Home Reviews First Person Perspective Games F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon
F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Starfox   
Wednesday, 01 February 2006 18:00

Developer: Monolith
Publisher: Sierra
Link to the Demo (662 Mb)
Official Site

ESRB Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)

Note: The version of F.E.A.R. used for this review was 1.03

First Encounter Assault Recon. Wow, what a name. But that was probably the only option to obtain an awesome acronym and still manage to get something connected to the military yet not dumb. So what is F.E.A.R anyway? Well, it appears to be a commando of paramilitary type forces, something like the S.W.A.T but trained to fight against paranormal activities. It's kind of their leitmotiv: "you're in F.E.A.R. now so prepare to be afraid!".

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

The character you incarnate in the game is new to F.E.A.R. but has had some extensive training as a commando type of guy. He also possesses one unique ability: he thinks really fast (for short periods of time). Contrary to what the game developers say I wouldn't tell that he moves very fast but more on that later (because this is one point in the game that bothers me). The story begins as you've just been incorporated into F.E.A.R. (typing these periods everywhere starts to drive me crazy... oh, uhm, anyway...). Unfortunately for you, there's no time to celebrate since a crisis is evolving. A guy named Paxton Fettel just escaped from his prison with the help of his own private army that you know under the name of Replica forces that he controls telepathically. By The way, these guys will be your main opponents during the game with some variations, from poorly armed and protected to walking mini-tanks.

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

Paxton Fettel has a curious habit. He loves to kill people... and to eat them afterward, occasionally. This fact aside, little is known about him (the government obviously know more but they decide to treat you on a "need to know" basis). Because of your unique ability, the big heads decide to send you on the field without any further training to take care of Fettel. The only thing I can tell you about your character is that he seems to be utterly important not only for F.E.A.R. but also for Fettel because the first time you meet him early in the game (the very first mission), he gives a huge swing with a plank right onto your head but leaves you alive afterward like if you represented something necessary for him in his plans. Following the orders of the F.E.A.R. mission commander, your job will be to disrupt Fettel's activities but also to learn why he acts like if he had some sort of connection with you.

Prepare to fear what you see, or don't see

Without a doubt, the atmosphere in F.E.A.R. is pretty good. In some places it reminds me of System Shock 2 which is still the best game in my opinion when it comes to oppressive atmosphere within a technological environment. Monolith even reused an old trick of theirs that they already applied in Alien Vs Predator 2: the first mission is a complete atmosphere and mood setter where the player armed with a mere pistol witnesses several weird events, be it a ghostly silhouette in a corner or a flashback about obscure events. The balance between dark and light is well done which is certainly better than the settings of Doom 3. Plus you constantly have the possibility to use your headlight even when you carry a gun (but enough about Doom 3). Graphically, F.E.A.R. is up to par with the newest productions but coming from Monolith that's not really a surprise (No One Lives Forever 1 and 2 were both graphically a blast a the date of their first release).

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

So much for the special moves

And we enter the gameplay part with some pretty good and some bad points. Having been trained as a commando, you have the ability to use some combinations of combat moves that don't require any weapon. These moves can be activated by pressing a key sequence -- nothing too complicated to remember, don't worry -- my favourite being jumping in the air and giving two throws with the left leg in the face of an enemy. If you do it right most enemies will be on the ground for good. Unfortunately, F.E.A.R -- and I stress that point -- is NOT a stealth game, meaning that you can very rarely sneak onto an enemy unnoticed to use your combat moves efficiently. More often than not, your enemies come in squad and using combat moves in this situation is suicidal (unless an enemy come too close to you and this is the only option left). However, your combat moves will also be the only way to defeat one of the different kinds of enemies in the game without stupidly wasting your ammo.

Another nice feature to me is that you can use any of your weapons as a crowbar to break stuff. Just press the alternate fire and you'll swing your weapon to break glasses, wooden planks or even the head of an enemy with the stock.

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

May the force be in your reflexes

As I already said at the beginning, your character may switch for a limited time to some sort of "super reflex" mode which is really your most important ability to defeat your enemies. Considering that this is your character only "supranatural" power, it's too bad to see it implemented in the game just like bullet-time is in Max Payne, Chrome, Chaser and whatnot. I would have liked to see some change for once. For example, actually moving faster than your enemies would have been great. The way it is your enemies move definitely slower than normal... but you too. Only your aim is faster. So you could like for example to run to an enemy and to use one of your combat moves to waste him just before turning around and put a pack of bullets in another one... No way! You're so slow that the time you manage to get to the nearest enemy, your timer reaches zero. That's my main complaint for this feature. It is nice but could have been pushed further to make it "really" useful. That would have created more occasions to use your combat moves by the way.

It must also be noted that you begin the game with a short time during which you can switch to "super reflex". However, you can increase this time by collecting reflex boosters conveniently scattered around the levels. Each booster increases permanently the time during which you can stay in "super relfex' mode. At the end of the game you probably can stay in this mode twice the time available at the beginning of the game (assuming you collect all the boosters because they are not always that easy to find). In a similar way, boosters also apply to health. By collecting health boosters you permanently increase your maximum health and believe me, you'll need it. Reflex and health boosters are the only RPGish elements of F.E.A.R. contributing to increase your character capability to survive.

Another note is that you can also store up to ten health packs in your inventory, immediately available for use when you need them and seriously, I LOVE that feature (how many time did I have to leave Half-Life health packs behind me because I didn't need them just to discover a few moments later that I needed them and couldn't find any around!).

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

Weapons of war

As bizarre as it may seem, I discovered that the pistol is probably one of the best weapons in the game regarding the number of rounds shot per enemy killed ratio, either because the pistol is overpowered or, more possibly, because of the relative inacurracy of other weapons, inacurracy largely due to some of the most massive recoils I've ever seen in a game. Regardless, for most of the enemies in the game, the pistol (or dual pistols) combined to "super reflex" is a lethal trick.

Another nasty weapon is the shotgun with which you can pulverize an enemy if he's standing too close when you shoot. And when I say pulverize I talk about turning him in a blood vapor. The other weapons are somewhat basic for some and a little more exotic for a few. You have for example an autocannon that fires explosive bullets quite lethal (a good weapon against armored enemies) and a particle weapon equiped with a zoom which is able to pulverize most enemies in one shot. Not to mention the Penetrator, a weapon capable of literally nailing your enemies to walls. More basic weapons are also available, a submachine gun, an assault rifle or a rocket launcher (firing in bursts). A complement of grenades and mine is available, a standard grenade, a remotely controlled sticky grenade and a proximity mine. These two last ones are useful to prepare some traps for your enemies if you know how to exploit their weaknesses.

Problem is that from all this arsenal you can only carry 3 main weapons (explosives are limited to 5 of each type). This limitation is also combined to the fact that ammo for a weapon you carry is not necessarily available depending on the map you're in. This is particularly true for exotic weapons and in some places you may well be short on ammo for every of your current weapons (which is a very bad situation for any soldier). Ammos are scarce and don't expect to find a whole lot on your enemies.

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

Combat Squad

The enemy AI is rather good, especially when in squad. They know how to ambush, how to cover themselve and how to flank you when they have the occasion. It's not uncommon to see one enemy sneaking his way around you while you're busy with his buddy to finally pin you down from behind. They won't even hesitate to make their way around a whole floor if that can give them an advantage. It's a refreshing change from so many shooters where the enemies are just coming your way again and again and again even when they are sure to die. Hopefully, developers have been thinking and finally implemented a communication system between members of an enemy squad so you know when you've almost win a battle. This is granted for instance by a "I need backup now!", at what point you know that the guy in front of you is the only one left. They also issue some other orders and comments before and during the battle that can inform you if you listen carefully. The AI even when not seeing you directly is able to detect your presence because of your flashlight which is not new from Monolith (No One Lives Forever was the first game to use this) but is always a nice tweak for a more realistic experience.

The ability of the enemy AI to flank you in a proper manner leads you to be constantly on your feet even when you're almost sure that no one else is around. After one or two times being caught from behind by a guy who pops out of an office in the corridor you're in, you learn your lesson. However, as good as the AI may be, it is also predictible often running the same tactics so you can turn that to your advantage. Of course this is not really a design flaw because if the enemy was unbeatable what would be the fun in the game? But on the second play through in order to take the screenshots for this review, I realized that I already knew enough about the enemy team tactics to not get caught in some nasty situations like I was the first time. This remark would logically lead us to discuss the game replayability and curiously enough that will be our next subject.

Map design and replayability

The map design is pretty good and more often than not you can find several routes to deal with the problem at hand (which is most of the time dispatching an enemy squad). Of course, this is nothing near Deus Ex, but at least it gives to F.E.A.R. some replay value. On the other hand, once you figure out the enemy AI tactics things can get much more easier for you so that's to put on the minus side.

Some complained that the game was too short. Well that depends actually on how you play it. If you go through it guns blazing, relying solely on your competent shooting, your luck and the feature that makes your health regenerates itself once below a certain amount (varying depending on the difficulty level) you can finish the game quick enough. Now if you want to play it tactical, looking for the best way to eliminate each squad, looking for alternate paths to get the job done as easy as possible and simply enjoying the whole atmosphere the game can last longer. It is probably shorter than Doom 3 for example but you will certainly have much more fun as long as it lasts.

Bugs in Winter

Any bug that you should be aware of? Not really. One problem I've found is the curious ability for some enemies and weapons to get stuck in weird positions after a fight like shown in the screens below. A funny thing that is probably due to the physics calculations used in the game.

F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R.

Another bug is in the sound system. I've always had a bad luck with Monolith games when it comes to sounds. In No Ones Lives Forever and Alien vs Predator 2 it was the music that didn't play right with midi port acceleration turned on in DirectX properties. In F.E.A.R. it's the radio communication dialogs that don't play when I turn on the hardware mixing in the game properties. Turning it off is the only way to go, except that you have to do without EAX effects which require hardware mixing to work. Too bad when you have an Audigy 2 with of course the latest drivers. But that's probably the reason why Monolith recommends a X-Fi sound card (the latest from Creative), not an Audigy.

Update: After testing on a different computer with a fresh Windows XP SP2 install, a X-Fi soundcard and the lastest F.E.A.R. patch 1.04, the radio communication problem is still there when hardware mixing is engaged. Too bad, huh?

Another thing that is of interest though obviously this is not a bug, F.E.A.R. is extremely challenging graphically and with a middle hardware you can expect to run it well with everything set to medium but don't even try to set everything to high, that doesn't work on my 3200+ with 1 Gb RAM and a NVidia 6600 GT.

Got another winner here

F.E.A.R. is undoubtedly a great game. Its few flaws are completely crushed by its qualities and it deserves the Silver Award I give him. What only a silver? Yes, if you know me well you should know that I rarely go for the gold unless the game makes me jump out of my chair with joy before falling on the floor drooling everywhere. And that only happened 3 or 4 times until now. So a Silver Award is really a great commendation from me. It means that this game is one of the best I've played, just not the absolute best.

Anyway, F.E.A.R is a must have for any FPS player.


Review summary 9/10
Pros Cons
Compelling storyline centered around a pretty frightening little girl
Terrific atmosphere for a tense trip
Above average AI with flanking tactics that will do its best to overflow you from different angles
Some room to try different tactics to solve the problem at hand
Small physics bugs (weapons or corpses occasionally stuck in the walls and floor after a fight)
Always problems with audio (but maybe that's just me, all Monolith games exhibit audio problem with me)



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