August 8, 2005

F.E.A.R. -- Single-Player Demo Impressions

I recently played through the single-player demo of Monolith’s upcoming suspense-themed first-person shooter, F.E.A.R., and decided to write about it.

Note: The following was originally a post on the now-defunct website The Game Chair. (A somewhat readable version is available on archive.org.)

You will be a God among men.

Imagine if that was the first thing you remember anyone telling you.

Personally, I would feel a little pressured. But then again, I can’t put my life into bullet time whenever I want.

In any case, this is the life of the person you become in F.E.A.R., the highly-anticipated horror/suspense/action offering from Vivendi Universal and Monolith Games. Short for First Encounter Assault Recon, you are apparently a person of mysterious origins and exceptional abilities who is charged by your organization to, well, kill bad guys.

If I’m not making the story sound particularly interesting, well, thats because it’s not–at least from what I’ve seen in this demo. Atmosphere, however, is something this game has in spades: just imagine the suspense of a film like The Ring or The Grudgecomplete with that icon of Japanese horror, the ten-year-old girl–combined with the frenetic one-man-versus-an-army action of Half-Life 2.

Doubts regarding the atmosphere of F.E.A.R. should be allayed by watching the game’s trailer: the cinematic finesse presented here is evident throughout the entire game, and when the game wants to truly terrify, it does. Unlike Doom 3, in which every dark corner that might possibly conceal some horrible creature does conceal some horrible creature, F.E.A.R. actually succeeds in creating a sense of suspense: you never know when something scary is going to happen, because such things happen infrequently and unpredictably. Even more impressive is the fact that everything that frightened me in the demo was entirely non-lethal; I don’t know if that little girl will ever be able to give me so much as a paper cut, but she’ll always scare the bejesus out of me.

Atmosphere aside, however, the gameplay itself is something I have a few reservations about. This game throws a huge variety of gameplay elements at you: variable-sized targeting reticules depending on your weapon and movement and stance, bullet time, the ability to lean left and right, use of medkits as inventory items, use of your gun as a melee weapon, plus all the other standard shooter elements. While this certainly makes for flexible gameplay, it can also feel overwhelmingly complex; the entire left side of my keyboard is mapped to some kind of action that I might have to use at a moment’s notice, and after a few hours of play I still get confused about which key is which. I’m also not sure how conducive some of these elements are to gameplay; for instance, variable-sized targeting reticules are useful in tactical games like Counterstrike and Battlefield 2 to emphasize teamwork over raw twitch skills and ensure that no one player is a one-man army, but in a frag-fest like F.E.A.R. where you’re supposed to be a one-man army, it sort of gets in the way sometimes.

Technically, this game looks great; about on-par with Doom 3 or Half-Life 2, but unlike those titles, I’ve had some major problems with the game chunking up: for the most part, my framerate is quite smooth, but every so often the game just pauses for a while as it works on something. In particular, this happens just before certain scripted events occur, which reduces their dramatic impact considerably. Toning down detail levels to the point that the game looks like it was made three years ago reduces this effect somewhat, but not entirely.

The game’s attention to detail is impressive, and there’s a lot of innovations here that I havent seen before; bullets can take sizeable chunks out of walls, intense gunfights leave clouds of dust in their wake, and enemies can navigate the geography in completely unexpected ways by jumping over railings, leaping through windows, and crawling through tight spaces. At one point I thought I found a glitch in the ragdoll physics system: a man I had killed was standing fully upright, but upon closer inspection I realized that there was a long metal spike that had punctured its way through his head and into the wall next to him.

Ah, so that’s what my gun was firing.

All in all, this demo was definitely worth the download. Its minor flaws aside, the game is a solid blend of suspense, horror, and fragging that deftly alternates between being mysterious, terrifying, and fun; the only major drawback here is the chunking phenomenon, which will hopefully be fixed before the game hits store shelves in mid-October.

## About my system

For reference, I used a Pentium IV 3.4 ghz, 1 GB RAM, and a GeForce 6800 with 256 MB RAM.

© Atul Varma 2017