LOS ANGELES--G4's G-Phoria awards show played host to a great number of game demos this evening, chief among them--in our minds at least--a single-player demo version of F.E.A.R., the supernaturally tinged, hyperkinetic first-person shooter from Matrix Online developer Monolith. We played through the demo start to finish to see how the game, which is due out in just a few short months, has shaped up toward the end of its development cycle. Indications after this admittedly brief demo are that the final game should offer a hard-hitting, unique shooting experience that we're excited to see more of.
The game centers around a special ops unit, First Encounter Assault Recon, which specializes in the paranormal and comes packing considerable combat abilities and even rudimentary time powers a la The Matrix and Max Payne. The G-Phoria demo began with a non-interactive cutscene (set from the player's controllable perspective), in which F.E.A.R.'s lavishly detailed characters discuss a tense situation (we couldn't hear their conversation over the event's cacophonous backdrop, but they were frowning a lot). We were then dispatched to the dark depths of an old building with the task of apprehending a particular, dangerous suspect. But as we plumbed the recesses of the dingy basement, we got a whole lot more than we bargained for--and the heavily armored, well-armed commandoes weren't even the worst of it.
We went in packing just a simple pistol and submachine gun, but even these basic weapons feel like they pack a real wallop in F.E.A.R., thanks to their weighty sound effects and their exaggerated effect on the enemies you're shooting. The game's ragdoll physics and location-based damage systems work well together to make an enemy soldier flail around in a hyperrealistic, action-movie sort of way that really gets the point across. Even better, you can toggle a zoomed-in aiming mode with the touch of a button that makes it easy to score a headshot and take a foe down real quick-like. You can also do a brutal, Halo-style melee attack, and if you use this attack in midair you even perform a heavy jump kick.
But easily the best trick up your sleeve in F.E.A.R. is your ability to slow down time for a limited time. The effect is visually pretty similar to Max Payne--bullets leave ripple trails in the air and the sound is dampened, and the sprays of debris, sparks, dust, and smoke that pop up from bullet hits look even cooler when they're slowed way down. Of course, in gameplay terms, this ability makes it a lot easier to gun down a bunch of foes at once without getting shot full of holes ourselves. But it doesn't hurt that it also looks damn cool at the same time.
The combat scenarios in the F.E.A.R. demo were few, but each one had its own really unique, exciting elements. One time, we saw an enemy literally drop onto his belly and crawl underneath some rubble to get away from our hail of gunfire and assume a safer position. Later in the same battle, another enemy vaulted over a countertop unexpectedly to get a better shot at us. Later on, we snuck into a room two soldiers were talking in, turned on the slow motion, and blew them both away with a single shotgun blast, sending one of them practically into a slow-mo summersault.
As cool as the combat was in the F.E.A.R. demo, we were equally impressed with the creepy atmosphere and disturbing cinematic elements. The entire demo was dark--we're talking Doom 3 dark, where you can barely see anything in some rooms (though at least your head-mounted flashlight can be left on while you're shooting). And toward the end, weird things started to happen, like the ghostly little girl that appeared right in our face when we were descending a ladder. Later on in our investigation, we were inexplicably teleported into a weird hallway, and when we walked down it, we found a brutalized, dying man in a chair, and caught a ghostly glimpse of what appeared to be his murderer before he died right in front of us.
F.E.A.R. started out as a visually impressive game, and the longer it's been in development, the better-looking it's gotten. The game makes use of all the next-generation graphical effects you'd expect in a modern first-person shooter, things like normal and bump mapping, and pronounced specular highlights. As mentioned, the character models are also extremely high-detail from a geometry perspective, and the overall aesthetic is grittily consistent.
Judging by the number of "holy crap" moments we experienced during just 20 minutes or so of F.E.A.R., we're certainly looking forward to finding out if the full game can maintain this demo's breakneck pace. The game's high-intensity combat and sinister story elements have piqued our interest in equal measure, and given Monolith's winning track record, we have no reason to believe they'll let us down. Stay tuned for more on F.E.A.R. as its release date approaches.