty awesome backdrop to your epic recreations of the matrix, and the graphics have held up *unbelievably* well. I can't believe this game is 15 years old. This is my new favorite example for how to make a more realistic game look timeless through great art direction – the textures might not be ultra detailed, but they don't really need to be, since the environments are so minimalist. Nearly every light source in the game is dynamic – shoot a light bulb, and it goes out. Shoot a metal lamp, and it swings back and forth on the ceiling, casting dynamic shadows and reflections. If you see a shadow up ahead, that means there's really something there, and when sneaking you have to be careful about nearby light sources – if you cast a shadow into the enemy's line of sight, they'll know it's you. Maybe most importantly, there's outstanding use of particle effects – when you shoot a concrete wall, clouds of dust obscure the vision of both you and the enemy until it clears. Sparks fly when you shoot metal, and the lack of iron sights means you have a great view of the carnage you're unleashing once you spring out of hiding in a slow-motion rampage.
This is a super long post, but I really loved this game and I strongly recommend it. If you want to play it yourself, here's what I recommend:
– On steam, you can no longer buy F.E.A.R. Platinum Edition by itself, it only comes bundled with the shitty sequel/reboot. Buy it on GOG instead.
– Extraction Point is an outstanding expansion that basically just continues the climax from the base game, for longer. Make sure you play it. Perseus Mandate, on the other hand, has almost none of what made the original game great, and it sucks. Don't play it.
– Certain input devices can cause huge performance issues. You can easily fix it with this file: https://community.pcgamingwiki.com/files/file/789-directinput-fps-fix/
- FEAR 3 – almost good
- Death Consumes All – Pretty cool mod
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