F.E.A.R. E3 2004 Impressions

Monolith and Vivendi take the wraps off their new first-person shooter, and it’s Half-Life meets <I>The Ring</I>.

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The mystery of the mysterious screenshot released by Vivendi Universal Games and Monolith last week is over. The screenshot belongs to a new first-person shooter called F.E.A.R., and Vivendi gave us a peek of the game from behind closed doors at the show.

In F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Reconnaissance), you play the member of an elite military unit tasked with dealing with the supernatural and paranormal. Think of it as a military version of The X-Files, or as the elite commando teams you controlled in X-Com.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The game begins with you riding in the back of a Black Hawk helicopter over a major American city. It’s your first day on the job and you’re getting briefed about something going on at a major skyscraper. To make matters worse, the military sent in Delta Force commandos earlier, and none of them have been heard from since.

One of the biggest surprises of F.E.A.R. is that it isn’t using any of the LithTech engine technology that Monolith incorporates in all of its first-person shooters. The game uses brand-new engine technology that doesn’t even have a name yet, but it’s cutting edge, supporting DirectX 9 graphic features. The ride in the Black Hawk is impressive as you watch the city and water pass by below.

When you arrive at the skyscraper you’re dropped onto the roof under heavy fire. The Black Hawk quickly takes off and the door gunner opens up with his chaingun, shredding the mysterious, black-clad commandos shooting at you. You quickly neutralize the remaining commandos on the roof using a variety of weaponry--a tactical shotgun, an assault rifle, and grenades--and then you maneuver into the skyscraper.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Once you’re inside, it’s clear that something is not right. The lights are flickering strangely, and even your helmet-mounted flashlight doesn’t seem to work correctly. After battling through rooms full of commandos, you start to come upon some really strange stuff--like the fact that there are torn and shredded bodies everywhere, yet no bullet holes or brass casing to indicate what killed them.

Then while riding in an elevator, the lights start to flicker, and without trying to spoil things, let’s just say you start seeing things in the elevator. We’ve seen a lot of horror games before, but there are some really creepy moments in this game. In another moment, several commandos are caught on security cameras moving through the building. Just after they pass by, a mysterious shadow comes into the camera’s view, showing something tracking them. Needless to say, the commandos met a very grisly fate. The closest we can liken it is to imagine the Japanese horror movie The Ring meets Half-Life.

Your character is also capable of some spectacular moves. For instance, you can slow down time, very much like the bullet time effect seen in The Matrix. Yes, it’s certainly not original, but Monolith does it in a way that looks cool. For example, when your grenades explode in slow motion, you actually see a bizarre expanding bubble warping time and space. And in perhaps the coolest move, your character can leap into the air and dropkick an opponent, which is the first time we’ve ever seen that happen in a first-person shooter.

Unfortunately, neither Monolith nor Vivendi were very talkative about details after the demo. F.E.A.R. will ship sometime in 2005, and we’ll definitely keep you up to date about this very promising title.

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