We had a chance to sit down with an updated version of F.E.A.R., the upcoming PC shooter from developer Monolith and publisher VU Games. The version we played was an abbreviated demonstration that included what appeared to be the first level in the game, along with the introduction sequence we had seen and reported on in March. However, we received more information on the game's story and characters in a brief in-game cinematic sequence that shed more light on exactly what happened. As we reported earlier, the intro sequence shows a man kneeling in a cell as he is visited by a mysterious little girl in a red dress. The scene cuts to a shot of several heavily armed commandos in blue body armor who are hunched forward. They then snap to attention and ambush a group of guards.
The subsequent in-game cinematic sequence began with a darkened screen that masks a phone call to an unnamed senator. The official was roused from bed with a message about "an uprising in the 'Origin' project," with a hurried assurance that the uprising should be containable. The scene then cut to the briefing room of F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon), a recently organized squad of elite troopers that focuses on paranormal activities, which your character recently joined. The briefing room replayed the events in the opening cinematic as three team members looked on: a male soldier, a female soldier, and the team's squat, middle-aged chief, who wears a F.E.A.R. cap while delivering a laborious briefing with a thick Dennis Franz-like Midwestern accent. The mysterious man (who ends the introduction sequence by crouching over to devour a corpse) is identified by the chief as one Paxton Fettle, who's apparently a psychically enhanced military officer.
It seems that the mysterious commandos are actually a top secret army of clone supersoldiers who, by design, are intended to be mentally controlled by Fettle by means of a chip implanted in the head. For some reason, Fettle appears to have gone insane, so he commanded his troops to capture the compound he was stationed in. Even though not all your team agrees with bringing a new recruit like you for the mission (you'll notice from the banter that not all members of the team get along that well), the chief suggests that there's no choice but to bring you along to help with a surgical strike to eliminate Fettle (which should neutralize the battalion of clone soldiers).
The briefing ends and cuts to a car drop-off in which the chief drops you near a drainage tunnel near the compound before driving off. We climbed down a series of ladders into a dimly lit underground tunnel leading into the lower levels of the compound, where we began "seeing things." The mysterious little girl in the red dress, who appeared in previous demonstrations of the game, had a distracting tendency to appear around corners and then dash just out of sight (as though she were appearing in the periphery of our vision). Once we made it in to the compound, we crept through a few tight office areas where enemy soldiers were on patrol. In the first area, the soldiers were actually sequestered in a small office behind a plate glass window, and as soon as they caught sight of us, they began to fire. The soldiers were surprisingly clever about using their positions to their advantage. For starters, they fired from cover and made a mad dash for the door when we tossed a grenade their way. They also did their absolute best to flank us. While we were able to get rid of two of the three soldiers (who were providing cover for their comrade), the third enemy proved to be very slippery, crawling under cover in the room, leaping through the shattered glass, and hiding around a corner to ambush us a moment later.
Even at this early stage of the game, we got our hands on a good variety of weapons, including the submachine gun (which we carried by default), the assault rifle, the instantly lethal plasma weapon, and the slow-firing but extremely damaging nailgun, which was carried by a heavily armored soldier wearing heavy silver-covered plate armor and who also seemed to possess our ability to slow time. After blasting past him, we made our way to a courtyard with only a few guards on patrol. With a few zoomed-in blasts from the plasma rifle, we dropped these guys easily and confidently made our way across the courtyard until a helicopter swooped down from the sky, dropping zip lines from which a half-dozen new soldiers descended. We fought them off as best we could but ended up hightailing it further into the compound, where we began to see more-frequent visits both from the phantom little girl and apparently from Fettle himself, who angrily muttered "They all deserve to die!" over and over again before dissipating into dust. We then experienced what can probably best be described as an "insanity effect," similar to something in the GameCube game Eternal Darkness.
While walking down a hallway, we turned a corner and found ourselves face-to-face with the little girl, before the screen flashed white and we found ourselves in a narrow corridor with bloody footsteps along the floor and what appeared to be a shifting sea of blood on the ceiling. We slowly made our way down the hallway toward a door marked with an exit sign only to see the sign and door blow away and turn into dust, revealing a brick wall. We turned back the way we came to catch another glimpse of the girl (who disappeared with a giggle, presumably pleased with herself for playing a prank on us with the falsely marked door) and emerged into an enclosed room with a man strapped to a chair. As we entered, we saw Fettle himself approach the squirming man while holding a drawn knife, only to disappear and reveal that the subdued man was a bloody mess. We approached the man, whose last words were about the mysterious "Origin" project. As soon as he expired, we continued to the partially opened, door behind the man, only to be ambushed by a huge humanoid figure in what appeared to be a heavy armor suit (or small mech suit), who blasted us to bits with a rocket launcher before we could react.
Obviously, this sequence wasn't an exact cut from the final game, since both this and the previous demonstration we played were actually partial cuts from the game that were adapted for demonstration purposes. Still, F.E.A.R. seems very, very, very compelling, offering both the eerie, atmospheric horror of a great horror game and very challenging and very satisfying shooting. We're very much looking forward to the game when it's finally released this fall.