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

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

"F.E.A.R stands as the most intense first-person shooter Iíve ever played. It doesnít achieve intensity by bombarding you with ear-splitting explosions, or keeping you constantly at the brink of death, but through sheer atmosphere, design, and pacing. Even if you arenít a tactician when it comes to first-person shooters and prefer run-and-gun mayhem, this game will slow you down and force you into the crouch position. F.E.A.R will have you leaning around corners, taking very careful..."

F.E.A.R stands as the most intense first-person shooter Iíve ever played. It doesnít achieve intensity by bombarding you with ear-splitting explosions, or keeping you constantly at the brink of death, but through sheer atmosphere, design, and pacing. Even if you arenít a tactician when it comes to first-person shooters and prefer run-and-gun mayhem, this game will slow you down and force you into the crouch position. F.E.A.R will have you leaning around corners, taking very careful shots at only the most vulnerable spots on your enemiesí bodies. Youíll be more environmentally aware, searching frequently for objects around you that can serve as shields, looking for pillars that can be used to ricochet grenades off of. Instead of ear-drum rupturing explosions, F.E.A.R uses absolute silence and minimal music to ratchet up the intensity. Bottom line: F.E.A.R will change the way you play FPS games and along the way it will deliver an awesome experience that will have you asking for more.

F.E.A.R opens up with a first-person cutscene that reminded me a lot of Half-Life 2, which is definitely a good thing. Youíre the latest recruit for the First Encounter Assault Recon team and your first day in the squad is going to be spent tracking down a guy by the name of Paxton Fettel. But the F.E.A.R team isnít for just tracking down regular punks, Fettel is the real deal. Fettel was just an average guy until the military decided to telepathically link him to a battalion of cloned soldiers. As any gamer expects, the military lost control of their psychic friend and he began using the soldiers to launch an attack against the very military he was supposed to server and several other targets that heís chosen. No one really knows why Fettel has lost it, but as you trudge through hallways, laboratories, warehouses and alleyways, youíre going to come face to face with what has caused his madness.

From the start, F.E.A.R engulfs you in creepiness. What Monolithís last huge FPS game, No One Lives Forever, did for humor, F.E.A.R does for horror. The game makes excellent use of darkness, but not to the point of Doom III where you canít see anything, but to the point where you canít see everything. This works a lot better than Doom IIIís darkness, which gets so predictable that you arenít scared anymore. Instead, F.E.A.R makes great use of low-lighting which magnificently compliments infrequent surprises. While F.E.A.R could startle you with a strange apparition coming at you out of a corridor or a bizarre slow-motion flashback sequence every few minutes, it really cranks up the tension by making you wait for it. Youíll be waiting and waiting and waiting, searching around every corner expecting some surprise, but it isnít until you let your guard down that the game finally does freak you out.

Battles follow this same tactic. You wonít encounter a lone soldier in every other room. Instead, soldiers will more realistically control specific choke points, and youíll find yourself fighting against groups of five or six soldiers all at once. Youíll walk through a few corridors, creeping along slowly, expecting a battle around the next corner, and then when it hits, you still feel totally unprepared, outnumbered, and outgunned. Admittedly, Iíve never been very tactical in my first-person shooters, but this game definitely made me reconsider my strategies. I had to stay moving constantly, while at the same time staying behind cover and figuring out the positions of my enemies, because if I ever gave them an opportunity to hit me, they did.

In one specific area, I walked through a door and noticed a group of soldiers running through a corridor. I figured that they had probably seen me, so I went back into the room, hoping to create a bottleneck with the door where I could pick them off, one by one. Instead, they did the same thing to me, taking up a defensive position in a nearby room, one that I had to go through to continue. I crouched down and moved towards their position as quietly as possible, taking cover behind a pillar. They werenít as quiet as I was. The soldiers were chattering back and forth with each other, preparing to ambush me, and because of their conversations, I was able to pin-point all of their locations in the room without even looking at it. I lobbed a grenade into the room to get their attention and shut them up, and upon sight of it, every one of them took cover behind tables and lab stations. I then equipped my assault rifle, picking off the nearest enemies.

As I was firing, one of them tried to flank me through a window that was blasted out by my grenade. One of his friends also decided that he would go for a flanking maneuver through the other window, but now I had my back to him, so he pelted me with a few shots from behind. My first assault rifle was in need of a reload that I didnít have time for, so I switched to another assault rifle and put him down, albeit with lower health and dented armor. The remaining two soldiers took up better positions in the rear of the room, with one of them turning over a table to create a defensive position where one previously didnít exist. I lobbed a grenade at the enemy behind a table and took him down, but I was out of grenades at that point. Try as I might to pick off the last enemy off with my assault rifle, I couldnít hit him through the high lab station he was hiding behind, so I pulled out my shotgun and ran right in at him, removing one of his arms with a shower of buckshot.

That one battle only lasted two minutes, but was just one in a series of intense and memorable moments while playing F.E.A.R. I had to use nearly every weapon in my arsenal (you can only carry three at a time), including my grenades. It gave me enough of a battle high that it put me in a heightened state of alert, making me feel tense as I walked through the halls, expecting to be ambushed at any moment. That battle made me forget all about being scared, and around almost the very next corner, I was quite surprised to be bombarded by a slow-motion scene where a ghostly little girl dressed in all black was controlling fire and using it to burn down the room we were both in. I didnít shoot at her. I ran for the door I came through hoping to get the hell away from her, not because I thought the fire was going to kill me, but because I was generally scared.

Itís moments like these that really make you glad that you purchased this game. Sure, some of the level design isnít perfect and the placement of things like medkits and grenades can feel unbalanced (sometimes, youíll be stocked with almost ten health kits and full of grenades, then youíll go half an hour with only two medkits and no grenades), but the few scattered minutes of fear and battle will make you forget all about those flaws. The incredible graphics really help deliver this game in itís fully glory, and while I certainly canít run the game at the highest settings, the game was optimized almost perfectly and I only saw a few momentary drops in framerate. Youíre basically allowed to alter any setting, from the amount of random objects that appear in the environments to how realistic the physics respond. This really allows you to make the experience run as perfectly as possible.

The last few levels of F.E.A.R reminded me a lot of the closing sequences of Deus Ex. I wonít spoil it for you, but this is definitely a good thing. F.E.A.R is one of those games that stands out, like Deus Ex and Half-Life 2 stood out when they were released. It combines the best scare tactics that any game has utilized to date with a near-perfect FPS experience. F.E.A.R is a must-own, a must-play, a must-have or whatever generic must-ďwordĒ or must-ďphraseĒ that you might find plastered on a game box. From start to finish, this is a tight experience that will challenge and entertain you unlike any other FPS.

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Featured community review by asherdeus (June 28, 2006)

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