F.E.A.R. or First Encounter Assault Recon was developed by Monolith Productions, which after FEAR is known for Condemned, FEAR 2, Gotham City Impostors and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
FEAR was published by Sierra Entertainment, whose history of developing and published dates back to 1980. Some of Sierra’s more notable games include King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Half Life 2, and several Spyro and Crash Bandicoot games.
FEAR is a first person shooter with horror elements. The following review is based on the Playstation 3 version and was recorded using an ElGato which records at 60fps. I do need to mention that because frame rate is something I will discuss later.
Also, this game is technically ten years old and has recently passed my ten year rule. After ten years, I feel comfortable spoiling games, movies, or books. The game is technically older than ten years if you count it’s other versions. That being said, if you feel like F.E.A.R. is something you feel like you’d want to try or don’t want to be spoiled, this is your warning.
FEAR begins within the confines of Armacham Technology Corporation HQ where a man named Paxton Fettel takes control of an army of Replicas. Replicas are clones and super soldiers. With the help of the Replicas, Fettel kills everyone.
The United States then sends Delta and FEAR teams to go after Paxton.
You are an unnamed soldier that is a part of the First Encounter Assault Recon team. As you explore the dark hallways of ATC HQ, you are forced to fight against Replicas, ATC security while also experiencing horrific hallucinations induced by a mysterious little girl in red.
The worst part? You’re all alone.
Alrighty, let’s get down into the nitty gritty. First of all, I’m not going to lie, I had difficulty understanding the story. However, rather than discuss the story first, I’m going to take a random right turn here.
The audio of this game is awful. It is just downright terrible. Most of the game’s narrative is delivered to your earpiece. We’ve all seen this is any FPS shooter game ever. Your commanding officer tends to communicate with you via your ear piece or radio. “Hey soldier, get down to the playground. We have intel that suggest the enemy is hiding underneath the slide.” You know, stuff like that.
The problem is that in this game, your commanding officer or leader or whatever this guy is, can’t ever be heard! His audio for some reason is extremely low and the mixing is terrible because my foot steps, sound effects, or music will almost always drown him out. There are a handful of times where I could hear him but it’s not good hearing him once every ten times he speaks to you.
The game also offers little sound clips you can “collect”. They’re not actually collectibles but they’re also not technically audio logs. Throughout the game, there will be phones that are flashing red. If you go up to them and turn them on, you’ll hear the last message that was left.
This is also just as bad as when your commanding officer is talking you. Unless you’re standing completely still in a quiet environment, you can’t hear it. The worst part is that there were actually interesting messages but the only ones I ever heard were pointless. “Hey, Mark, what’s going on? Call me back!”
It’s very rare that you run into an ally, but when you do, guess what? The audio is bad there too. While it’s not anywhere near as inaudible as the constant radio communication or the phone messages, it’s just as poorly mixed. Again, unless you’re standing still, you won’t hear them.
The music can be bipolar. More often than not, the game’s music is very sly and haunting. You won’t notice the music unless you’re listening for it because you’re so busy with the visuals. It’s not in your face like most horror music is. However, the other side to that is this campy little music that comes on that doesn’t make any sense to be in the game. It usually only comes on when you encounter a certain character. It’s almost like the music itself is the comedic relief.
The sound of the guns is decent for it’s time. Sometimes it becomes unsynchronized so you’ll hear gunshots seconds before you fire and sometimes seconds after you’ve stopped firing.
The game’s best audio moments comes from the ambience. When those little creaking noises or glass crashing to the floor or screaming are combined with brilliant art direction in the visuals, that’s when you see the true soul of FEAR.
Now, I could have fixed the audio in the options by completely muting the sound effects and music but then that’s taking away from the game in general. I lowered the music and sound effects to half the default setting and it still didn’t help enough. The only option I technically had if I really wanted to hear everything was to just lower everything but the dialogue for these short moments and then return the volume back to normal when everyone was done talking. But again, taking away the sound effects and music takes away from the game experience and doing it just for those moments is time consuming.
When it comes to visuals, the game is outdated. That being said, the environments are boring and dull. They don’t encourage exploration. Rewards like health upgrades and slow motion ability upgrades encourage exploration but if this game didn’t have those upgrades, you wouldn’t explore this surprisingly massive game.
You spend a lot of time in a giant office building. The office building is your run of the mill office building however the paranormal aspect of this game transforms this boring office building into something more sinister.
A hallway is a hallway. Who cares? All of a sudden, all the lights go out and that hallway becomes a dread to run through. As your character hallucinates, and enemies are around the corner along with this haunted building, the game’s boring office space becomes a haunted maze.
Sometimes, you’ll end up in a room that just doesn’t make sense and the game doesn’t even bother to explain it. In this game’s case, it’s a good thing because it adds to the confusion. Sometimes you’ll walk into a room where somehow there’s just a skeleton hanging on the wall, a small pool of blood on the floor and then just the ceiling drenched in blood. Rather than just blatantly tell you, “This is what happened.” It doesn’t, You’re left to just think, “Holy shit” and you move on because you have no choice. And as you’re moving on, you hope that you’re not about to encounter something more than just an armed enemy.
There were a number of times where I walked into a room and went “Holy shit” and then I was careful about heading into the next room. And just when I started to forget that feeling and started charging through the rooms, I’d get another reminder with another room of brutality.
If you don’t get a room of brutality, you’ll get a hallucination induced by the little girl in red, Alma. Because the audio was so bad, I couldn’t tell what was being said but surprisingly that added to the fear factor of these moments. “Alright, just gonna run to this door here” And then you hear whispers and all of a sudden, the door disappears and you’re face to face with this terrifying little girl and then you’re in a room that’s on fire. That’s when I just went, “Alright, I don’t know what the **** was just told to me, but I’m confused and I’m scared.”
As for technical problems, the game suffered a lot of frame rate drops and screen tearing. The frame rate drops would happen during a fire fight sometimes which would make aiming almost impossible. When that frame rate dropped as you were shooting, you’d have to just pray and spray. So while the overall visual tone and audio ambience made this game a pleasure a lot of the time, it’s errors really negatively impact the overall experience.
Alright, so for the story itself, I find it difficult to have an opinion simply because most of the time, I didn’t know what was going on. For me, it was like 10 long levels of looking for Paxton Fettel and then after I got him, there was a little girl.
Everything that happening in between went in one ear and out the other…and not even in one ear since I couldn’t hear anything. There are laptops you can hack throughout the game that give more background to the whole project but they're just like the phone messages. Unless you’re very still in a quiet environment, best of luck to you.
Looking at the Wikipedia page, I learned that I missed out so much because of the audio problems. I learned that the little girl’s name is Alma, that it’s hinted throughout that she’s your mother, Fettel is being controlled by Alma, but Fettel may also be Alma’s son…those little details were in the game and the audio part of the game compromised that for me. I could have enjoyed the game so much more had it not been for the faulty audio.
The gameplay is as flawed as the audio. It has it’s moments but overall it is incredibly outdated.
For one, the controls are difficult to get used to simply because I guess it came before the standards that most First Person Shooters adhere to. However, that comes down to my error more than the game.
Also, sometimes, there is an input lag in where you press to shoot and there’s like a half second to a full second of nothing before you actually shoot. This is most evident with the sub machine gun and something I can’t show on screen.
The overall gameplay though is what you’d expect in a First Person shooter. There is a small element of survival horror in that, at least on the normal difficulty, ammo can become pretty scarce. I feel like if you’re careful though, more often than not, you won’t have a problem.
However, if you get screwed over by the frame rate during a fire fight and have no choice but to empty entire clips on one enemy, there are always new guns to pick up from their bodies. The catch is that they won’t always have a lot of ammo on them.
The guns are limited but that’s just what it was like back then. Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, submachine gun and then there a few other weapons that are really special like one that just disintegrates your enemies. The downfall to those power weapons is that ammo is extremely limited. Like that weapon that turns your enemies into a skeleton? You can only have 20 bullets.
The game also features a health bar and an armor bar. Armor reduces the amount of health you lose when you get attacked and health does not regenerate unless it’s at a certain point when it’s low but it might as well be nonexistent. If your health is at 8, it’ll regenerate to 10. It makes no difference at that point.
In the normal difficulty, health kits were plentiful with a few exceptions where I would simply get careless but otherwise it was easy to move throughout the game with your health at a comfortable spot. Armor is less plentiful but it exists and it does help.
As you explore the world of FEAR you can pick up upgrades which simply permanently increase your health by 5 or your slow motion ability.
Your slow motion ability is essentially the first person version of Max Payne’s bullet time. You turn on slow motion and you can see where bullets are going and you can use it to focus on enemies at a time. Unlike your health, your slow motion ability regenerates on its own when it is not being used.
Your enemies have pretty decent AI. They’re not totally stupid because they do move and do communicate with each other but sometimes they just stand there and become easy targets. When they do communicate, sometimes it’s hilarious because I feel like the communication is randomized. For example, during a firefight, one yelled out, “Ya see anything?” And another one went, “Shut the **** up!” I couldn’t tell if that really was a response to that question or it just happened to be well timed.
Other enemies include robots and these enemies are the worst. They don’t add variety as they do just make me groan. There’s only two types of human enemies and there are only two types of robots enemies. The first one is this robocop prototype that continuously fires rockets at you and the second is a drone that shoots lasers at you. Neither are fun to fight and if you’re not careful, both drain your health dramatically.
I read that the AI at the time was top of the class but in 2017, it is what it is and that is: outdated.
The game also doesn’t have any death scenes. When you die, it just immediately takes you to the loading screen. Sometimes, it’s just so abrupt you might even laugh to yourself and go, “What the hell?”
Also, random note but, FEAR’s loading screens are long but they never felt as long as Prey’s.
All in all, the game’s ambience is still fantastic. Those hallucinations and those feelings of dread walking through these haunted levels still hold up. However, the game is betrayed by bad audio, bad frame rates, and outdated gameplay.
I’ve never played this game prior to this review. I never really ever heard of it. I was a wee lad when this game came out. Only game I ever heard about was FEAR 3 because the commercial for it played everywhere on TV at the time. I remember seeing it, being interested and then going, “Wait, that’s the third one? What the hell?” and then moving on because it was the third in a series and I was a dumb ass kid. Obviously as an adult, Yakuza 4 got me into the Yakuza series, Battlefield 3 got me into the Battlefield series, Call of Duty 4 got me into the Call of Duty series and so on and so forth.
So anyways, I had a random urge inspired by literally nothing to want to play this series. Unfortunately, as cheap as this game is, it is rare in my area. Lucky for me, my best friend bought it for me as a gift while he was out and about along with FEAR 2.
Anyways, the game is pretty decent but it is a shame that it’s technical aspects brought down what still feels great about this game. At this point, if you stripped the game of everything and just made it a walking simulator, I think the game would still feel as scary as it was with the gunplay.
So my recommendation is that if you own an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 and like First Person Shooters, you should try FEAR. It'll take some getting used to but it really shows a whole new perspective to the genre. However, I don’t think this game is worth buying a console over nor would I say it’s a necessity to play.
And despite the low score, I’m giving it, I firmly believe that if this game was remade for today’s consoles, it would be amazing. If you gave it the Modern Warfare remastered treatment and updated the controls a bit, it’d still be as butt clenching as the original.
So from me, FEAR First Encounter Assault Recon gets a 4…out of 10.