F.E.A.R. Updated Hands-On - Multiplayer

We get our hands dirty in multiplayer with this over-the-top shooter.

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First-person shooters have gotten a lot better over time. While game developers used to be limited to making first-person-view corridor crawls where you blasted anything that moved, they can now make shooters that are better, stronger, and faster--they have the technology. Developers have also taken to adding new features and gameplay additions to help their games stand out, and from what we've seen, the upcoming shooter F.E.A.R. from developer Monolith and publisher VU Games won't have much trouble making a name for itself.

Monolith's upcoming shooter will combine the sensibilities of an over-the-top action flick and a Japanese horror movie.
Monolith's upcoming shooter will combine the sensibilities of an over-the-top action flick and a Japanese horror movie.

If you've followed F.E.A.R. since its first showing at E3 2004, you'll know that the single-player game is being modeled after an over-the-top action movie. You play as a rookie operative on an elite squad of counterterrorists who are investigating a multimillion-dollar compound that has been occupied by what appear to be terrorists. These terrorists have jammed all radio signals in the building and apparently tore a squad of Delta Force relief troops to shreds, literally. The single-player game will be unflinchingly violent, and it will also feature occult themes that wouldn't seem out of place in a modern Japanese horror flick, such as The Ring. As we discovered, the multiplayer mode may not have any ghosts or dogs (or ghost dogs, for that matter), but it will have at least as much visceral action and many more vicious gunfights.

At a glance, the game's multiplayer may not sound too deep, though as you'll find out when you play, there's much more to it than its basic features. At this point, the game will have six major modes of play, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, elimination (essentially a last-man-standing mode), and team elimination. That's right, no capture the flag, assault the control points, or anything else at this time. The game may not even need them. Instead, there will be two other modes in addition to the ones already described: slow-motion deathmatch and slow-motion team deathmatch.

In the single-player game, your character will have the ability to slow time (and your enemies) to get the jump on them. In multiplayer, this ability will actually be triggered by an item that is carried by one player (or one player on a team in team deathmatch). The slow-motion item runs on a limited meter that gradually fills up over time, and the item can't be used until the meter is completely full. However, when the fully-charged item is used, time slow down in the entire game--for everyone. In the early version of the game we played, the slow-motion ability slowed all enemies down to about 20 percent of their normal speed, while players using it were able to move and shoot at about 40 percent of their normal speed. These advantages and disadvantages apply to both teams in team deathmatch, which makes protecting the carrier of the slow-motion item a real priority (and a lot more interesting than straightforward deathmatching). The version we played had handy onscreen markers for friendlies and already sighted hostiles (tiny floating green and red flags that are superimposed on the world as you play), and it also used a slightly larger flag to indicate the slow-motion carrier (also green for a friendly, red for a hostile). And in order to reduce confusion, F.E.A.R.'s team-based multiplayer modes always make all friendlies on your team appear as Delta Force troops and all enemies appear as terrorists, regardless of which team you play with or whether or not you switch teams.

The maps we were shown included the perimeter of a warehouse (complete with docking area), a partially constructed building covered in tarps and tape, and the interior of an office building. Each environment was detailed enough to seem believable, but the maps' open-ended layout was clearly intended to encourage a lot of running and gunning (and considering how fast-paced and kinetic F.E.A.R.'s battles tend to be, this is very much a good thing). Yes, the maps did have choke points with appropriate cover, such as gaps between piles of loading dock palettes or a nonwalled office around a corner stairwell with a table to duck behind, but just about every area in the game has at least two approach points. Basically, sitting still and hoping no one sees you won't work in this game's multiplayer modes; you'll need to get out there with guns blazing.

After playing in multiplayer mode, you might swear that the game's guns are actually blazing. What we've seen of the game made great use of Havok-engine physics and a very generous helping of particle effects. As a result, the gun battles are extremely dramatic. Bullets that barely miss you kick up showers of sparks along metal railings and tear holes in walls, while grenades and other explosive weapons send out concussive shock waves that shake your screen and leave your character's ears ringing afterward. It's natural for first-person shooters to be suspenseful when other players hit you, as it causes your health meter to drop. It's another thing entirely to watch your teammates get blasted to bits, see their blood spattered on walls, and watch as blood pours from a punctured artery or a severed head. And then there are the times when you're showered by sparks and glass shards while some guy is leaping at your face, boot first.

In addition to shooting your enemies, you can also kill them off with melee attacks, including the leaping kick you may have seen in the E3 2004 demonstration. Each weapon will let you perform a melee attack up close while equipped (similar to the melee attacks of Halo), but you can also perform two "unarmed attacks." These attacks include a leaping kick (performed by pressing your jump key and your melee key at the same time) and a sliding scissor kick (performed by pressing your crouch and melee keys at the same time). Both attacks are more than a little risky, but both are also extremely damaging (and often lethal), and as we discovered firsthand, both attacks are great ways to humiliate your opponents (or, be humiliated, anyway).

There is nothing to fear but having some guy bury his boots in your face.
There is nothing to fear but having some guy bury his boots in your face.

Otherwise, the early version of the game we played offered a total of seven primary weapons to choose from (you can carry only one primary weapon and a total of three weapons at a time, including other weapons you'll pick up on the map). These include dual pistols, a submachine gun, a combat shotgun, an assault rifle, a nail gun, a semiautomatic assault rifle (which fires shots in three-round bursts and is equipped with a zoom lens), and the plasma weapon, a prototype beam weapon that's usually lethal with a direct hit. But don't be fooled--even though these weapons were modeled after real-world hardware, they're not exact replicas. At this time, none of the weapons seem to suffer from any kind of firing recoil, and nearly all of them, especially the submachine gun, sound considerably louder than their real-world counterparts. As you're poking through the multiplayer maps, you may also pick up additional weapons like the missile launcher (which fires a handful of clustering projectiles that explode within a radius) and the battle cannon (a devastating weapon that's essentially an instant-firing, shoulder-mounted mortar), along with fragment and proximity grenades. If what we've seen is any indication, multiplayer matches of F.E.A.R. will be fast, brutal, and spectacular. The game is scheduled for release later this year.

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