F.E.A.R. Updated Hands-On - Xbox Live Marketplace Demo

We spook out our Xbox 360 with the new downloadable F.E.A.R. demo.

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Following the 2006 Tokyo Game Show like jet lag, Sierra has released a short single-player demo of F.E.A.R. for the Xbox 360 through Xbox Live Marketplace. The demo should be immediately familiar to those who've played the original PC single-player demo of F.E.A.R., as it features a similar scenario. Despite the strong sense of déjà vu it gave us, the demo gives a good sense of what to expect.

The demo wastes no time with explanation or exposition.
The demo wastes no time with explanation or exposition.

The demo starts with you in the passenger seat of a car. Within seconds, and with no additional setup, you arrive at your destination of a nameless industrial complex, a common locale for F.E.A.R., where your objective is to find and eliminate Paxton Fettel. You start off armed with a handgun and a submachine gun, though we also picked up some hand grenades, a landmine, and a shotgun before the demo was over. The setting and the payload might seem a tad generic, but with F.E.A.R., the devil's in the details.

As a PC first-person shooter, F.E.A.R. made a name for itself in two areas: explosive gunplay and unnerving scares. The first is delivered through a series of intense, close-quarters firefights that punctuate the roughly 12-minute demo. Most of the encounters were with just a few enemy soldiers decked out in high-tech gear, but the artificial-intelligence enemies proved to be quite aggressive and just smart enough to make up for their limited numbers. Much of the F.E.A.R. demo is shrouded in darkness, and we found ourselves relying on our flashlight item quite often to navigate the poorly lit corridors. But the demo lights up during firefights, as bullets spark and ricochet around the area, causing plenty of debris to fly about. Grenades cause a kind of shockwave that creates a striking "warping" effect in midair, and we also found the weapon reports to be sharp and extremely loud, adding to the visceral experience.

The basic controls were standard for a console first-person shooter, with the left and right analog sticks handling movement and aiming, respectively, and the shoulder triggers used for firing weapons and tossing grenades. There were a few unique touches, too. Pressing left or right on the D pad lets you lean out from behind cover without fully exposing yourself, and more importantly, hitting the left shoulder button triggers a John Woo-style slow-motion effect. It only lasts for a few seconds, but during that time, you have a pronounced tactical advantage, as you can move much faster than your enemies. Despite feeling mostly familiar, the demo took some getting used to since the aiming felt a little oversensitive and our view bobbed about noticeably while our character was walking or running.

In between the brutal shoot-outs, the F.E.A.R. demo is peppered with some creepy moments. The young girl known as Alma runs past open doorways and around corners, only to vanish, and a full-grown man (whom we later discover to be Fettel) promises that "they all deserve to die" and appears in front of you, only to immediately turn into ash. Near the end of the demo, we found ourselves in a blood-slick hallway as the young girl stood on the ceiling accompanied by some eerie whispers. We admit that it was more effective the first time we played the PC demo, but these creepy scripted sequences still carried some weight.

When you're not going toe-to-toe with ruthless, well-armed soldiers, you're being freaked out by an unnerving little girl.
When you're not going toe-to-toe with ruthless, well-armed soldiers, you're being freaked out by an unnerving little girl.

Our immediate impression of the Xbox 360 demo of F.E.A.R. is that, while it does a proficient job of capturing the F.E.A.R. experience, it didn't feel quite as sharp or as clean as its PC forbearer, even when running in HD. Some of the issues felt like the usual casualties of a PC-to-console port, where textures don't look as highly detailed and special effects look a little dull, but we also noticed some distractingly choppy character animations.

But keep in mind, we're comparing the demo to one of the best first-person shooters of 2005, so the bar is set high, and even by those standards the demo wasn't bad. F.E.A.R. is expected to hit the Xbox 360 in early November.

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