Game Developers Conference, San Francisco--We recently had a chance to revisit F.E.A.R., the hard-hitting, action-packed shooter from developer Monolith and publisher VU Games, during the company's pre-E3 showcase, held two months before E3. FEAR has consistently managed to look very impressive every time we've seen it, and the new cinematic intro sequence and new single-player level we got to witness looked even better.
As you may have already read from our previous coverage, F.E.A.R. will, in a nutshell, attempt to combine the best parts of an over-the-top modern action movie such as The Matrix and creepy Asian horror movies like The Ring. The new cinematic sequence, which fades in and out of different scenes with developer credits, featured yet another appearance of the mysterious hunched little girl who appeared in last year's E3 demo.
The mysterious child pays a visit to a man who is down on his knees in what appears to be a concrete cell of some kind. Immediately afterward, the man begins screaming uncontrollably. The cinematic then switches to teams of security guards, with "ATC" logos printed on their uniforms, casually watching security monitors before they're ambushed by a squad of heavily armed commandos wearing blue riot armor and carrying assault rifles. The man in the cell has also apparently risen and gets the drop on a guard from behind--the poor guard has only a moment before the man lashes out at his face and throat with a bare-handed swipe that apparently hits the jugular and smears both men with blood. The scene then cuts to the aftermath of the surprise attack--the compound is littered with mutilated corpses and bloodstains, and the sequence ends with the man hunched over a corpse, apparently devouring it while the mysterious commandos stand guard.
The new single-player level we were able to see and play seems to have a setup similar to the area in the E3 demo (which we were told featured some actual areas from the game), in that your character is part of an elite military force that's only called in when an already-elite Army corps like Delta Force can't get the job done. The setup is fairly routine: You and three Delta troopers hit the gates of the installation, and you are sent in to find a switch that opens the front gate. It's a simple enough task, and as the gate opens, your comrades will call you back down. However, once you've arrived, they seem to have disappeared, and only three small clouds of ash remain. This is one of the first tipoffs you'll receive about the game's supernatural aspects, which will come much more heavily into play later on. As executive producer Chris Miller explains, F.E.A.R.'s pacing will be marked by moments like these--instead of fighting continuous hordes of enemies, you'll often find yourself walking through brief lulls in the action before things get hairy, either with an intense firefight or a bizarre paranormal manifestation.
On entering the compound, we found a few scattered enemies who didn't pose much trouble, despite their tendencies to duck behind cover, fire around corners, and retreat once grenades are brought into play. They'll apparently even knock down boxes and other objects to use for cover themselves, since the game models environmental objects physically and sends them flying after big explosions. The early part of the game we played already let us try out weapons like the pistol, submachine gun, shotgun, and nailgun (which also appear in multiplayer). However, once we got to an open courtyard filled with trucks and abandoned train boxcars, we found ourselves surrounded by hostiles who were surprisingly effective at flanking us by sneaking around cover and, in some cases, crawling under boxcars to get to us, all the while calling out our last location to their teammates. Even F.E.A.R.'s smaller gun battles are extremely intense, thanks to the game's liberal use of particle effects to model ricochet sparks, bits of blown-out walls, and shattering glass (and again, with the shouting). Its larger battles are completely insane.
After clearing the courtyard, we absconded to a dark corridor that led to a formerly abandoned warehouse crawling with enemy soldiers. After proceeding past a docking area by using a crane to swing a set of suspended pallets near a balcony to clear a jump, we found ourselves in a warehouse corridor, where we encountered a glowing apparition--a hunched man who did not react to being shot and instead staggered forward a few steps and then dissipated into ash. The man appeared once more before we found ourselves in a narrow hallway full of boxes. With no enemies in sight, we were ready to plow ahead, but we looked back over our shoulder one last time...to catch another glimpse of the mysterious little girl just before every single box in the hallway went up in a spectacular fiery explosion that sent us hurtling through the air, up next to, and clean through, a nearby second-story window.
We came away from today's demonstration of F.E.A.R. having seen even more of the game's impressive presentation and special effects and with a good idea of both the challenge of the game's battles and the kinds of bizarre sights you'll see in the game that may give you pause (before you're blown through a window). F.E.A.R. looks fantastic and has some incredible action, and we can't wait to play it. The game is scheduled for release later this year.