One of the first things you notice when firing up F.E.A.R. is that a lot of work went into the game’s production values, combat and technical aspects. If you’re looking for a game to show off your new PC or video card, F.E.A.R. is the game to do so. Monolith has obvious polished those areas to a level that’s arguably above any PC game before it. As such, most reviews have judged F.E.A.R. on its spectacular, cinematic firefights. After all, that’s the very reason to pick up this game. The firefights rate a 10, and one can only heap praise upon them.
What takes these firefights to the next level is the thick helping of AAA polish. Bits of the environment go flying when hit with a bullet: Chunks of walls break loose. Paper becomes instant confetti. Smoke and dust rise from the ground to cloud your view. Lights sway. Gas leaks burst into flames. These effects are top notch, and there’s a certain clarity to them that previous games haven’t had. Then there are the weapons and melee moves, which feel absolutely solid, and the audio in which you can hear enemies’ footsteps and bullet casings hitting the ground. And let’s not forget the music, which is perfect, haunting and never obnoxious. And the AI, which is right up there with the best PC games as enemies flank you, charge you, throw grenades at you, talk to one another and move from cover to cover, sometimes creating their own by flipping tables on their sides. All this polish is overwhelming, and it definitely redefines the notion of an action-packed game. And that’s a good thing, too, because these immersive firefights against the same mercenaries make up 95 percent of the rest of F.E.A.R. And therein lies the problem with this game, a problem that prevents it from becoming a classic: the firefights, as good as they are, start to drag.
About halfway through F.E.A.R., you realize you’re aimlessly wandering around an endless maze of warehouses and office buildings, killing the same bad guy, albeit in a stylistic and gorgeous way. Suddenly it dawns on you that you’ve done been there and done that before. It dawns on you that you’ve pretty much killed these bad guys every way possible, and you’ve seen the stuff fly and heard the great sound effects and seen lots of blood. And you start to wonder: why am I doing this? What exactly is the reason for this? Why am I here? What game was I playing? If I see another barrel, cubicle, medkit, crate, or valve I’ll be sick. Isn’t there supposed to be some paranormal stuff in this game? And as these questions arise, you realize they’re doing so because, as good as the firefights are, the story elements in F.E.A.R. are equally bad.
The paranormal story hook of seeing the little girl or NPC ghosts loses its effect after the first few times they appear. After that, you start to just ignore them and, worse yet, stop caring altogether. That’s because the story lead-ins and the ghosts’ repeated appearances make you believe you’ll be doing battle with a lot paranormal enemies. Well, you’re believing wrong. Most of the game is eliminating generic, armed mercenaries, with an occasional tease from a paranormal bad guy who surfaces early on but then leaves you until the later stages of the game to encounter a couple more. Disappointing.
Your initial objective of finding Paxtel, the ghostly NPC, ends up being as endless and seemingly unreachable as the levels themselves. You get a bit tired of the game telling you he’s in the building. Oh sorry he’s not there. Oh he’s in this building. Nope he’s not. Oh he’s up ahead. Just kidding. Oh, you want to see him? Well we aren’t going to let you meet him until close to the end of the game! In other words, you can forget about him altogether and ignore this objective entirely. You know that saying about crying wolf too many times? It applies to F.E.A.R. as well, to the point where you just stop caring. Monolith went to the well a few too many times here, which is pretty much a theme for the entire game. Too many of the same firefights. Too many of the same enemies. Too many of the same lines. Too many of the NPC ghosts that disappear. Too many crates, boxes and cubicles. You get the idea. More than enough content, but not enough of it compelling.
The attempts to make F.E.A.R.’s gameplay something more than shooting mercenaries fall flat. First of all, these attempts are very sparse. Second, as discussed above, you end up not buying into any of them. Third, you don’t feel like you’re going into the building to see what happened to so and so, and you don’t really feel like you’re escorting some girl to the top of the roof. You’re not really in charge here; the game designers are. In a word, the story telling is mediocre. I’m not sure if this because they ran out of time or got wrapped up in the production values, but the story is mediocre, and the reasons for killing endless waves of mercenaries are either unknown or don’t really matter.
Thankfully this game is short, which helps it keep its appeal. Just when you’re getting really sick of the endless firefights, you’re on the last couple of levels, where you see some NPCs and story elements and something other than endless warehouses or cubicle levels, and you feel good about completing the game. However, it’s easy to wonder what might have been. Certainly the level of polish here is equal to Half-Life 2, but the fact that Monolith polished a very “been there, done that” standard FPS is disappointing.
Actually, there’s a lot of Doom 3 here, but substitute the endless space station for warehouses and office buildings and the flashlight being on the gun rather than equipped like one. You’ve got the same haunted voices in the walls, you have voicemail instead of email, and a laptop instead of a PDA. But F.E.A.R. isn’t as scary, and it gives you less reason to kill baddies, not to mention less paranormal stuff. There’s also a definite Half-Life 2 influence, minus the fun parts and variety. Basically, throw in Far Cry‘s AI and the endless mercenaries of Half-Life 2, and this is your game.
Given that combination, F.E.A.R. is definitely a solid game, spectacular in its combat and technical areas but a complete letdown in its storytelling and paranormal aspects. Ultimately, it’s a highly polished but surprisingly standard first-person shooter, a game that feels like it’s missing some parts. If you can ignore all that, it’s an absolute blast. And how about them firefights?
- Gameplay: 8
- Great AI and intense firefights, but the endless levels, repetitive play and a surprisingly low number of paranormal baddies are disappointing.
- Graphics: 9
- Outstanding effects and overall polish. It’s best with the highest video card money can buy.
- Sound: 9
- Solid environmental sounds really set the tone.
- Replay: 7
- The sparse story doesn’t warrant a second play through, and multiplayer is the standard stuff.
- Overall: 8.9
- A worthwhile romp, but overall it’s a surprisingly conventional, “been there, done that” kind of game.
— Christopher Karalus