Last Level Press

Nutshell Review: F.E.A.R.

Reviewer: Cliff Davenport

In 2005, Monolith Productions created a game dedicated to representing paranormal threats to national security.  The game was called F.E.A.R.

Intro mockery aside, F.E.A.R. is a mixed bag of blood, bullets, and terror.  Despite the inherent delicacy of a project attempting to bridge the disparate genres of American action and classical Japanese horror, F.E.A.R. does so quite well, rarely sacrificing either element for the sake of the other.  

No, it just sacrifices half of Delta Force instead.  

On the action end, F.E.A.R. boasts solidly balanced gunplay, excellent bullet-time mechanics, and some of the absolute best enemy A.I. of its time. The reflex power in particular is a real treat to see in motion, having been based on John Woo-style action segments, but it’s F.E.A.R.’s  adaptable A.I. that really sets its gunfights apart.  Foes constantly take cover, flank, and use suppressive squad tactics to constantly keep players’ backs against the wall.  This, paired with its light smattering of delightfully violent player-candy weapons (of which the stake-rifle will always have a special place in my heart) keeps combat fresh, tense, and engaging throughout the game’s lengthy duration.  

Contrasting well against these successes are F.E.A.R.’s standout horror segments, of which the star of the show is unquestionably Alma, the game’s nightmare-defining, but unforgettably sympathetic antagonist.  It is this singular character’s fault that I can no longer keep my back to dark-haired little girls in red dresses for more than a second.  Yes, really.  

F.E.A.R.’s soundtrack and DX9-era lighting also do an admirable job of framing and accentuating its horror segments, during which the game’s use of high-contrast shadows in sparsely lit environments is often equal parts foreboding and creative.  The same can also be said for F.E.A.R.’s deeply psychological story, which, despite sometimes feeling railroaded and ambiguous, still manages to creep under players’ skins ala Lovecraft, and keep them guessing, right up to the very end.

“There are sequels, you know…”

Mixing up intermittent jump-scares with creeping environmental dread, F.E.A.R. maintains a near-constant atmosphere of anxiety and tension.  You can never be too sure what’s down that next darkened hallway, and I know I’m not alone in feeling genuine dread to tread further during certain levels of the game.  That said, gameplay does start feeling a bit bipolar after a while, as these segments start alternating rather predictably (and not always gracefully) with F.E.A.R.’s action scenes, taking an unfortunate chunk of uncertainty out of the fear equation.  On top of that, the game is almost a victim of its own success, as several reviewers other than myself have reported an inability to sit through multiple-hour sessions of F.E.A.R. without breaks. It’s just that emotionally draining, which, I admit, is a victory in itself for a horror game, but also something to consider as a player before sitting down for an evening.  

Where F.E.A.R. unfortunately falls short is its follow-through.  By that, I mean that it boasts very little replay value, as well as sparse innovation in its otherwise standard multiplayer modes (for which official support has since been discontinued).  Little-to-no closure for the player at game’s end only compounds the problem; without delving into spoilers, suffice it to say that while we know a great deal more about Alma by the end, we still know next to zero about Point Man, the silent main character.  Now, I’m all for player-immersion, but when players start wondering why they don’t know things that they should according to a story’s own logic, the silent protagonist bit falls through.

Despite these shortcomings, however, F.E.A.R. remains one of my favorite titles of all time, shooter or horror alike.  With it, Monolith tried something few had done before, and managed to pull it off well.  From scene to scene, F.E.A.R. players can feel like “a God among men,” or like a scared little boy lost in a nightmare, and alternate between them at the drop of a hat.  Balance like that is hard to come by, and though it may not be perfect, it still got my heart pounding often enough to earn a place on my shelf of favorites.    

Rating: 7.2

Visuals: 8

Audio: 7

Controls & Mechanics: 7

Atmosphere & Experience: 8

Entertainment Value: 6

“Come play with me.  At night.  In the dark.”

And just try not to look over your shoulder during loading screens.  

I dare you.  

  Consoles: (PC), PS3, Xbox 360

  Developer: Monolith Productions

  Publisher: Vivendi Universal

  Release Date (U.S.):  Oct 18, 2005

  Release Date (U.K.):  Oct 18, 2005

  Release Date (JP):  Dec 2, 2005

Final Verdict:


Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.  Links | Legal Notices

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