Friday 15 November 2013

F.E.A.R. (PC)

F.E.A.R. logo
Here's a game that nobody requested, but I'm going to play it anyway as I'm tired of it staring at me from my Steam library. "Why did you buy me if you're never going to play me?" it whispers inside my mind, because it's a creepy horror game and they can do that.

F.E.A.R. - First Encounter Assault Recon is a game by Monolith*, the people who made Blood, NOLF2: A Spy in H.A.R.M's Way and Contract J.A.C.K.. And yet somehow even after names like that, I honestly still can't believe that 'F.E.A.R.' was their first choice for the title.

*Not to be confused with Japanese developer Monolith Soft who made Baiten Kaitos, Xenosaga, Xenoblade and many other games with an X in their name.

(Click the images to supersize them to an epic 1280x960 res!)

The game begins with this bloke admiring his reflection in the shiny floor tiles of his prison cell. Even those ravens outside the window are staring in at them transfixed, finding it impossible to resist their polished allure.

But the creepy little girl from the game box art has other plans for the man and she unlocks the door for him.

"Kill them." she whispers. "Kill them all."

The man screams in response, apparently in pain. I suppose he must have been sitting on his legs for too long.

But one man alone cannot kill them all, so these soldiers are telepathically woken up and brought into the fight. The intro quickly skips ahead to avoid giving any kind of explanation about why there are rows of soldiers in full gear with a rifle in their hand sleeping on their feet in the hangar, or what happens when one of them needs the bathroom.

Anyway, with his new army at his command the prisoner has no trouble taking out his guards and then starts to chow down on their corpses.

Meanwhile in the featureless grey command center of F.E.A.R. HQ, our team quickly identifies the wacko as Paxton Fettel, and conclude that 'he's the key'. If they can contain him, they can contain this whole situation.

It turns out that the narcoleptic troops are actually an army of clones grown for a government contract who respond to a psychic commander, in this case Fettel. Oh and plus there's a thousand of them, all stored within Fettel's telepathic range it seems.

Lieutenant Jankowski (on the left) takes this opportunity to whine about the fact this is exactly the reason that no one takes F.E.A.R. seriously. No one can discuss things like telepathic clone supersoldiers and still keep a straight face. Kind of makes you wonder why anyone would build a horror game around the concept really.

He also whines when he learns that I'm getting sent on the mission to stop Fettel too, as I only just joined the team a week ago. The commander explains to him that I have super human reflexes and therefore I'm going and he can shut up and deal with it.

But then Paxton Fettel himself interrupts this broadcast to ask our hero to think back to the first thing he remembers. This leads to a flashback of distorted screaming followed by a voice asking "Where are you taking him?" A doctor with Gordon Freeman glasses appears and tells the young hero that he will be a god among men.

It's funny how the developers deliberately avoid giving the hero a name, a face or a voice so that he becomes whoever is playing the game. But then they immediately undermine that by giving him a backstory.

The team soon managed to lock onto the signal from the tracking device inside Paxton's head so I'm being driven over by my boss to deal with it. He seems a pretty laid back and reasonable type; he doesn't even mind when I shine my head mounted flashlight in his face while I'm driving.

Also he's called Rowdy Betters. Probably for the best that our hero Point Man hasn't been given a name, as anything these guys would've thought up for him would've probably made his school years hell.

(If anyone reading this is actually called Paxton Fettel or Rowdy Betters then I apologise for my hurtful and nameist comments.)

Hey there bro, what you typing? OH SHIT, I HAVE FEET!

My character actually exists in the world, I'm not just a camera and a floating gun! 1.5 million bonus points to F.E.A.R. (although I have to subtract 1.2 million points because c'mon, who calls their villain Paxton Fettel? Seriously?)

The game has pretty impressive visuals for the time, but even the most advanced graphics engine would struggle to make a plain concrete room look interesting. Though that glowing blue item on the desk definitely has my interest.

The thing turned out to be a health injector, which gave me a tiny 5 point HP boost when I picked it up. Permanently. Every one of these things is basically a level up for my character so it would benefit me greatly to hunt them down in all the dark and secret places in which they nest.

It's a great idea to encourage a player to explore his surroundings, but I can't help but think that I've just been duped into crawling around every dirty storeroom in the place just to make sure I don't miss out on ultra important upgrades.

Oh shit!

Thanks for that near subliminal flash right in the middle of my jumping tutorial! Oh wait I get it now, jump scare in a jumping section, very funny.

I guess I'll get back to searching these abandoned grey hallways for then.

A few rooms later and I get to meet the man in person, slightly chewed on by Fettel. I'd met up with Jankowski (the whiny guy from the intro) a few rooms into the building, but he disappeared into ash at the same time I started tripping, annoyingly.

Fortunately I snapped out of my hallucination without making an idiot of myself (the benefit of being a silent protagonist is that I can't yell "Oh no, Jankowski's exploded into ash and now I'm totally tripping balls!" into my radio) and now I'm heading to the roof to catch Fettel on his way out. 

F.E.A.R. Paxton Fettel plank attack
Oh hey there Paxton! Say, is that a large plank of wood you've got in your...

Superhuman reflexes, my ass. I awoke soon after to find Fettel hovering over me with blood dripping from his mouth. Fortunately though the blood's all from the other bloke; Fettel just wanted me to sit down for a second so he could chat about memories again.
"The dead man's name was Charles Habegger. I remember him. But are the memories mine... or hers? It makes no difference, he deserved to die. They all deserve to die."
I guess I don't deserve to die though, as he leaves me alone after that. Well that's a weight off my mind at least.

Fortunately my boss doesn't fire me for ineptitude (because I can't talk, so I can't tell him my utter failure) and I'm soon on a chopper heading to my next job. We've located the soldiers at the harbour, which means that Fettel is probably close by.

I'm sure they don't mean they've located all the soldiers there, just enough to fill a couple of first person shooter levels perhaps, as somehow I doubt it wouldn't have taken our elite paranormal investigation outfit this long to notice a thousand soldiers marching through the streets. At least I hope not.


These Delta Force operatives have been told they have to wait for me to do my recon thing before they're allowed to go in and now they're being pissy about it.
"Since you're on point see if you can get this gate open. I'd send one of my boys, but I think we need a specialist for this one."

You're damn right I'm a specialist.... a specialist in kicking your ass you cheeky motherfucker!

Well that was a waste of ammo. I guess I'll just go find that gate switch then shall I? Hold on I'll be right back.

Hmm, no gate switch over here. Nice scenery though, I like the reflections in the water.

Though, uh, I think the freighter Oratnek 12 may have its name on backwards.


Hey guys I found the gate switch and... oh. They really should've waited for a specialist to go in first.

A quick flashback reveals the perpetrator of his heinous crime: creepy box art ghost girl. Having a battalion of supersoldiers at your command can help get a lot of things done, but she's savvy enough to know that sometimes it's best to take a more hands on approach to slaughter.

Though the clone troops aren't exactly subtle with their murder either. He's literally painted the wall with his blood! How many bullets does it take to even do that? I'm loving all those 3D looking bullet holes in the wall though, very high-tech.

I drop the clone with a single burst of submachine gun fire to the head, but his friends outside are on to me, and quickly move to take me down while utilising cover and staying out of sight. This looks like it's going to turn into a tense game of hide and seek between the boxes.

Or I could press the bullet time button, run around the boxes, and shoot them. Double headshot! I guess I do have superhuman reflexes after all!

I also have an array of deadly martial arts skills, including flying kicks and sliding takedowns. Though I'm starting to see now why first person games often stick to their guns, as it's kinda hard to make out what's actually happening here, even in motion. Also I'm not sure that being able to dominate all threats in slow motion with devastating martial arts takedowns entirely compliments the horror theme they're going for.

Personally I'm just glad to be playing as someone with a corporeal form for once to be honest. Point Man even noticeably stomps around the level as he walks instead of gliding around.

Dual pistols! It's just like I'm playing a character in one of John Woo's classic horror movies like Hard Boiled, The Killer or A Better Tomorrow!

Incidentally it seems that the guns are modified versions of real weapons with made up names, so I'm no danger of ever picking up a weapon I actually recognise. Still, they look pretty convincing.


Oh look, ghost girl's back with another hallucination. You don't scare me Sadako, I know you can't hurt me or else you would've done it already and if you wanted me dead that badly you'd have told Fettel to off me while I was unconscious on the roof.

So let's get this over with so I can get back to shooting blokes, okay?


'Be sure to use MedKits when being burned alive by a psychic ghost', yeah thanks for the hint there. It turns out that the actual solution here is to run away from the explosion, which seems sensible enough to me. Though I still got lightly toasted and thrown out through a window from the blast.

Man look at all those hexagons. That's a dead give-away that the game's meant to be set in the near future.

Oh hey, it's you again. Don't worry about me, I end every level by being knocked unconscious; I'm sure I'll be fine once the splitting headache and dizziness subsides. By the way, did I ever tell you how realistically proportioned you are?

Jin Sun-Kwon is the fourth member of my team, a combat medic and forensics expert with what seems like a perfectly sensible name for once. Though weren't Jin and Sun Kwon characters in Lost?

Well I'm right back to chasing Fettel around, only in a water treatment plant this time (not a sewer!) I reckon the devs wrote this bit in just because they wanted to show off their cool water effects. Which is fine with me, because they're cool.

I also appreciate how they always give me time to relax a little in between combat rooms. I guess I'm supposed to be creeping around expecting an ambush at any time and being freaked out when stuff falls off shelves by itself, but the soldiers tend to announce their presence with their radios, Half-Life 2 style, so I always know when they're getting close.

Oh shit, my bullet time power just ran out while I'm still standing in the open like an idiot. Uh... run!

Just one of these guys alone would be a threat to me, but they're a reasonable threat. They don't instantly know where I am and open fire the second I enter the room with unerring accuracy, they have the decency to flinch when bullets hit them, and all the time they spend darting between boxes is time they're not using to gun me down. But they're not inept and if I start getting complacent they quickly punish me for it.

I even have to solve water related puzzles to get through to the next area! Well, okay I just turned a valve to raise the water level so that I can jump across the boxes, but I'd say that this definitely falls much closer to something like Half-Life than to Call of Duty on the chart of first person shooters.

Oh I didn't even mention that the game has (player activated) health kits instead of regenerating health, giving me another reason to keep my eyes open while I'm walking around. Though it does have iron sights... well, sort of. Point Man never bothers raising his gun to eye level, but the game has has an aim mode that tightens the crosshairs and slows down his movement, so it's basically the same thing.

Also I must announce with a heavy heart that he can only carry three weapons at once, meaning that I had to drop my pistols to take the shotgun. It's a bloody tragedy is what it is.


OH SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS... and now I'm staring at the game over screen again wondering what just happened..

"You can adjust game difficulty at any time in the Game options menu." it helpfully points out, but I'm not quite ready to put the training wheels back on just yet. I'm only playing on medium difficulty, it's not like I'm really trying to push myself here. Fortunately I saved not long ago (and the game has checkpoints even if I hadn't) so I don't have to replay much.

I'm just not used to fighting enemies who can survive a few surprise rounds to the face and then inflict the hurt right back at me I guess. I need a new strategy here, probably involving my underused grenade key.


Right, that's it. I've mined the doorway leading to his room with proximity bombs and I'm ready for him. The second he stumbles through that door he's getting 45 rounds to the face, full auto.


He's not coming through the door is he? Crap, have I finally found a first person shooter where the enemies aren't dumb enough to fall for my obvious doorway ambush? I'm going to have to go back in there and fight him properly aren't I?

Well at least I can pick the proximity mines back up, so they won't go to waste.


No wonder the guy with the epic shoulder pads was kicking my ass all those times, his gun is amazing. This thing is a spike launcher which nails enemies right to the wall, which is awesome for two reasons:

1. It nails enemies right to the wall.
2. I can tell right away when I've managed to get a perfect headshot and yet it somehow hasn't one-shot killed the guy. I can finally present hard evidence to back up my whining.

Also check out that real-time reflection of the flame jet in the water. Yeah I know the game came out eight years ago and this is all ancient tech; I spend my time playing games from the 90s so things like this still impress the hell out of me.

Crap, I didn't think this through did I? Uh, maybe I could, I dunno, jump up and grab the rung above his head? I'm not even joking about this, I think I really have blocked the only way out of here.

Still, at least it was a good shot.

Man, I'm sure this hallway's sure turned very... Max Payne all of a sudden. It's another crazy wacky hallucination interlude! These are pretty well implemented actually, I don't want to sound like I'm mocking them, it's just that the game has such a goofy tone to it sometimes that it's hard to take any of it seriously.

Well the girl with the bloody footprints seemed to think that walking over to the fire was a smart move, so I'll go with that plan.


A Hind-D!?

Of course Paxton Fettel's American-made telepathically-commanded clone supersoldiers have their own Russian helicopter gunship, why not? Well I've got a sniper rifle now so I don't even care; just as long as I don't have to fight that thing directly I can snipe these guys off the ropes all night.


I... may be in trouble.

Shoulder pad-man is back again and he's brought some friends to flank me while I panic and fire off the last of my spikes everywhere but where I need them to go. Man, why does he have to turn up every time I'm feeling smug? He's ruining my whole power trip.

Fortunately I have a plan: I'm going to shoot them until they fall down. I'll work out the details as I go.


Well I shot them all and they fell down, but Paxton Fettel got away in the Hind! Again! We remote hacked some laptops there that hinted that the Armacham Corporation have been putting something in the water, but other than that it was a total waste of time really.

So I'm catching a lift with some more Delta Force guys and chasing Paxton back to Armacham HQ, the place he broke out of in the intro.

This is would be a really good spot to stop playing I reckon, but I've seen nothing but rundown warehouses and waste treatment plants all game so I'd like to visit at least one place in the game without rats in it before I turn it off. Don't worry I'll be done with it soon, I promise.

Wow, I don't know what I was expecting from this office building really. Colour perhaps? Looks great though, nice lighting.

Hang on, is that the Predator creeping up on me with his cloaking field on? Or Metal Gear Solid's Cyborg Ninja perhaps?

Oh, it's some kind of stealth solider who likes to hit me up close then disappear again. What a bastard. Well, he bleeds so at least I know I can kill it. First though I think I'll hurt him some more.

Uh, I'm sorry mate but you seem to be lost. This is a gritty low saturation John Woo/Japanese horror inspired action horror game, and you're an obnoxious comedy caricature with a bag of Cheezee Pooz in his hand and a RTFM belt buckle. You look like Mike Myers in a fat suit and it's offensive to me that I can't destroy you with my remote mines.

Please don't think I'm getting at him because of his weight, he's just a really exaggerated stereotype with an utterly unlikeable personality and he's completely out of place in this game. And not just because he somehow isn't dead yet. In fact I think this is an omen, that I should be turning this off now.

Well I've definitely liked F.E.A.R. so far, but I'm finding it a hard game to really love. It kind of reminds me of Metal Gear Solid in how it takes a batshit insane setup and goofy characters but treats them with absolute sincerity, but it's missing that game's charm. They've given me no reason to care about anyone, especially not Point Man, and so far all the plots twists have amounted to 'Paxton was here, but now he's gone!'

The gameplay on the other hand is very solid, but it kind of sabotages itself by trying to keep the horror theme going in the action scenes. Here I am single handedly clearing out roomfuls of supersoldiers in slow motion with flying kicks and dual pistols, and the music's still trying to put me on edge. And this isn't like Doom 3, I'm not reacting to horrors bursting out out of cupboards, I'm chasing squads of enemies around and that has a very different feeling to it that conflicts with the atmosphere the soundtrack is trying to create. All the hallucinations are safely isolated from the combat to make sure that I don't accidentally shoot at my imaginary friends in the middle of a firefight, so it's not like anything scary's going to happen mid-fight.

In conclusion: I loved the graphics, I thought the gameplay was cool, but I couldn't get into the story at all.

If you'd like to leave a comment about that wall of words you just scaled, then go ahead. I'm always eager for feedback.


  1. -silently follows blog because that was funny as hell-

  2. 've just spend an absurd amount of my morning reading through your entire site but hey! Time spent doing something you enjoy is not time wasted, amirite? Figured this would be as good an article to comment as any.

    I find FEAR actually tells a pretty decent to somewhat compelling story if you look at it as a whole. You're missing out on some great shooting not finishing it or playing the first expansion pack but I suppose you've already seen your share of shooty shoots judging by your reviewed collection on here.

    Games, especially FPS games from 2000 to 2005 are uniquely interesting to me. There is such a large difference in look, feel and especially quality from game to game then. There is also more creativity as the genre was still experimenting and trying to perfect itself. things seem way more by the book by now.

    Anyway! Entertaining blog! Maybe I even return to it a few weeks down the road, if not: Godspeed to you.


Semi-Random Game Box