The environments can also feel a bit repetitive after a time. F.E.A.R. takes place in basically three settings: a deserted industrial area, a deserted office complex, and a deserted and rundown urban setting. Notice a pattern? While the levels are designed to allow for wild and wooly gunfights, F.E.A.R. could certainly use more variety when it comes to environments, because there's a certain point where you feel like you've explored the same factory or office complex for the umpteenth time. It would be nice to also have an unpredictable element in the game, such as civilians who you need to protect, or at least, not harm.
It's well known at this point that F.E.A.R. is a game that's heavily influenced by Japanese horror movies, most notably The Ring. In fact, the game uses many of the same kinds of visual tricks to scare you that you've probably already seen before in a movie, like the split-second appearance of a ghostly apparition when you least expect it. And while the imagery in F.E.A.R. may not exactly be entirely original, it's exceedingly effective. The designers are smart enough to realize that less is more when it comes to building tension. There are stretches in F.E.A.R. when you don't battle anything, and it's unsettling to search abandoned office buildings, finding nothing more than pools of blood or the voicemails left by family members trying to contact their loved ones. Then there are areas where you expect some kind of gargantuan throw-down and you brace yourself for battle, but nothing happens. You certainly feel like you're being watched the whole time, though, as there's always some kind of noise or rattling of objects to greet you, or the fleeting image of someone in the corner of your eye. Admittedly, some of these tricks become a bit too familiar over time, but they're still enough to keep you on your toes, and there are a number of jump-out-of-your seat moments in the game.
Alma is the creepy little girl in the game, and she loves messing with your head, big time. This is one of the many hallucinatory visions you encounter.
This omnipresent tension combined with the outstanding combat make F.E.A.R. a superb game, though one that can leave you a bit emotionally exhausted after a while. And as much as we enjoyed the game's atmosphere, we must admit that we were a bit disappointed by the plot. Rest assured that F.E.A.R. features a complete story, as well as an ending. The trouble is that it feels like several plotlines lack some kind of satisfactory payoff for all your trouble, so the game's a bit of a letdown in this aspect. The end level is also disappointing in that it's surprisingly easy, especially compared to what you've experienced to get to that point. Thankfully, F.E.A.R. does end on a spectacular note, though we won't spoil it for you.
The single-player story should take you a good 10 hours to get through, which is on par with most other shooters. When you're done with the single-player, you can tackle the generally excellent multiplayer game. F.E.A.R. features all the standard multiplayer modes that you'd expect, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag, but it differentiates itself by incorporating many of the cool features found in single-player, such as the ability to slow down time. Basically, one player can control the ability at a time, and you can wrest control if you kill that player. The downside is that you can only use the slow motion ability for limited bursts, and everyone knows your location at all times, so this can be used to hunt you down. On the flip side, you can also use this to set a trap in a team game, because your teammates can set up ambushes to take out players who are out to get you.
Multiplayer is fast-paced and brutal, just like you'd expect. And you can also battle to see who gets to slow down time.
Your martial arts abilities are available in multiplayer, and this can create wicked gunfights in which guys are leaping into the air to drop-kick someone, crouching down to side-kick them, or simply melee punching each other to death as the bullets and explosions fly around. The multiplayer is extremely fast-paced, and you'll get a lot of kills, die a lot of times, and come back for more. With that said, we wonder about the multiplayer's lasting power, as the gameplay doesn't feature the kind of depth of other multiplayer-centric shooters. It's still a lot of fun, though, and you'll probably wring out quite a bit of gameplay before you're done. And, generally, the multiplayer performance was good on our high-speed connection, though it did slow down a few times. This is a concern, because there's so much action in the game that any kind of lag could be crippling.
Throughout F.E.A.R., the graphics, the particle effects, the physics, and the sound effects combine to create the sense that all hell is breaking loose. On the surface, the level design and textures aren't all that complex compared to other PC shooters. The level design features lots of sharp angles, and they give the levels a somewhat generic look and feel. Meanwhile, objects have a chunky look to them, and some of the character models look more like plastic dolls than human beings. But what F.E.A.R. lacks in high polygon counts, it more than makes up for with astounding particle effects, as well as an excellent lighting and shadowing model to set the mood. All this comes at a high price, though, as the game can tax a cutting-edge system. We played the game on a fairly high-end system, as well as an older system equipped with a two-year-old video card. On the high-end system, the frame rate dropped at times, and there were moments of stuttering as the game tried to load the next part of the level in midgame. Meanwhile, we had to tone down the visual settings to "medium" to get the game to run smoothly on the older system, and the game lost some of its atmospheric creepiness due to the reduced lighting and shadowing effects, as well as the blander textures. The good news, at least, is that F.E.A.R. ran solidly without a single crash, which is impressive for such a technically complex game.
Meanwhile, the audio in F.E.A.R. is outstanding, and the sounds go a long way to establishing the mood. In a game that's all about making you afraid of the dark, it's often the little noises that can send you spinning around, ready to blast whatever it is that created the sound. F.E.A.R. will mess with your sense of hearing a lot this way, particularly if you have any kind of surround sound system. Combat also sounds glorious, and you can hear almost every single noise in a firefight, from glass shattering apart, spent brass cartridges hitting the floor, and the thud of explosions. The voice acting is generally good, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to overhear the cloned soldiers discussing the latest happenings, or listening to a news report over the radio describing the escalating situation in the city. That's one of the cooler aspects of the game, in fact, because there's a palpable sense that events are spiraling out of control.
Grenades and explosions have a cool way of warping space, as you can see the shock of the explosion head outwards.
F.E.A.R. is quite easily one of the most intense and atmospheric games that you'll play, and it's a spectacular blend of horror and action. You can't help but get the feeling that this is a game that's the spiritual successor to the original Half-Life, because it's so obviously inspired by that classic game. Indeed, some of the locations and enemies are highly reminiscent of those in Half-Life. This is a game that will thrill you one moment and scare you the next. F.E.A.R. features some of the greatest gunplay available in a first-person shooter, and it elevates the art of firing a gun to whole new levels. This alone makes it an incredibly intense game that must be experienced. The fact that it's also one of the creepiest games ever made is just icing on the cake.