SlowGamer: F.E.A.R.

How slow? Well, I got F.E.A.R. for Christmas, and I played it for the first time last night. So, that slow.

I’m sure I’m not alone – I love games, but I’m short of time, especially the hour or two it takes to get into, or make serious progress with, a big console game. I have a stack of titles I’ve been stuck on, or never really got started with, for years. Consider these reviews from the perspective of someone without the luxury of playing the game for two solid days before review, someone who (like most adult gamers, I suspect) hasn’t got the free time for middling titles that take four hours play to get into.

Anyway, F.E.A.R.* After giving up on getting anything useful done with the day, and with everyone else having gone to bed, I finally managed to get some time to settle down with the game. Having located some ancient earphones so I wouldn’t wake anyone else up (So ancient that when I took them off an hour later, withered rubber had come off them and attached itself to my ears. Dignified.), and replaced the batteries in the 360 remote controller, I sat down for the first couple of missions.

F.E.A.R. is an interesting beast. Released in 2005 for PC and later on 360 and PS3, it’s a first person shooter with J-horror overtones. You’re part of the titular First Encounter Assault Recon team (no, really), tasked with tracking down a rogue psychic military experiment and his clone army (no, really really). You’re haunted by flashbacks, and keep getting glimpses of a weird little girl with long black hair. Well, they’ve certainly got the barking plot logic of a Japanese horror movie down pat, if nothing else.

The game is designed to build suspense over the first mission, which involves wandering around a deserted building, being gradually freaked out as rats run around the floor, knocking around cans in nearby rooms. It’s a reasonably effective way of raising the tension, but a little odd – in the whole first level, the only thing you get to shoot is planks which are blocking your way. (This is in itself a bit daft – shouldn’t a melee attack have sufficed for removing rotting wood, rather than blasting it with automatic rounds? Isn’t firing off rounds to remove wood likely to draw attention to your incursion?)

There are a couple of nice creepy moments, and the splashy visions/flashbacks you keep getting hit by are very well done, but it really is very, very low key. When something eventually happens, you’re quickly knocked out of the action, and by the time you recover it’s time to move on to the next thing, a series of dockside warehouses where you finally get to do some shooting, facing off against body-armoured clones. The gunplay is fairly strategic, enemies ducking and weaving and causing serious damage if you wade in all-guns-blazing like a clumsy great twat (perhaps unsurprisingly, I found my health frequently depleted).

F.E.A.R. is a polished contemporary shooter with some clever ideas, which builds tension and encourages intelligence. However, it has a tendency to feel a little on-rails at times, and has a few too many weird barriers in place. For example, at some points in the game your movement is limited, and/or your weapon is withheld, leaving you to move your head around while other characters run through their dialogue. There’s no plot or environmental reason for this – it’s just for the convenience of allowing a pre-programmed sequence to run through. In which case why not make it a cutscene rather than giving the player a shoddy, stunted level of half-interaction? Equally, the open environments are full of screamingly obvious ways of directing the player – some doors can be opened, others are just painted on to the walls and your character doesn’t even acknowledge that they’re supposed to be doors. Elsewhere, some planks can be shot out, whereas equally skimpy fences have to be circumvented some other way.

Now, I wouldn’t usually complain about these kinds of things – the Resident Evil games are full of hand-holding nonsense like that, and I love them. Unfortunately, the last FPS I played was Bioshock, and it’s kind of spoiled me for lesser shooters. For all the complaints that the player had limited autonomy in Rapture, Bioshock made great strides in convincing you that you were making choices, and when those choices were taken away from you there was a point. The flashforwards, the growing awareness that your character is a pawn at a villain’s disposal… these are all things that Bioshock does better, unfortunately putting F.E.A.R. a tad in the shade.

Which is all terribly unfair – F.E.A.R. came out in 2005, Bioshock in 2007, and they’re very different games. It’s unfair to compare the former to a more recent game that it preceded by two-years, especially when it’s trying to do different things. F.E.A.R. is a good, interesting FPS and I’ll definitely go back to it. But it’s clearly been superseded in the time since its release.

Mark

*
Should there be a second full stop when putting that at the end of a sentence? Discuss.

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March 9, 2008. Tags: , . Uncategorized.

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