I avoided FEAR for a while because I just didn’t think the game could work. It’s supposed to be scary, but in the game you play an elite soldier. It’s hard to be frightened when you’re a certified badass. DOOM3 went for scary and mostly missed. I enjoyed the game, but the classic high-speed deathmatch-style combat doesn’t lend itself to fear and suspense driven gameplay. Why should I be scared of this monster? I’ll just circle-strafe him until he’s dead.
But the game came highly recommended from my friends, so I gave it a try. It’s different from what I expected. It dumps the fast-paced run-and-gun mayhem for the more deliberate pace of a tactical shooter. This means the game favors and encourages things like crouching, crawling, leaning around corners, listening before entering rooms, and hiding behind cover. If you do that in a DOOM-style game you’ll just get shredded, but here the more realistic behavior pays off, which changes the pace of the game and makes it more amenable to setting the proper mood.
|Boo. In the game you see lots of shadows, visions, objects going bump, and other unnerving things. You can never be sure if what you’re seeing is real.|
The pacing is great. Unlike typical shooters, the game isn’t a chain of monster-filled rooms connected by corridors. There are long stretches of non-combat in some areas, which makes it all the more powerful when combat does take place. The enemy soldiers never feel like speed bumps, even when you outfox them and put them down with minimal risk or fuss.
And speaking of outfoxing them:
|A second ago this guy was taking potshots at me from atop the catwalk. I took cover, and while I was fighting one of his buddies he jumped down and tried to get behind me. I caught him, but while I was taking this shot another one of his buddies came around at me from the other direction. These guys really do seem to be working together.|
|I am the one. Slow motion is fun to use. For most of the game you just have a small supply which is only good for a few seconds. You can’t fight a whole battle with it. Instead, you try to unleash it at just the right moment to do as much harm as you can and then return to cover before it runs out. If you try to deathmatch these guys a la Doom, they will blast you right out to the game over screen.|
The story is about par for the course. The main antagonist seems to be a specter / demon / spookything that takes the form of a young girl. She’s gotten me to jump or made my skin crawl a number of times.
The levels are fantastic. They flow naturally from one area to another. They offer just enough branching paths and choices to keep the game interesting, but keep things tight enough that you don’t find yourself meandering through completed areas looking for your next objective. The levels so far are modeled after real-world places like warehouses and office buildings, and they manage to keep exploration interesting without sacrificing realism.
Load times are good. Level transitions are rare, and when I did hit them they were only fifteen seconds or so. Reloading the same level (as happens when you die) is very fast, not more than a couple of seconds. Load times are usually a mood killer in games, and it was nice to see them do so much to mitigate that. Kudos to the developers.
Graphics performance was decent. My graphics card is a dusty old relic from the bygone ages of a couple of years ago, and the game warned me that it might have trouble keeping up, but in the end I was able to enjoy the game with most of the special effects turned up and still get a playable experience. Water reflections looked a little wonky and once in a while it would get choppy, but overall the game looked fantastic. (My card is an NVIDIA 6200. If you have anything newer than that the game will probably run just fine for you.) I do suggest making sure you turn shadows up all the way. The game turned them off for me at first, and it killed the atmosphere of the game. It was easily worth the performance hit to have full shadows enabled.
I’ve heard a rumor that this game contains SecuROM. I haven’t messed around to confirm this, although I will say I don’t see any unwanted processes showing up and the game runs even though I have both Process Explorer and a kernel debugger (MS Dev Studio) on my system. So, if SecuROM did come along for the ride, it came in an older, less objectionable form than the one in BioShock. The game ran fine and didn’t give me any copy
protection prevention hassles.
So far so fun.
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