A group of supersoldiers led by a crazed commander has taken over Armacham Technology Corp.'s sprawling compound, but its motives are unclear. The government dispatched a Special Forces team to neutralize the threat, but the soldiers were annihilated in a bloodcurdlingly bizarre fashion. As a member of First Encounter Assault Recon, an elite strike force that specializes in paranormal situations, you are sent in to unravel the mystery.
Like many other first-person shooters, "F.E.A.R." gives you a standard assortment of available weapons, from handguns to shotguns to assault rifles. The shotgun in particular will prove to be a trusty companion, as you will spend a substantial amount of time fighting in the cramped quarters of an office building. If you get close enough to the bad guys, you'll be able to blow off all kinds of body parts, saturating the walls with copious amounts of blood in the process. Style points to Day 1 for creating visceral experiences such as this.
Because you will be taking on these supersoldiers all by yourself, you will need fast reflexes and a quick trigger finger. You can press the left bumper button to activate a "bullet time" mode; this will let you move, aim, and shoot faster than everyone around you. While this is by no means a revolutionary concept, it's incorporated quite well into the game and is vital to your survival. If you do not take advantage of your superior speed and agility, the enemy will make you pay dearly.
The AI in "F.E.A.R." is quite impressive and easily one of the game's best aspects. In many other first-person shooters, you can simply hide behind cover, wait for the enemy to come running blindly at you, and pick them off one by one. In "F.E.A.R.," the soldiers you come across will perform a variety of actions to kill you in a brutally efficient manner — so if you take cover and start shooting, expect them to do the same. Other times, they will try to flush you out with grenades and charge at you as you run away from the blast. Because of the level design, there will be many instances where the enemy can come at you from different directions, and the soldiers certainly will try to outflank you. These guys mean business.
While the AI is tough and unforgiving, you won't face a wide variety of enemies. Most of the time, you'll come across lightly-armored Replica soldiers, who usually roam the halls in small groups. As you progress through the game, you'll encounter more powerful Replica soldiers who can absorb a lot of damage because of their heavy shielding. Overall, however, you might find yourself wishing there were other kinds of enemies to fight.
"F.E.A.R." is definitely an appropriate title for this spooky game. Day 1 has succeeded in creating an uneasy atmosphere in which opening a nondescript door or jumping into a pool can trigger terrifying scenes of blood-soaked hallways, rooms bursting into flames, and eerie voices warning of horrifying things to come. There are times you will see apparitions suddenly appear when and where you least expect them. Not only do you get an adrenaline rush from fighting the crafty Replica soldiers, you also feel on edge during lulls in the game because you know something extraordinarily creepy can happen at anytime. "F.E.A.R.'s" stunning graphics and sound do a great job creating such a tense experience.
The visual and audio elements in "F.E.A.R." contribute greatly to the experience. For a game that mostly takes place in darkened rooms and corridors, you appreciate the level of detail that went into it. When you throw a grenade into a crowd of Replica soldiers, you see bodies exploding and blood spraying everywhere. When you shoot an enemy with a high-powered nail gun, you see the projectile knock him off his feet and pin his lifeless body to the wall. The use of (or lack of) lighting in "F.E.A.R." is important — you become heavily reliant on your flashlight in almost pitch-black settings. You will also begin to listen to the enemy's footsteps and communications. Knowing where a Replica soldier is and whether he is alone will determine your course of action.
While the gameplay and graphics in "F.E.A.R." are a sight to behold, the storyline could have been more refined. You learn about the plot mostly by listening to answering machine messages and accessing laptops. So you start to get into a pattern of exploring, fighting, and somewhat anti-climactically having an Armacham executive advance the story via voicemail. After a while, the messages start to get annoying and become a somewhat tedious chore. Some of the characters you will encounter will fill in some of the gaps, but overall, the storyline seems to develop slower than you might like.
Despite some issues with the story and the variety of enemies, "F.E.A.R." is well-worth playing for Xbox 360 owners. The gameplay is thrilling and the presentation is horrifically beautiful. First-person shooter fans will not be disappointed.
F.E.A.R. is rated "M" for Mature (Content suitable for ages 17 and older) and is available for the Xbox 360 game console.
By Cory Shim