As I mentioned in my review of Rain, one of the reasons I decided to play that game was my thinking it may tie into the Halloween season. My preconceived notions were that it dealt with ghosts, but that wasn’t the case. It did turn out to be a little spooky, but the other game that made my shortlist was a lot spooky. F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon was that game.
Developed by Kirkland, Washington based Monolith Productions, F.E.A.R. was another in a long line of well received first-person shooters from the studio best known nowadays for their Lord of the Rings action games. F.E.A.R. was originally released for PCs on October 18, 2005 while the Xbox 360 port, handled by Day 1 Studios, was published by Vivendi Games (through their Sierra Entertainment brand) on Halloween the following year.
Besides the single-player campaign and now-lifeless multiplayer, the console versions included the arcade-inspired Instant Action mode. Here, I fought my way through one of four maps based on the campaign, and was given a score at the end based on a variety of factors. Also of note, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions each contained a unique mission, about fifteen minutes in length, offering different perspectives on two separate events in the game.
I assumed the role of the Point Man, a mysterious new recruit to First Encounter Assault Recon, a secret unit of the US Army that dealt with paranormal activity. They were called on after a battalion of military clones and Paxton Fettel, their psychic commander, escaped from Armacham’s control. Following Paxton’s trail of death through the industrial acreage of a water treatment plant and the corridors of the defense contractor’s high-rise headquarters, background details were uncovered through voicemail messages, abandoned laptops, and vivid hallucinations my avatar experienced. Everything it seemed could be traced back to a girl named Alma.
The daughter of an Armacham scientist, born with psychic powers, Alma was subjected to inhumane tests and experiments from a young age, until her death at 26. One such test was the forced pregnancy that resulted in the birth of Paxton Fettel. Although she perished years ago, and precautions were taken to shield her presence from others, her psychic spirit persisted. She operated through/with Fettel, guiding him to set her free, and on the way exacted her rage on those who brought her so much torment. They both communicated with the Point Man, too; telepathically and through frequently horrific visions. Considering his lack of background, it was no surprise that he was more connected to the events than his peers realized.
In addition to the hallucinations, the Point Man exhibited another unique quirk: his heightened reflexes. At the push of a button I could activate them, which briefly triggered a slow-motion effect. When active, this allowed me to ruthlessly eliminate the Replica soldiers giving me issues, all the while effectively evading their gunfire and melee attacks. Let me tell you, rushing enemies in slow-motion and firing shotgun blasts at point blank range never grew old. As the game was set in the near future, there were a few unreal weapons and tough foes to contend with. The Penetrator and Particle Weapon were two particularly impressive guns; the former was a powerful nail gun that pinned enemies to the surface behind them when fatally shot, whereas the latter gruesomely liquefied my target, leaving behind little more than a skeleton in a pool of blood. Apart from the slow-motion feature and a few distinctive weapons, there was little of note in regards to the game’s enjoyable gunplay.
The atmosphere on the other hand was more suspense filled than any other first-person shooter I’ve played, with the exception of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Ominous visions of Alma, Paxton, and other grim sequences instilled anxiety, especially when I played at night, alone, with the lights off. Not helping the matter was the fact that most of the hallways and offices I traversed were barely lit, if there were any working lights at all. I had to rely on the Point Man’s awful flashlight, which barely lasted a minute before needing to recharge. The creepy sound design was especially effective when navigating these dark environments. Unnatural and eerie sounds, be them from the sparse soundtrack or maybe something in a room with me, made it challenging to press forward.
Although I was packing extraordinary firepower with loads of ammunition, this did little to dampen F.E.A.R.’s tension. Rarely were the scary bits something that could be remedied with a gun. Instead, the combination of the visions, darkness, and creepy sound design created a feeling of omnipresent dread that I couldn’t do anything about. It was somewhat jarring to experience visions of this little demon girl and then go into a guns blazing shootout, but Monolith managed to execute both aspects of the game well. Whether I had just blown away a group of Replica soldiers with slow-motion effectiveness or inched through an office afraid of what might be waiting for me, I finished each happening full of adrenalin, and a sense of trepidation for what was to come.