[page=Introduction and Gameplay]
After a couple of successful E3 showings, Monoliths new treasure F.E.A.R. is FINALLY upon us, and we've even been given the chance to play a section of it's single player campaign for ourselves. Since it's announcment, F.E.A.R. has created alot of hype on a variety of levels. Whether it’s actually proving worth the wait or not is a different matter.
To just set the scene a little you’re a newly recruited unit to the First Encounter Assault Recon team, a Government agency set up to deal with any paranormal activity that may prove a threat to national security. This is your first mission, and you’re getting thrown right into the thick of it. Sound’s familiar? If there’s one thing F.E.A.R. isn’t going to win any awards for it’s originality. In terms of story, aesthetics and general atmosphere, F.E.A.R. is an experience that anyone familar with Eastern Cinema will brand as quite generic. But I have to say it’s at the very least encouraging to see that developers are finally paying direct attention to making Storylines an integral part of the gameplay, as opposed to the thing you hear about every now and again between hours of gunfire. I won’t reveal any of the more interesting plot details, they really need to be played out in person. But if the demo is an accurate indication of the direction the whole game is taking, expect to have your long johns soiled on just as many if not more occasions than they were in Doom 3.
The actual gameplay on paper is pretty straight forward; imagine Farcry mixed with Max Payne. You burn through levels with a pretty heafty arsenal, making absolute mince meat of anyone that stands in your way. An element that adds a lot more to the gameplay than I was expecting, is the slow motion. This basically works in the same way as it does in Max Payne one and two. You have a small bar which indicates the amount of time you can spend in slow motion, which you can activate whenever you wish and replenishes as time passes. This could’ve easily just become a small, pointless gimmick, but you’ll find it becomes a necessity when fighting large numbers of enemies. There’s also the fact that in slow-mo, the visuals are just nigh on un beatable.
From what I saw in the Demo the AI is also pretty solid. I wasn’t really able to gauge any team work that might have been going on but the general use of cover, timing their attacks and path finding all work in fantastic unity with the game’s design. For example as I chased an enemy into a room, rather than stand still and fire round after round at me, he opted to jump through the window, gain some cover outside of the room and pin me down as he waited for backup. Nice!
[page=Design and Graphics]
Although we are only given the pleasure of one scenario in the demo (and a short one too), the general design values and architecture are as good as if not better than anything else currently on the market. You could argue that there is no excuse for poor design when what you’re basically creating are environments we see pretty much every day, but even so there’s a certain sense of character to the architecture in the game that many another title often misses.
If there’s one thing F.E.A.R. has shown us it can do remarkabley well, it’s atmosphere. This is probably more down to the graphics (see the next section), but as cliche as many might see them, the main sequences and scare moments are impeccably executed and really help define what this game is about.
Monolith have been good enough to give us a pretty nice arsenal to play around with too, which ranges from a variety of machine guns, to the mandatory kick ass shot gun, to a sweet as hell ‘rail gun’ style weapon. The balance of AI and good design had me re-attempted certain sequences again and again, even when I’d already beaten them, just to see how things would turn out with a different assault strategy.
Let’s just state this for the record: BEST PARTICLE EFFECTS EVER. Anyone who disagree’s with this is theoretically an idiot. The streams that follow your bullets bend geometry in ways the Matrix could only dream of, blood sprays and shines as if flowing from God’s very own sprinkler system, and the general shrapnel and assorted scrap’s that fly around the place just look beautiful, especially when in slow motion.
The graphics basically look like a happy medium between Half Life 2 and Doom 3. The lighting and shadows bring a truly dynamic feel to the game, and the shader and general material effects are enough to make any shooter fan get on the web and order themselves the next Alienware.
If despite the screenshots and numerous online videos you’re still not sure if Monolith have got the goods in regards to the graphics, just download the demo, shoot a wall and have a look at the bullet hole. That alone was enough to win this shallow soul over.
What really impressed me was despite the level of detail and general level of special effects on screen at one time, the game still ran beautifully smoothly.
Download the demo, bang up the graphics, force every last cent out of your processor, punch up slow motion while running into a fire fight and prepare for an absolute euphoria of pretty colours and shiny lights. I can barely think of a time where utter destruction and bullet riddled corpses every looked quite so appetising.
[page=Sound and Conclusion]
For a game like this sound is pretty crucial. Look at Doom 3, despite the obvious and massive tear throughout the community in regards to it, pretty much everyone can agree that the sound is of a high quality, but more importantly, is used well. The very same applies to the Silent Hill series, a clever use of sound and music can immerse the player quicker than any visual effect.
In regards to F.E.A.R. i feel slightly indifferent about the sound. It's not particularly poor and the opening track is very atmospheric which really helps to set the mood. It just really didnt stand out for me in any great way, as most of the weapon effects and voices of your enemies are pretty generic in their style. I feel though this would have a far more damaging effect on the game were it not tied in so well with the design aspects. The effects that accompany certain sequences and triggers in the game further emphasise what's going on, and you'll find yourself becoming engulfed in F.E.A.Rs atmosphere quicker than wink.
Personally, I think Monolith are just giving us a very, very general taster of what is to come. If it is the case (as it is with many games) that the demo level is about as good/interesting as we can expect the full game to be, I can see it being an incredibley average and generic experience at best. However, if as I suspect the content of the demo is merely a general foundation upon which the full game is going to evolve greatly, we can expect this to be a very special title indeed.
All we have to do now is wait. In 3 months or so will we be looking back on the demo thinking either 'Christ, I wish I'd just played that instead, that's as good as the feckin game got!!' or 'Shit!! The Demo was good, but this is just awesome'. I know which my money is on, and I'll be well and truly gutted if this game is anything less than the most intense, action packed gorefest the gamers of 2005 can expect to see.