One of the biggest tasks of being a developer in this day and age is creating an experience that really stands out from the pack. There is no genre where this is more relevant than the first-person shooter arena, where copy and paste seems to be the de-facto standard for most companies. Last year a little-known developer named Monolith Production broke that mold when they released F.E.A.R. for the PC. At the time there were no plans to bring this game to consoles, and once again we controller-loving folk were shut down. Thankfully a year can make a huge difference as we are now given a chance to discover one of the best FPS experiences ever created.
The thing that sets F.E.A.R. apart from your run-of-the-mill shooters is the story. While not exactly the most original plot line of all time, it really stands out thanks to its incredible presentation and pacing. You begin the game as a member of the First Encounter Assault Recon, hence the clever acronym and you are sent in to investigate a man named Paxton Fettel who has an interesting diet akin to the likes of Hannibal Lector. This quickly turns into a solo mission since the team knows of your “off the chart” reflexes, which also happen to allow you to slow down time and take out enemies with ease.
The story progression is advanced using in-game cinematics, but you can also dive deeper by discovering answering machine messages and hacking into laptops throughout the game, which by the way is also an achievement if you can manage to find them all. For the most part the story can seem derivative and almost predictable, but the way it is presented through creepy flashbacks and paranormal moments throughout the campaign are truly amazing. The first time you encounter the little girl Alma, you will undoubtedly jump off your couch. This is easily one of the best aspects of F.E.A.R., this game is genuinely creepy. Whether it’s a simple image of a character popping up on the screen or the more fleshed out sequences where you are walking in rivers of blood and fire. This game is actually more frightening than most so-called survival horror titles.
All of this is also accented really well by the impressive visuals. When the game hit PCs a year ago even users with high-end setups had trouble running the game at the highest resolution. Day 1 Studios and Monolith have done an amazing job of porting the entire game with all the bells and whistles to the Xbox 360, and even went as far as to add a few features just for good measure. The only downside that you will notice is that the environments tend to get repetitive about half-way through the game. Some more outdoor levels would have really been appreciated, but with the lighting and overall visual quality the game still maintains a really gorgeous atmosphere.
The game runs extremely smooth with little to no slowdown even with some truly intense action onscreen. This is one of those games you want to dim the lights and crank up the sound and be completely immersed in the experience. Speaking of sound this game rocks coming through a 5.1 surround system, hearing the explosions and bullets fly by your head will really impress even the biggest audiophile.
Another really impressive aspect of F.E.A.R. is the AI of your adversaries. Never before have I felt so challenged nor have I ever felt that a computer controlled enemy moved and reacted almost like a human opponent. They will move in squads, try to flank you, and even turn over objects in the environment to get cover from your fire. If you decide to hide in a corner and refill your slow-mo gauge you will see a grenade come rolling in your direction; needless to say the AI is relentless and will do anything to make sure you are no longer breathing.
Thankfully you are more than equipped to handle just about every situation in the game thanks to the incredible arsenal at your disposal. Sure you have plenty of standard machine guns and other automatic weapons that can make Swiss cheese out of your enemies, but there are also a ton of unique weapons that are not only effective, but a ton of fun to abuse your adversaries with.
One of the weapons is a particle beam that will toast any enemy in sight into a charred skeleton with one shot. There is also The Penetrator which fires long metal spikes that, if used creatively, can pin enemies to just about any surface in the game. Of course it is still extremely satisfying to tap the slow-mo button and release a perfectly timed shotgun blast into the face of your enemy and watch the gibs fly. The death scenes in this game are some of the most brutal and entertaining I have seen in any game of this type.
The single-player campaign isn’t much different from its PC counterpart. The main storyline can be finished in around ten hours depending on your level of skill. There are four difficulty settings and Day 1 has even included some clever achievements to keep you coming back for more. I know I won’t be finishing the game without using slow-mo anytime soon, but for the most part the core game remains untouched.
What has been added to the 360 version though is a new mode entitled Instant Action. This is basically a selection of four scenarios that can be played on any of the difficulty settings. This mode is also purely combat focused, meaning you won’t be searching for puzzles or switches, just mowing through enemies and trying to stay alive. Each level in this mode is lifted directly from the single player campaign with a few changes to make it more accessible to the action. The cool part is when you complete a mission you are ranked on things like accuracy and time that give you an overall score that you can post on the Xbox Live Leaderboards. There is also a bonus mission which introduces you to a side story of the main quest, but it feels more like filler than anything else.
The controls in F.E.A.R. are also spot on, especially if you are familiar with the console way of handling an FPS. The aiming feels right and aside from catching yourself on a wall here and there the game’s collision detection is some of the best I have seen in a console shooter. The save system has also been revamped for the Xbox 360, which is both good and bad. The quick save system has been replaced with a checkpoint system, which actually works really well as the points are usually located right before any intense action sequences to keep you from having to repeat long stretches of game over and over.
The online portion of the game is also nicely done. Certainly not the best, but it gets the job done where it counts. You have all your typical modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag, but in addition to these you have some game specific modes such as slow-mo CTF among others. These modes basically give one player the ability to use the slow-mo effect until they are killed and it is passed onto the player’s assassin. While not the biggest leap for the genre, it is nice to have some variety in the online games. You can also customize the look of your online avatar with a pre-set list of skins and even a logo. The coolest part is that each person’s Gamertag will show up on the back of their suit during games, just in case you wanted to know who you just fragged.
Matches online ran extremely smooth during our sessions with very little lag. The biggest gripe that we have is that after a game you are simply kicked back to the menu without being offered the option to play again. I can understand this for ranked games, but for player matches too? There are also plenty of modifiers that the host of any match can configure such as run speed and weapon restrictions that can keep the game fresh and offer some interesting game types. Needless to say the multi-player is very well rounded and a much welcome addition to the game, although a co-op mode would have sealed the deal.
F.E.A.R. is one of those titles that will likely be overlooked because of the time frame it was released in; you do know Gears Of War just came out right? But if you have a chance I highly recommend giving this game a shot. It has everything a shooter fan could want as well as a genuinely creepy single-player that simply must be experienced. If you are in the market for a great shooter or just an overall fun experience you can’t go wrong with F.E.A.R. Even with the minor faults the game has an overall quality that most titles today simply do not bring. A great shooter and a fine addition to the Xbox 360 library, highly recommended.