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F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) artwork

F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) review


"To polish a shooter"


F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) image

What defines a first-person shooter? There are many answers: control, movement, gunplay, audio-visual feedback, level design, enemy AI. Anyone can agree that these are essential aspects of an FPS, but there are many interpretations of what makes each of the elements good. From about 2006 onward, FPSes made a massive departure from the PC titles of old, and many compromises were made to accommodate these titles to a gamepad controller instead of the more precise and versatile keyboard and mouse setup. In 2005, as console shooters began to grow in popularity, F.E.A.R. gave the PC FPS a fond farewell by being a accumulation of years of excellent game design.

A fantastically directed intro cinematic sets the mood for F.E.A.R., introducing us to psycho Paxton Fettel and his Replica soldiers as they take over the sinister Armacham Corporation complexes. After being debriefed on the situation, we control protagonist Point Man as we are sent on Paxton's trail of blood, never to be separated by cutscene again. He possesses movement that is rather sluggish (making taking damage an unfortunate inevitability) yet complemented by a lean system and compact level design built around such restrained movement. He depends on manual use of health kits, not regenerating health, to heal from inevitable wounds, and so every action made in battle is an investment. Point Man does have a regenerating meter for his bullet time ability, giving the player a reaction advantage over foes that must be used sparingly in order to be used to its fullest. Guns fire actual projectiles instead of using hitscans, allowing one to dodge shots while in slow-motion mode and thus creating one of the many ways in which the player's capabilities complement each other, for proper use of bullet times and more physical tools are essential for survival.

F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) image

Every weapon is accurate, viable for combat, and capable of being used in good tandem with other weapons. Only three firearms may be carried at a time (though you may carry all three grenade types at once), demanding strategy in approaching situations without being overly restrictive in doing so. Although accuracy is not an issue here, the game goes above and beyond by utilizing tracer rounds; shots fired are frequently accompanied by smoke trails that relay to the player the trajectory of fired bullets in an unobtrusive fashion. Each firearm has appropriate sound design that gives each weight and power, and as a result of all these things, each weapon is fun to use. F.E.A.R. communicates to the player, using tracer rounds, visible effects, enemy reaction animations, and audio-visual feedback to relay what's going on, instead of demanding that the player memorize invisible, unreliable bullet trajectories in order to get good.

Areas are crafted specifically to its gunplay, as well. While not the most varied, the environments are imbued with great atmosphere. Industrial locations such as warehouses and offices all have fantastic dynamic lighting that puts most games in the decade following this title's release to shame. Each combat hotspot has multiple points of interest, such as multiple paths to reach a room, destructible cover, and layers of verticality. While office spaces and the like can't stay visually interesting for long, F.E.A.R. uses environmental destruction to prevent stagnation.

F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) image

Good visual design is essential to both atmosphere and input for player action, and the developers at Monolith understand this, accomplishing these tasks by astounding use of visual effects. One such feature is dynamic lighting, which is lighting that casts shadows of objects in real time. This effective lighting heightens realism by actively fleshing out the otherwise stale locations (sometimes highlighting points of interest by doing so) and allowing for another way in which players can interact with their environment. Furthermore, weapon fire -- which is based on projectiles, not lazy hitscans -- interacts with environs in fashions that are realistic and communicative. By use of excellent particle effects and 3D decals, bullets tear drywall to dust and shatter, altering the course of combat while giving the game's world a visceral feel and conveying the power of the weapons. These aspects make weapons satisfying and combat frenzied and dynamic.

This is a game about combat more than all else, but it wisely spaces out furious firefights between exploration segments and setpieces. Staple spooky girl Alma makes her stalking presence known to the player from time to time as she engages in such predictable activities as disappearing after walking around corners; these and the other "spooks" are usually worthless safe for a few expectation-defying moments. For each of Alma's idiotic antics, there's a moment that uses fantastic sound design and the threat of sudden enemy encounters to illicit reaction and thread atmosphere. The threat of looming death can make exploring darkened areas in search of permanent health and bullet time upgrades in addition to expository data files and whatnot an exercise in unease. When it isn't trying to use stale horror tropes in gore and jumpscares, the linear nature of the levels does not inhibit F.E.A.R.'s ability to encourage exploration, even though the level design is tailored to accommodate the amazing AI.

F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) image

Despite not being the most advanced AI ever made, perhaps no other game has triumphed in regards to enemy AI as much as F.E.A.R. has. Enemies depend not on aimbot accuracy or absurd durability but by frighteningly formidable tactics and good judgment, being gifted with subroutines that adapt to the situation at hand. In squads, Replica troops work together by moving in coordination, flanking your position, and flushing you out of cover. They are complemented by having many actions other than just looking at you and shooting; as individuals, enemies can through windows, take cover, create cover by knocking over large objects, and take self-preserving initiative when separated from the group. These myriad actions are conveyed by fluid animations (which extend to taking damage) and sound effects including the infamous radio chatter activated when player actions, AI routines, or other in-game conditions are met. "He's trying to flank! Grenade out! We've got two men down!" This adds personality to enemies while communicating the situation to the player.

There's that crucial element of game design again: communication. F.E.A.R. gifts the observant with information relating to every aspect of the game. Environmental details tell stories, bullet tracers mark trajectories of fire, visual effects and animations demonstrate the power of player actions, enemy radio chatter and other sound effects convey enemy behavior -- the list goes on. What puts F.E.A.R. head and shoulders above so many watered-down console shooters isn't just the superiority in terms of tech and controls and user interface and whatnot. F.E.A.R. communicates many of its facets in unobtrusive fashions, eliminating the factor of chance in gameplay and exalting the need for observation and an understanding of the game's mechanics.

This learning curve is satisfying in itself, making a campaign-centric game quite replayable despite being a mostly linear cycle of exploration, setpieces, and combat. No enemy encounter is the quite the same. Sure, it may often be you against five guys in an office space, but the weapon selection, versatile movement, dynamic AI, and number of approaches to combat help keep every encounter feel fresh. Rather poor storytelling aside, the exploration and expository setpieces serve to keep a steady pace between firefights and maintain the player's attention. An extremely user-friendly interface, including manual saves, autosaves, and quicksaves, doesn't hurt the experience, either! It may have failed to provide an equally compelling narrative, but F.E.A.R. presents the player with all the tools, enemies, and gameplay polish to encourage returning to the foreboding halls of the Armacham Corporation for years to come.

5/5

Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (July 15, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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