Reviews From The Backroom: F.E.A.R.
The First Person Shooter genre of games is a very versatile genre indeed. When you look across the wide spectrum of games that have fallen into this particular play-style, you see games ranging from the deep, strategizing style of games like Bioshock, Deus Ex, and System Shock; to games that feature raw, raging fun-fests like Painkiller, Quake 3, and DOOM. Even the Dear Ethel Mod for Half-Life 2 has shown that just putting a person in the perspective of a character wandering around a game world is a wonderful way to simply tell a (very visual) story. Yes, FPS's can do just about anything.
So why are there still FPS's that do damn near nothing at all?
With this question, I present to you F.E.A.R., or "First Encounter Assault Recon" to those of you with grand typing fortitude. The story for F.E.A.R. kick-starts with an opening cut-scene which shows the main driving character, Paxton Fettel, being told to "Kill them all" by an 8-year-old apparition, who's kind enough to open the door to his holding cell. It is explained through a following mission briefing to the player that Fettel has mind-control over a group of *sigh* "Genetically Engineered Super Soldiers" roughly 1000 strong, and is quietly rampaging them across "the city". Your job is to kill Fettel.
From the get-go, this story is so bland and over-used that I wanted to vomit. Secret government cover-ups, super-soldiers; all of this has been done before in just about every bottom-shelf shooter you could possibly care to find. The REAL problem with this is that it has actually been handled much better in those same cardboard cut-out remakes.
You see, while a story can be bland or over-used, the game itself can actually prove to later be worth the time invested in playing it. For instance, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has an over-used theme to it right out of the gate as well: You are betrayed, and must figure out who betrayed you. This is a theme we've seen repeatedly in games, movies, books, you name it. However, GTA:VC gets past that by being an expansive, imaginative game with multiple twists and game-play elements. F.E.A.R., on the other hand, does nothing.
Game-play in F.E.A.R. is, by far, its biggest failing. At the time of release, F.E.A.R. could have been just about anything Sierra wanted it to be. The technology was capable, the game engine was moldable, everything was going in its favor. Unfortunately, most of the game consists of: Running around in an industrial area. Running around an office building. Running around an ABANDONED industrial area. While there are a few short sections that take place in secret laboratories or across large roof-tops (which end up being the most exciting parts of the game), most of the players time will be spent looking at hallways, more hallways, and slightly different colored hallways.
In an effort to offset this, the player is interrupted from time to time with a "Horror" segment. This usually consists of walking down a hallway, standing in a room and shooting things, or trying to find the little girl through a Blur filter. While they are respectable in the way that they are visually presented, the horror element falls clean through. Most of the "scary" bits just consist of jump scares, and the overall feeling of these segments is usually presented in such stark contrast to the normal sections that the feeling of dread or horror is completely shattered.
The most wasted part of the game-play, though, is the combat. What makes this MOST unfortunate is that F.E.A.R. has no other game-play elements besides the combat. When the player is asked to go kill stuff, the enemy is always presented in the same manner, simply sitting around in small groups waiting for something with a gun to come blow them apart. Not only that, the enemies throughout the entire game are purely copy-pasted the entire way through. While there are some minor cosmetic changes to the enemies, they consist mainly of regular dudes, sometimes with a larger dude thrown in the mix. On occasion, the game will get a mean feeling on and throw a dude in a mech suit at you, but it only covers up the fact that the enemy has absolutely no variety to speak of.
When it comes to play style, you'd better be ready to make absolutely no changes to your strategy from beginning to end. While the A.I. was touted to be some of the best ever seen in a game, it's only mildly good. After a while of playing, the patterns in enemy A.I. become crystal clear, and any hint of difficulty that the enemy fake-outs and flanking presented disappear. And if the combat wasn't easy enough, they went ahead and threw bullet-time into the mix, just to make sure you got to see all of the pretty lighting and particle effects.
The worst part of all of this is the fact that, while the entire first %90 of F.E.A.R. is all bland and same-y, the last 30 minutes is actually really, really good stuff. We start to see our first puzzles, the environment is an absolute sight to behold, and the horror section in the last part of the game is actually really harrowing. To top it all off, the ending is capped with an enormous, beautifully presented nuclear holocaust, only for the ending cinematic to close everything out in a massive cliche.
F.E.A.R. had too much going for it to end up the way it did. It had the visual appeal; the story was, despite being cliche'd, really well set up; and the combat, while lacking innovation, was decent. But, when you throw all of the same-y environments and enemies into the mix, what could've been a great FPS title turns into a beautiful yet repetitive "blah" shooter. I never thought an FPS title could turn out to be a button-masher, but I was wrong.
If this sounds like what you really want out of a game, go for it. I recommend you save your pennies, though.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!