F.E.A.R. - First Encounter Assault Recon is a game by Monolith*, the people who made Blood, NOLF2: A Spy in H.A.R.M's Way and Contract J.A.C.K.. And yet somehow even after names like that, I honestly still can't believe that 'F.E.A.R.' was their first choice for the title.
*Not to be confused with Japanese developer Monolith Soft who made Baiten Kaitos, Xenosaga, Xenoblade and many other games with an X in their name.
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But the creepy little girl from the game box art has other plans for the man and she unlocks the door for him.
"Kill them." she whispers. "Kill them all."
The man screams in response, apparently in pain. I suppose he must have been sitting on his legs for too long.
Anyway, with his new army at his command the prisoner has no trouble taking out his guards and then starts to chow down on their corpses.
It turns out that the narcoleptic troops are actually an army of clones grown for a government contract who respond to a psychic commander, in this case Fettel. Oh and plus there's a thousand of them, all stored within Fettel's telepathic range it seems.
Lieutenant Jankowski (on the left) takes this opportunity to whine about the fact this is exactly the reason that no one takes F.E.A.R. seriously. No one can discuss things like telepathic clone supersoldiers and still keep a straight face. Kind of makes you wonder why anyone would build a horror game around the concept really.
He also whines when he learns that I'm getting sent on the mission to stop Fettel too, as I only just joined the team a week ago. The commander explains to him that I have super human reflexes and therefore I'm going and he can shut up and deal with it.
It's funny how the developers deliberately avoid giving the hero a name, a face or a voice so that he becomes whoever is playing the game. But then they immediately undermine that by giving him a backstory.
Also he's called Rowdy Betters. Probably for the best that our hero Point Man hasn't been given a name, as anything these guys would've thought up for him would've probably made his school years hell.
(If anyone reading this is actually called Paxton Fettel or Rowdy Betters then I apologise for my hurtful and nameist comments.)
My character actually exists in the world, I'm not just a camera and a floating gun! 1.5 million bonus points to F.E.A.R. (although I have to subtract 1.2 million points because c'mon, who calls their villain Paxton Fettel? Seriously?)
The thing turned out to be a health injector, which gave me a tiny 5 point HP boost when I picked it up. Permanently. Every one of these things is basically a level up for my character so it would benefit me greatly to hunt them down in all the dark and secret places in which they nest.
It's a great idea to encourage a player to explore his surroundings, but I can't help but think that I've just been duped into crawling around every dirty storeroom in the place just to make sure I don't miss out on ultra important upgrades.
Thanks for that near subliminal flash right in the middle of my jumping tutorial! Oh wait I get it now, jump scare in a jumping section, very funny.
I guess I'll get back to searching these abandoned grey hallways for then.
Fortunately I snapped out of my hallucination without making an idiot of myself (the benefit of being a silent protagonist is that I can't yell "Oh no, Jankowski's exploded into ash and now I'm totally tripping balls!" into my radio) and now I'm heading to the roof to catch Fettel on his way out.
Superhuman reflexes, my ass. I awoke soon after to find Fettel hovering over me with blood dripping from his mouth. Fortunately though the blood's all from the other bloke; Fettel just wanted me to sit down for a second so he could chat about memories again.
"The dead man's name was Charles Habegger. I remember him. But are the memories mine... or hers? It makes no difference, he deserved to die. They all deserve to die."I guess I don't deserve to die though, as he leaves me alone after that. Well that's a weight off my mind at least.
I'm sure they don't mean they've located all the soldiers there, just enough to fill a couple of first person shooter levels perhaps, as somehow I doubt it wouldn't have taken our elite paranormal investigation outfit this long to notice a thousand soldiers marching through the streets. At least I hope not.
A QUICK JUMP OUT OF A HELICOPTER LATER.
"Since you're on point see if you can get this gate open. I'd send one of my boys, but I think we need a specialist for this one."Damn!
Well that was a waste of ammo. I guess I'll just go find that gate switch then shall I? Hold on I'll be right back.
Though, uh, I think the freighter Oratnek 12 may have its name on backwards.
I drop the clone with a single burst of submachine gun fire to the head, but his friends outside are on to me, and quickly move to take me down while utilising cover and staying out of sight. This looks like it's going to turn into a tense game of hide and seek between the boxes.
Personally I'm just glad to be playing as someone with a corporeal form for once to be honest. Point Man even noticeably stomps around the level as he walks instead of gliding around.
Incidentally it seems that the guns are modified versions of real weapons with made up names, so I'm no danger of ever picking up a weapon I actually recognise. Still, they look pretty convincing.
A SHORT WALK LATER.
So let's get this over with so I can get back to shooting blokes, okay?
'Be sure to use MedKits when being burned alive by a psychic ghost', yeah thanks for the hint there. It turns out that the actual solution here is to run away from the explosion, which seems sensible enough to me. Though I still got lightly toasted and thrown out through a window from the blast.
Man look at all those hexagons. That's a dead give-away that the game's meant to be set in the near future.
Jin Sun-Kwon is the fourth member of my team, a combat medic and forensics expert with what seems like a perfectly sensible name for once. Though weren't Jin and Sun Kwon characters in Lost?
I also appreciate how they always give me time to relax a little in between combat rooms. I guess I'm supposed to be creeping around expecting an ambush at any time and being freaked out when stuff falls off shelves by itself, but the soldiers tend to announce their presence with their radios, Half-Life 2 style, so I always know when they're getting close.
Just one of these guys alone would be a threat to me, but they're a reasonable threat. They don't instantly know where I am and open fire the second I enter the room with unerring accuracy, they have the decency to flinch when bullets hit them, and all the time they spend darting between boxes is time they're not using to gun me down. But they're not inept and if I start getting complacent they quickly punish me for it.
Half-Life than to Call of Duty on the chart of first person shooters.
Oh I didn't even mention that the game has (player activated) health kits instead of regenerating health, giving me another reason to keep my eyes open while I'm walking around. Though it does have iron sights... well, sort of. Point Man never bothers raising his gun to eye level, but the game has has an aim mode that tightens the crosshairs and slows down his movement, so it's basically the same thing.
Also I must announce with a heavy heart that he can only carry three weapons at once, meaning that I had to drop my pistols to take the shotgun. It's a bloody tragedy is what it is.
A FEW CORRIDORS AND A FISTFUL OF BULLETS LATER.
"You can adjust game difficulty at any time in the Game options menu." it helpfully points out, but I'm not quite ready to put the training wheels back on just yet. I'm only playing on medium difficulty, it's not like I'm really trying to push myself here. Fortunately I saved not long ago (and the game has checkpoints even if I hadn't) so I don't have to replay much.
I'm just not used to fighting enemies who can survive a few surprise rounds to the face and then inflict the hurt right back at me I guess. I need a new strategy here, probably involving my underused grenade key.
SEVERAL DEATHS LATER.
He's not coming through the door is he? Crap, have I finally found a first person shooter where the enemies aren't dumb enough to fall for my obvious doorway ambush? I'm going to have to go back in there and fight him properly aren't I?
Well at least I can pick the proximity mines back up, so they won't go to waste.
LATER, AFTER I EVENTUALLY TRIUMPHED.
1. It nails enemies right to the wall.
2. I can tell right away when I've managed to get a perfect headshot and yet it somehow hasn't one-shot killed the guy. I can finally present hard evidence to back up my whining.
Also check out that real-time reflection of the flame jet in the water. Yeah I know the game came out eight years ago and this is all ancient tech; I spend my time playing games from the 90s so things like this still impress the hell out of me.
Still, at least it was a good shot.
Well the girl with the bloody footprints seemed to think that walking over to the fire was a smart move, so I'll go with that plan.
AND SO I ESCAPED TO REALITY ONCE AGAIN. BUT THEN...
Of course Paxton Fettel's American-made telepathically-commanded clone supersoldiers have their own Russian helicopter gunship, why not? Well I've got a sniper rifle now so I don't even care; just as long as I don't have to fight that thing directly I can snipe these guys off the ropes all night.
Shoulder pad-man is back again and he's brought some friends to flank me while I panic and fire off the last of my spikes everywhere but where I need them to go. Man, why does he have to turn up every time I'm feeling smug? He's ruining my whole power trip.
Fortunately I have a plan: I'm going to shoot them until they fall down. I'll work out the details as I go.
ANOTHER IMPLAUSIBLY LUCK VICTORY LATER.
So I'm catching a lift with some more Delta Force guys and chasing Paxton back to Armacham HQ, the place he broke out of in the intro.
This is would be a really good spot to stop playing I reckon, but I've seen nothing but rundown warehouses and waste treatment plants all game so I'd like to visit at least one place in the game without rats in it before I turn it off. Don't worry I'll be done with it soon, I promise.
Hang on, is that the Predator creeping up on me with his cloaking field on? Or Metal Gear Solid's Cyborg Ninja perhaps?
Please don't think I'm getting at him because of his weight, he's just a really exaggerated stereotype with an utterly unlikeable personality and he's completely out of place in this game. And not just because he somehow isn't dead yet. In fact I think this is an omen, that I should be turning this off now.
Well I've definitely liked F.E.A.R. so far, but I'm finding it a hard game to really love. It kind of reminds me of Metal Gear Solid in how it takes a batshit insane setup and goofy characters but treats them with absolute sincerity, but it's missing that game's charm. They've given me no reason to care about anyone, especially not Point Man, and so far all the plots twists have amounted to 'Paxton was here, but now he's gone!'
The gameplay on the other hand is very solid, but it kind of sabotages itself by trying to keep the horror theme going in the action scenes. Here I am single handedly clearing out roomfuls of supersoldiers in slow motion with flying kicks and dual pistols, and the music's still trying to put me on edge. And this isn't like Doom 3, I'm not reacting to horrors bursting out out of cupboards, I'm chasing squads of enemies around and that has a very different feeling to it that conflicts with the atmosphere the soundtrack is trying to create. All the hallucinations are safely isolated from the combat to make sure that I don't accidentally shoot at my imaginary friends in the middle of a firefight, so it's not like anything scary's going to happen mid-fight.
In conclusion: I loved the graphics, I thought the gameplay was cool, but I couldn't get into the story at all.
If you'd like to leave a comment about that wall of words you just scaled, then go ahead. I'm always eager for feedback.