It's clear that Monolith focussed on the engine's ability to render particles flying through the air, and they have done an amazing job, but the overall visual package is rather a mixed bag. Firstly, this game is a huge resource hog. If you have hardware that is over a year old you're going to struggle to run the game at anything like what the developers intended. Even with most visual settings turned down to medium my moderately powerful system struggled to achieve a smooth framerate, and during intense moments of action the game chugged to the point of being unplayable. A couple of enemy types that appear in the latter half of the game don't help either, with their entrance guaranteeing a slideshow.
To be fair, the lighting is exquisite and enemy models are great, but it's still hard to see how the game should run worse than other heavy hitters in the genre. Texture work is good, but not spectacular and most of the environments are pretty boxy and don't exactly push the boundaries of geometry. Still, all of these complaints - bar the slowdown - fade into insignificance once you start firing a weapon, as the combat is the most satisfying I've ever played. Firing a gun at another carbon copy soldier never feels repetitive in F.E.A.R. and the difficulty can be set to match your skill level. Health packs (of which you can store ten) and Armour are scattered quite freely around the environment, and they are usually in plentiful supply in the sections leading up to big confrontations, so you won't enter a fight thinking you've got no chance of a good outcome. It can get tricky, but it's always fair. Regular use of the quick save eases your nerves, but the health packs usually mean you can take quite a battering before dying.
Given the game's heavy emphasis on guns, the selection could be better and the three gun limit is a little annoying. It's not realistic to carry seven weapons at once, but it's not that plausible to be able to carry three, and having to continuously drop weapons to change to something else becomes pretty tiresome. It didn't happen often, but I was left ammo-less for short periods, which ruined those short sections of the game; I had to run from enemies, rather than take them on, which isn't what the game is about. In the end it balances out well, but some of the better weapons (a rail-gun alike weapon in particular) are left rather underused as it's safer to enter a combat zone with fully loaded machine guns, than a couple of semi-depleted devastating weapons.
'... the supernatural menace isn't actually a threat for most of the game...'
Another complaint could be levelled at the range of enemies. For the most part you'll take on soldiers (occasionally accompanied by a 'Heavy') or generic armed forces. This is fine as they display some great AI, but some more variety wouldn't have gone amiss. A few bit-part enemies come into play now and again (with one in particular causing a reaction no other videogame has been able to. To say I was freaked out is an understatement), but the supernatural menace isn't actually a threat for most of the game, simply being used to scare you at various points.
An area where the game never stumbles is its audio. It's simply superb, with a creepy atmosphere, great soundtrack and awesome sound effects. From the sounds of your weapons to the groans from enemies as they die (particularly while you're in slow motion), everything is top notch. The story is mainly told through short in-engine cutscenes, recorded messages left on phones around the office area and abandoned laptops containing info on what's gone on, and while the voice work can't be faulted, the story is rather underdeveloped and certainly could have been fleshed out a little more.
Multiplayer is also supported for sixteen players, but it's got little to suggest it'll become as popular as other online first-person shooters. The use of slow-mo in multiplayer (by giving one person the ability to use it at a time) is nice, but after a while you'll be longing for more of the action that made the single-player campaign so enjoyable. It's that 'give me more' quality that shines through, with the game open to be played through numerous times. Fights will play out differently each time you play, and higher difficulty settings make enemies smarter and harder to kill.
F.E.A.R. isn't without its faults, most notably in the form of the game engine, which does its best to ruin your enjoyment, but some unwanted tweaking will result in an extraordinarily entertaining experience. While not as obviously pretty as games like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, the combat more than makes up for it, and the action is relentless from start to finish. Bar an ending that will leave you with more questions than answers and some ridiculously steep hardware requirements, there's little not to enjoy. I can't wait for the inevitable sequel.
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Ridiculously enjoyable to play
- Great special effects
- A little short
- Huge resource hog