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F.E.A.R: First Encounter Assault Recon (Xbox 360) artwork

F.E.A.R: First Encounter Assault Recon (Xbox 360) review

"With first person shooters becoming a staple of gaming on nearly all platforms, itís becoming harder and harder to find the quality titles. However, behind the customary Haloís and Metroidís, one stands tall; it stands as a groundbreaking mix of atmosphere, gunplay, and exploration. That title is F.E.A.R. "

With first person shooters becoming a staple of gaming on nearly all platforms, itís becoming harder and harder to find the quality titles. However, behind the customary Haloís and Metroidís, one stands tall; it stands as a groundbreaking mix of atmosphere, gunplay, and exploration. That title is F.E.A.R.

Right from the beginning itís evident that the game is tight. The controls are fluid (very similar to Halo), and the environments are packed with enough punch to put you on alert. The story (or what you can make of it) presents many sinuous twists, and itís up to you to envelop yourself in its nuances. It seems, however, that the developers purposely tried to blur the perception of the story and keep you guessing at all times. I know I was.

Essentially, your main objective is to eradicate a one Paxton Fettel, a mysterious man that seems to be doing some sinister things of which Iíll keep secret. But rest assured that while the story is convoluted, itís nothing that will bore you.

Youíll find yourself storming bases, warehouses, and numerous other facilities. The environments are all set in normal locales, but the content is anything but normal. While the firefights are easily the highlight of the game (more on that later), itís not short of thrills in the form of hallucinations and downright macabre displays of horror. Rather than opting for the Resident Evil kind of scare, Monolith pushes for a gradual and building scare. It doesnít sound like falling into a pool of red blood and searching for your way out is much of a scare. But itís after the culmination of multiple freaky occurrences that you genuinely find yourself apprehensive of whatís around the next corner. Rarely does a game make me wince when exploring the next nook or cranny, but F.E.A.R. achieved the feat more times than Iíd like to name. Simply put, atmospheric perfection exists in spades, and the gameís overall feel benefits greatly from it.

Once you begin your lead-pumping expedition, the thrills never cease to spring on you. F.E.A.R.ís gunplay is some of the most dynamic and fervent youíll find in any shooter, period. With the inclusion of the often-used, but rarely-perfected bullet time effects (slow motion, warped time), the pace is slowed down a little, but the quality ramps up. Hats off to the developers for seamlessly integrating the ability and making it so damn fun. To be quite precise, you better get used to it. Rarely will you be able to rampage into a room with guns blazing, and still walk out unscathed. It takes effective and methodic use of bullet time to dispose of the admittedly smart enemies, and when used right, a plethora of devastated baddies lie in your wake.

With bullet time pickups (which string out the amount of it you can use) and health extenders littered throughout the environment, itís never a bad thing to take more than one path through a level. Often times, crucial health and armor pickups are found throughout the non-linear adventure, and it does you good to go out of your way for themÖbecause the AI is relentless. Gone are the days of enemies surging forward, allowing you to make their bodies a veritable bullet sponge. These guys team up in numbers, duck and cover, flank, and even take turns laying down suppressive fire. Itís a persistent cycle, but it creates loads of tension, enjoyment, and gore.

When you actually enter bullet time, the screen blurs and some amazing spars take place. What ensues is simply visual bliss. Shrapnel and bullets whiz by with a breathtaking clarity and a sense of raw power accompanies it. In the most basic sense, bullet time is sweet. Without it, the game would be stripped of its quality. Not only do you need it to advance in the game, but you need it to add that zestful flair. Itís essential.

But the game doesnít fail to shine graphically when out of bullet time, either. While the places youíll be traversing are nothing spectacular by themselves, itís the graphical technicalities that really set it apart. Whether itís a half burnt-out light bulb that sets the tentative mood, or the eerily cryptic shadowing and darkness, the graphics do an admirable job of putting you on the edge of your seat and simply immersing you. F.E.A.R. is all about immersion. And once you pick up the controller to embark on the campaign, youíre hooked. No way around it.

The dark and mysterious visuals arenít the only thing adding to the sensation, however. Even the sound effects are superbly utilized. Complex orchestras arenít used to pull you in, but rather well-placed tinges and noises. You can hear distant enemies plotting out your demise in weird and robotic voices. You can hear the small subtleties as well, like a bottle dropping on the floor. This level of detail is achieved through the gameís one inherent draw-in: silence. While the occasional song or beat will ramp up the tension, itís normally you and what you cause to happen. Jumping about the environment and splashing the contents of desks, tables and drawers on the floor make it seem more like itís you against the onslaught of evil-doers. Every little drop of sound slightly touches your nerves and adds yet another aspect of creepiness to F.E.A.R. Itís that good.

Single player aside, F.E.A.R. does boast a surprisingly competent multiplayer mode as well. With full-on Xbox Live support and a nice array of modes, the action is frenzied and entertaining. As would be expected, bullet time is not used in multiplayer (imagine the difficulty) and rightfully so. As a whole, the multiplayer is a wonderful diversion from the campaign, and acts as a quality attraction in its own right. Itís like a wonderfully placed cherry on top of an already-stellar sundae. Anyone that enjoys shooters would be daft to pass this one up.

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Community review by Linkamoto (March 30, 2007)

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