F.E.A.R. Hands-On - Impressions of the Retail Version

This highly anticipated shooter ships next week. We've got our hands on our copy, but we thought you'd appreciate some initial thoughts while we begin to work on our review.

It has been 18 months since we got our first glimpse at F.E.A.R., and right from the beginning we knew that this game would be something special. F.E.A.R. promises to combine incredibly wild gunplay with atmospheric horror like no other game to date. With this highly anticipated shooter finally set to arrive in stores next week, we got our hands on the final game to begin work on the review. But before we weigh in with our final verdict, we thought you'd appreciate some impressions on the final game.

So what the heck is with that creepy little girl? We'll find out soon.

In F.E.A.R., you are the newest member of the military's elite First Encounter Assault Recon team, tasked with investigating, and dealing with, paranormal threats. You're in for a heck of a first day on the job, too, because you and your team are sent in after Paxton Fettel, a rogue officer, who takes command of a battalion of elite, cloned soldiers and sets them loose in the confines of a city. Yet that's but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the plot. What made Fettel go insane? What are they trying to accomplish? And what the heck is up with that freaky, ghostly little girl who keeps cropping up in the corner of your eye? The answers to all these questions are, hopefully, almost here.

Like the Half-Life games, F.E.A.R. takes place almost entirely from your character's perspective. Save for the opening cutscene, in which you see Paxton Fettel let loose his wave of destruction, you experience every second of the game through your (unnamed) character's eyes. There will be times when you're sitting in on a conversation or mission briefing and you'll hear other members of the F.E.A.R. team discuss you while you're standing right there, which can be a bit unsettling. You know absolutely nothing of your character or why he's part of the F.E.A.R. team, so this may be one of the mysteries that you uncover in the game.

You'll begin your hunt for Fettel in the industrial part of town, and that means that there are countless dark corridors and corners to explore. If you played the single-payer demo of F.E.A.R., you'll have a good idea of what to expect. Many of the facilities are deserted, and the tension builds up easily while you slowly make your way through an empty building. (And for those who wish to know, the demo doesn't represent a single level from the game; it's composed of various sequences from the opening levels that have been spliced together.)

As you're exploring the facilities, you'll get the very strong impression that something is not quite right, from the pools of blood on the floor, the strange, hallucinatory visions that you encounter, as well as the aforementioned creepy little girl scaring the heck out of you when you least expect it. In between those moments of tension and terror, you'll battle squads of some of the toughest and smartest computer-controlled soldiers that we've ever seen. We're not kidding around, either, as we've participated in wild firefights where the artificial intelligence pulled off moves and tactics that we've only seen humans do. These AI soldiers do everything to convince you that they're flesh and blood, as they scream commands to their buddies, call for help, fall back when wounded, try to flank you or get around your rear, and generally unload a truckload or two of ammo at you. We've been playing at the "medium" difficulty level, and we've got a lot of respect for our opponents. Beating these guys on the harder settings is going to be a challenge.

Physics means that bodies fly through the air in a very satisfactory manner.

Combat in F.E.A.R. feels incredible, because it is incredible. Many things contribute to the sheer, over-the-top sense of mayhem in the game. The graphics engine looks amazing, and while you might argue that the environments aren't as complex as other games in terms of the number of polygons, F.E.A.R. certainly pushes the visuals in terms of particle effects. When you fire a gun, it looks and feels like you're firing an actual gun. Bullets tear out huge chunks of concrete walls, sending clouds of dust and debris in the air, or sparks fly when bullets ricochet off metal. The physics engine is fairly powerful, and you can use the environment to your advantage. For instance, if you see a fire extinguisher, shooting a few bullets into it might cause it to explode. Or, even better, shoot the valve off a gas pipe and let the resulting explosion wipe your enemies out for you.

Meanwhile, the weapons in F.E.A.R. all feel pretty good. You have all the standard weapons that you'd expect in a shooter, from the pistol, shotgun, submachine gun, assault rifle, and more. Ammunition is generally available, courtesy of your fallen foes. You can tote around three weapons at a time, so you have to weigh your tactical needs as well as your ammo load. (Dual-wielded pistols count as a single weapon, by the way.) You can also carry up to five grenades at a time, and you toss these simply by hitting the default "g" key (unlike most other first-person shooters, you don't have to equip a grenade prior to throwing it). And there are power-ups, such as health kits that you can collect to restore health, as well as body armor that helps you survive a bit longer in a fight.

Your body is also a powerful weapon, thanks to some of your character's unique abilities. For instance, your ultrafast reflexes let you go into something akin to bullet time, in which you move so fast that everyone else moves in slow motion in comparison. You can only activate this ability for a few seconds at time, after which you need to wait for the meter to recharge before you can do it again. Still, this is a very useful ability, particularly when you're battling a large number of opponents. You also can use a melee attack on opponents, simply by rifle-butting them or by leaping into the air and drop-kicking them.

As expected, this is a game that will tax the beefiest of PCs out there. To make things easier for you, F.E.A.R. will automatically detect your hardware and configure the video, audio, and gameplay settings to eek out the best performance on your system. You can still tweak the settings yourself, but keep in mind that you'll need an extremely high-end PC to run the game with all the graphical eye candy turned on. The minimum system requirements are a 1.7GHz CPU with 512MB of RAM and a 64MB video card (GeForce4Ti or Radeon 9000 or higher). However, the recommended system requirements are a 3GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro or GeForce 6600 video card or higher.

You've never seen particle effects like this in a first-person shooter before.

Judging from the opening levels, F.E.A.R. is turning out to be the first-rate action game that we have hoped for, though the question is whether it can maintain its momentum throughout the course of the whole game. Still, we can safely say that the combat in F.E.A.R. is some of the best we've ever seen, and the game is certainly creepy. However, the challenge in creating such an intriguing story is finding a way to end it satisfactorily. We'll find out and give you our final verdict in our review soon, but for now, you'd best get ready to experience some F.E.A.R.

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jakeboudville
jakeboudville

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