Thrilling and terrifying, this is the best FPS since Half-Life 2.
First Encounter Assault Recon, or F.E.A.R. for short, tells the story of a secret government agency tasked with handling various supernatural phenomena, much to the ridicule of more "serious" organizations. As such, you're assaulted by freaky apparitions of all sorts and haunted by some truly terrifying and unsettling visions. The gameplay itself is really a revolution for the genre, even though newcomers might mistake it for a traditional run'n'gun experience. Granted, there's not really anything new about bullet time (or slow mo) per se, but in an FPS, it's unheard of. But that's not all. In typical Monolith fashion, F.E.A.R. is a very cinematic and story-driven game, that successfully mixes shooter elements with Japanese horror.
The gameplay is a well crafted experience, featuring extremely intense and visceral gunfights interspersed with eerie and calm moments that abruptly explode into chilling supernatural encounters. Whilst in slow mo, the game winds down a la Max Payne, with the player retaining normal reaction and aiming speeds. It's a cool feature that you will be forced to use quite often, thanks to the brutal nature of the AI. It doesn't hurt that the effect is also extremely cool, with bullets leaving distorted trails in the air, awesome environmental damage that spews insane amounts of particles and tears the scenery apart. Speaking of AI, F.E.A.R. has the best one I've seen in a shooter so far. It responds intelligently to various situations, flanks you and doesn't mindlessly rush into certain death.
What really lifts F.E.A.R. above it's competitors is the successful inclusion of horror elements into a first person shooter setting. Such a thing would be easy to ruin by going overboard or being too ambiguous. Thankfully, Monolith pulls it off perfectly. The game is way scarier than Doom 3 could ever hope to be, and that's because F.E.A.R. doesn't taunt you with monsters jumping out of closets, but messes with your mind with the notion of a little girl slaughtering hordes of trained soldiers. Add to this both extravagant and subtle notions of supernatural terror and you'll most likely find yourself exhausted after a few hours of play.
Graphically F.E.A.R. is a masterpiece and an unbridled success. Detractors will mention the sometimes identical looking corridors and bland environment, but in the end it all serves the setting and storyline. Sure enough, the game boasts a wide assortment of graphical bells and whistles, most noteworthy being the dynamic lighting and parallax mapping which gives decals a 3D look. The Lithtech Jupiter EX engine is very capable of displaying a full spectrum of action, from furious and massive gunfights to meticulously detailed blood effects. It's a pure orgasm of death and destruction, and understandably the game requires a hefty system to run.
What's scarier than a supernatural little girl bearing down on you in an air shaft? The SOUND of a supernatural little girl bearing down on you in an air shaft! Monolith knew that without a proper sound world, the horror would amount to nothing. They used a decidedly low-tech approach, mimicking Japanese horror movies by creating sounds by dragging metal across different surfaces and recording pump sounds, among other things. The end result is a creepy and atmospheric experience that draws the player in and leaves them gasping for air at the sound of a bottle tipping over or a rat scurrying on the floor. This is all beautifully contrasted with the weapon sounds and other effects, that feature heavy bass and ear-shattering proportions. Thanks to the exceptional graphics and sounds, each firefight feels like a Hollywood summer blockbuster, which is exactly what the developers where going for.
Even though Monolith has a long tradition of creating superb and gripping FPS games, they've flown under the radar a bit, thanks to some stiff competition at the time of their various game releases. No longer. Even if God himself would release a game time and date with F.E.A.R., no one could possibly overlook it. It's such a meticulously crafted game from start to finish with great production values, an insane amount of detail and revolutionary gameplay, that everyone everywhere owes it to themselves to give F.E.A.R. at least a try. Trust me, you'll be hooked.