F.E.A.R. (Video Game - Xbox 360)
Available on Xbox 360
Distributed by Vivendi Games
Imagine, if you will, racing through a dark corridor armed with an automatic weapon and running dangerously low on ammo. Enemies are everywhere. Jumping through windows, firing at you from behind doors. You're running for your life, when all of a sudden it becomes clear that your living enemies aren't the only things you have to worry about. Blood fills the screen, oozing up the walls and across the ceiling. And there she is. The ghostly visage of a little girl starring at you from the end of a long hallway. More blood starts to flow. Including your own. That's the type of experience that gamers were treated to when F.E.A.R. hit PC's last year. There was a time when porting a game of this size to a home console would have been unthinkable. Times have changed. The Xbox 360 is a powerhouse of a machine, and F.E.A.R. fits it like a blood stained glove.
For those unfamiliar with the ghoulish goings on, let's give a little story recap.
You are a member of F.E.A.R. -- First Encounter Assault Recon, and your mission is to stop psychic madman, Paxton Fettel. Stop him from what you ask? Paxton has been a busy guy. In fact, he's taken up a couple of hobbies. The first being building an army of killer clones, the second -- eating people. It is quite clear that Mr. Fettel is bat-shit insane. What we have here folks is a character that is part Hannibal Lecter and part Darth Sidious. As if dealing with him and his clones wasn't bad enough, there's also a third player in this deadly game -- the spectre of a little girl named Alma. This evil little bitch haunts you like white on rice throughout the experience and will produce lots of chills for the first time F.E.A.R. gamer. To tell you any more about the story would be ruining it for you. Watching this tale unfold is half the fun. So instead, let's talk about how this beast plays.
Playing F.E.A.R. is akin to drinking a case of Red Bull and then being thrown into a haunted house while armed with heavy firepower. There's just nothing like it. You want atmosphere? Look no further. The mostly ambient sound effects will do a great job of dismantling your senses, but the quiet time will also chill you to the bone. Silence has never been louder. Most of the time your only company on this journey will be the sound of your own footsteps as you traverse the twisted blood stained corridors searching for the man behind all of this carnage. Frequently you'll find yourself knocking little things like cans off of a shelf only to turn around guns blazing unnerved by the sound of said object hitting the floor. Yep, things are that tense and you'll need them to be too. You have to stay sharp because around any corner at any given moment you could run into a room full of clones that will do their very best to tear you to shreds via hot lead and shrapnel.
One of the things which stands out most about F.E.A.R. is the game's AI. Enemies do not just hang out and let you shoot them. These fuckers are smarter than that. They will duck, dodge, cover, knock down objects to hide behind, flank you from every conceivable position, and even run as necessary. The in-game characters are fighting for their lives and playing for keeps. Luckily you have a trick of your own to help you make it through -- slow-mo.
At the touch of a button you can slow down everything around you while your character is still able to move about at a normal speed. Words cannot describe how handy this is. There were plenty of times I was trapped with what can only be described as too much going on. The slow mo enabled me to get out of some seriously tight spots. Not only that, it's kind of a really cool optical effect as well. Everything around you appears as if it were under a shimmering pool of water with every movement causing a ripple.
The eye candy doesn't stop there either. The lighting effects in F.E.A.R. are some of the most top notch I have ever seen. Lights sway as you pass them, fires burn, and everything casts an independent shadow all its own. If that wasn't enough, every explosion causes smoke, sparks, and debris to fill the air around you thus changing the way everything looks. Combined, these effects add to the games realism tenfold and serve as a tool to heavily immerse you into this lurid little nightmare world.
Then there's the red stuff. The events in F.E.A.R. have a tendency to get quite messy. Your in-game enemies react to being shot in different parts of their bodies just as a real life person would. The best part? Depending on where you shoot them, the walls and floors are decorated with gore accordingly as it sprays and splatters in every direction. The bottom line is that if you can see it, it can be covered in blood. The sadist in you will take great pleasure in painting the screen red. It's like an art form! "Hm... What that wall needs is a bit more brain matter. --five high powered head shots later-- Ah! PERFECT!" That's what I'm talking about!
I know what your next question is -- Being that technically this game is about a year old, are we getting any exclusive content which wasn't in the PC release? The answer is yes. There are three new multiplayer maps, and in the single player game there's an exclusive bonus mission that let's you play as a different character. Other than that the game itself is identical to its PC predessessor.
Well, there is just one other little thing. One small thing that ends up making a big difference in F.E.A.R.'s game play -- the save system.
In the PC version a player could save anywhere at any time. Here, you're at the mercy of auto-saving at specific checkpoints. I cannot help but scratch my head and wonder why. There was no reason to change this. Another bad thing about auto-saving is that these checkpoints kind of act as spoilers. Almost every time that you see the word "saving" onscreen, a full blown fire fight is usually right around the corner. You may not notice this at first, but after playing for a while it becomes dreadfully apparent. This is the one misfire of this port which will hopefully be corrected in the game's sequel.
Since I'm thinkin' next installment here, another thing that should be included in the sequel is an online co-op option. Make no mistake, playing F.E.A.R. alone is big fun, but being able to go through the storyline with a friend would have made for some serious thrills, if only to hear them squeal like a little girl (or maybe you'll be the one doing the squealing?)every time some spooky shit is encountered. As is, multiplayer boils down to your standard death matches, team death matches, and of course, capture the flag. There are good times to be had over Xbox Live, but nothing to really write home about.
F.E.A.R. is pure uncut digital adrenaline mixed with genuine scares, and gobs of grue. If you're a first person shooter fan, and looking for something to tide you over while waiting for Halo 3, it doesn't get much better than this. Turn down the lights, and turn up the sound. Alma has such sights to show you.
4 1/2 out of 5