F.E.A.R. / Monolith / PC

F.E.A.R. does relatively poorly for itself on the horror front given the top title billing. What it actually does best is fusing Max Payne-esque "bullet time" into an FPS engine while also having very nice particle and lighting effects and also pretty decent enemy AI for a 2005 release.

So apparently there's this Umbrella-esque corporation that's raised a Clone Wars-esque army of a thousand "Replicant" soldiers with enhanced reflexes somehow. They appear to be human, but they are all psychically controlled by Vampire Bill Paxton. We play as a new recruit to the F.E.A.R. unit, a sekrit government special forces team that is like the X-Files with heavy weaponry. I have to give the game props for actually making some small amount of sense out of common video game tropes here -- enemy grunts being psychically controlled from afar does lend some credence to their typical relentless-to-the-point-of-being-suicidal behavior, and it also makes sense to send a small commando team in to an urban area if assassinating one guy will shut down the whole enemy army. So you're the lone guy to survive when the commando team foolishly splits up and gets roasted, and now its up to you to chase down Bill Paxton with very minimal support while his troops hunt you and attempt to NEUTRALIZE FREEMAN.

The fear comes into FEAR in that Bill Paxton appears to be taunting the player with ghostly apparitions and voices, and also there's the little girl with the hair from The Ringu and a million other Japanese horror concepts. She seems to enjoy roasting the flesh off of friend and foe alike, but doesn't do much to you other than popping in to giggle at you. The "horror" elements are so cursory and lame I'm not sure why they even bothered trying to make this some sort of integral concept. It would work if Fleshmelter occasionally actually chased you and attempted to melt your flesh or something, and you had to either run or use the environment in some clever way to stop her, but the game can't be stuffed to stop playing America's Army long enough to do anything as complex as all that. Instead the "horror" is limited to occasionally making the lights flicker and the wind blow and going "WooooOOOOoooo" at you, basically.

                              I vunted orange :( :( :(

Indeed, this would be a tedious and irredeemable jaunt between Empty Corridors, Scripted Uninteresting Horror Scenes and Open-Area Firefights if not for the aforementioned bullet time and competent enemy AI. First of all, when the enemy is fired on they scramble for cover and almost never stupidly charge you (ALMOST. Does happen once in a while). They constantly move positions, they sidle up behind walls and crouch behind crates, they'll climb ladders and scramble to crawl through narrow grates. One fucker scared the bejesus out of me when, during a big firefight, he broke away from his mates and took an impressively long and complex route around to sneak up behind me.

And then there's the bullet time, which temporarily slows everything down except for your mouse reticule. Once in a while it's cool as hell, when you can manage to shoot a grenade that an enemy has just tossed, or run into a group unawares doing the Liu Kang bicycle kick to some dope while you simultaneously headshot all his friends. With how much the enemies hippity hop around and use cover, however, such opportunities are rare and what it's really mostly used for is an "emergency bail out" button when you get flanked/surrounded or blunder face-first into an ambush.

In a way, FEAR is one of the progenitors of today's bland conveyor belt of AAA corridor shooters starring Soldier Man, even though the tone is different and it pulls a few unique tricks. For 2005 it did have some quite nice visual effects and the enemy AI is better than some stuff still being put out 10 years later. But at heart it's a fairly cookie-cutter and repetitive experience, with very few enemy types and basically spending the whole game length alternating between Generic Industrial/Sewer Level and Generic Corporate Office Level.

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