The environments in F.E.A.R. range from concrete-walled water works, to rundown uninhabited dwellings, with a wide spectrum of colours from grey to brown and all the unpleasant tones in-between. There's really very little to get excited about. Thankfully, F.E.A.R. isn't about its uninspired locations or drab colour scheme, and you realise this the moment you pull the trigger of a gun. The quiet unassuming chap violently transforms into an explosive, attention hogging action movie star, stealing every scene with the most debris-filled shoot-outs ever seen in a video game.
Much has been made of the supernatural element to F.E.A.R. but this plays a far smaller part than expected. You play a rookie elite soldier who has recently joined the First Encounter Assault Recon team. Your first job is to investigate a paranormal force (most visible as the scary little girl in red) which has the ability to tear people apart (physically, not emotionally). As far as supernatural entities go this is a rather unpleasant one, and despite the fact that you're part of a team, you'll fight alone for the entirety of the game as your comrades are either ripped apart on entering a new area or are conveniently incapacitated.
So, with a loose plot and paranormal activity in place it's time to get down and dirty in those wonderful environments I mentioned above; they're normal, real-world, urban locations, and being such, they're not the most thrilling to look at. They serve their purpose though, being the perfect areas for some stunning fire-fights. I know the 'Lobby' scene from the original Matrix movie is mentioned whenever a game features some environment destruction, but F.E.A.R. is the only game to really do that comparison justice. To say F.E.A.R. is explosive is an understatement.
You could say F.E.A.R. is a corridor shooter, but it would be doing the game a disservice. Yes, there are plenty of corridors, but you rarely have to take on enemies while moving through narrow hallways. Enemy encounters usually pit you against a number of enemies working as a squad, all of whom take up strategic positions in the environment. It's rare that you'll have the upper hand, with cover definitely on their side. Whether you're entering a heavily occupied reception area, emerging from a tunnel to face an attack from enemies that have a height advantage on you, or getting a little too close for comfort in an old apartment block, you have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Taking on a room full of enemies with the same mindset you'd have in any other FPS will get you killed. The enemy AI isn't going to be outwitted by simply running and gunning, but throw some slow motion, melee combat and the odd grenade into the mix, and you suddenly have them running scared. How it's possible isn't clear, but you can slow down time, making your task a hell of a lot easier. The time you can spend in slow motion increases as you progress through the game (Reflex injections increase your slow-mo time and Health injections increase your maximum health), and by the end you'll be able to take out a whole room before they know what's hit them. Close quarters combat (with weapon butts, kicks and slides all possible) can also take out enemies in one hit. Alternatively, throw a grenade into the middle of a room and take out the majority of the opposition in one, extremely bloody, fell swoop - slowing down time, throwing a remote mine into the air and detonating it before it hits the ground is a particular favourite of mine.
Now imagine all this going on while dust flies across the room, blood splatters, glass shatters and bodies explode. When it's all going off F.E.A.R. is an astonishing game to play. While there's no Red Faction-style fully destructible environment action, the sense of realism in F.E.A.R. is greater than any game that has gone before it. Walking through a blood-stained, smoke-filled, bullet-ridden room, picking up ammo from the dismembered bodies that litter the floor isn't an experience for everyone, but if violent action is your thing, it's a sight to behold.
Going into the Xbox 360 version having played the PC version through to completion, I had a few concerns about how the controls would translate to the 360 controller. I'm happy to say that those concerns weren't warranted, at least for the most part. Aiming with the analogue stick is a lot trickier than on the PC, and there seem to have been few concessions made to make this easier for console gamers, but all other aspects of control work very well. The lean move is a little tricky to use, being mapped to left and right on the d-pad, but grenades, slow-motion, health packs, and weapon change are all one button away and easy to access.