Review: F.E.A.R. – Monolith Productions – PC

This is a game I originally got years ago (with it’s two expansions) at some EB Games sale, and then found that it barely ran on my PC at the time. Over the years it just sat in the shelf, as most of my PC-gaming time was eaten up by either Battlefield-series games or World of Warcraft or other shooters or… well, you get the idea.

About a year ago, I picked it up (again, with both expansions) via Steam Sale, since I would sometimes do that to divest myself of needing to find CDs and possibly hacked no-CD exes for games I’d bought and not want to muck about with discs.

So recently, I actually started playing it.

Prepare to be scared. Maybe.

Back in the day, FEAR had a bit of a rep as a damned scary and graphically intense game. Since I played it in 2011, I’m looking at it through modern eyes.

Graphically, it obviously doesn’t stand up to more modern fare. The details are still good, but the environments in the levels all have a bit of an overly-squared and clinical look to them. The enemy models are still quite decent, as are the flying robots and the couple of supernatural foes you encounter. It does support widescreen and modern resolutions, which is a plus.

The environments are a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are tons of offices, a tenement, some warehouses and an underground super-facility, each level set in one of it’s own type feels very samey – and the overall effect is of hours of walking through incredibly-similar environments with little variation or interesting variations. The levels are all pretty much standard-shooter fare, right down to red and yellow exploding barrels set at (in)convenient, (un)realistic spaces inside research facilities and everywhere else.

The levels also feel padded out when there are large expanses without any enemies, which just leaves you with running through office spaces for 3-5 minutes at a time on occasion to get to the next bit of shooting game. Steam says I played for 16 hours. While I played on either Easy or Normal (I don’t recall), it definitely felt padded. While I’m not exactly a fan of the way that shooters and games are moving towards 5-hour campaigns, I’d rather play a lovingly-constructed 8-hour campaign than a padded and tedious 16-hour campaign.

The game isn’t all tedium of course. The generic-shooter aspect is broken up occasionally by bits of “atmospheric creepiness”, which can be good, but can also just be okay. The issue is that with the long playing time, what is initially creepy and atmospheric (light and shadow, effective sound design, pop-up creepiness) eventually just becomes “stuff” that you need to get through before you kill some more clones who swear a lot. This is pretty much another example of how a shorter more focussed campaign would have resulted in a better game. The “horror” aspect of it also feels detached from the shooter experience, making the overall game feel a little disjointed as you go into another “horror” sequence where you know you pretty much just have to wait 3 minutes with little control, or move slowly through the blurry screen and simply avoid standing in fire before getting back to the actual game.

The Howwor, the Howwor!

The story (such as it is) is alright, but very simple. The game over-uses the meme of “audio logs” by leaving phones all over the place with answering machine messages, which range from the banal to the stupidly unrealistic, where the evil criminal masterminds leave in-depth messages to one another on answering machines in unattended offices.

There are a few different weapons, though you can only carry 3 at a time, so you’ll have to make a selection of your favourites. The selection is the usual fare – pistol, pump-shotgun, assault rifle (with no scope), scoped rifle (with 3-round bursts), rocket launcher. There’s also a kind of scoped electric railgun and an autocannon thing. All are fictitious weapons, so for those of you who appreciate using real-world weapons, no luck here, I’m afraid. The weapon models look a little weedy when carried, and lack a real punch when you fire them, but they do their job. More annoying is that while right-clicking is the “aim” toggle, it just zooms you in slightly – no aiming down the (iron) sights.

As an older shooter, it features mechanics from the older age of PC-shooters. While you do get a separate button for throwing grenades, you have a limited health bar, and also an armour bar. You can carry up to 10 health packs, which you chug down with the press of a button. Since the game uses this older mechanic (as opposed to the current trend of regenerating health) I found myself doing what I always used to do, which is backtracking constantly to pick up health kits I left behind earlier.

The game’s point of definition from other games is that the protagonist, aka “Pointman” can enter “bullet-time” (or “reflex time” as FEAR calls it) with the click of your middle mouse button. This slows down time so you can get the drop on the bad guys, etc. It’s pretty similar to what we had in Max Payne and every other “bullet-time” game out there, and as in the other games, it can be a bit of decent fun. Pickups scattered around the levels can increase the size of your health bar and also the amount of “bullet-time” you get to use before needing to step around the corner afk for a minute to recharge. You also have a flashlight that can only be on for about 90 seconds at a time, then takes 10 seconds to recharge. Exactly like a real flashlight, then.

Bulle-.. I mean Reflex Time!

In the end though, despite the horror trappings, FEAR is a shooter. Playing it on the PC, there are no major issues mechanically, but it’s pretty unremarkable, aside from “bullet-time”. FEAR is one of those games that I think was great for it’s time, but it’s time has now passed, and it’s just not anything special anymore. Having played this now, the main feeling I have is that I wish I played it 4 years or so ago, when I may have first gotten a PC that could run it properly.

If it were about 8 hours shorter and more focused, I’d advise it as Steam sale fodder. Ultimately, unless you’re a big fan of FEAR 2 (or eventually, 3) and want to see where the franchise started, I can’t really recommend it.

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Verdict: Skip it.

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