F.E.A.R. has some neat ideas but doesn't utilise them as much as it should.

User Rating: 7.5 | F.E.A.R. X360
F.E.A.R. is a first-person shooter that borrows a lot of Japanese horror film elements. Playing as the Point Man of an elite paranormal response unit, you find yourself pretty much alone from the outset, hunting down a man named Paxton Fettel, who seems to be leading a large group of "Clone Soldiers" against you.

As a first-person shooter, F.E.A.R. conforms to the genre norms. You have a variety of guns and some neat grenades, including one that shoots bolts to pin enemies to walls, and remotely detonated "sticky" grenades that stick to surfaces for maximum carnage.

To stand out from the crowd, F.E.A.R. employs a lot of supernatural elements in the form of the now-infamous Alma, a ghostly, malevolent little girl who appears at random, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses behind her. Fettel appears to be closely aligned with her, and both often appear in close proximity to eachother.

As you creep around some of the most badly-lit buildings ever seen, most of which seem to have been designed by the same architect that designed the Resident Evil mansions with their twisty corridors and cut-off rooms, you're presented with alternating battles against Clone Soldiers or ghostly near-appearances of Fettel, or Alma herself. The intention is seemingly to cause constant tension and break it with combat, or a climactic act by Alma, but the game doesn't push either of these constructs on you forcefully or relentlessly enough to have a lasting effect.

Unfortunately, this lets the game down. The soundtrack is very good, with weird pump sounds or scraping metal making for a weird and unusual atmosphere, and whilst it helps build some sort of tension, very often, nothing actually happens for very long periods. Navigating air vents with a headlamp that runs its battery flat after a brief period is nervewracking at first, but after a few hours gameplay you start to care less and less about it.

Although the intention is you'll become indifferent in time for Alma to appear and scare you witless, after a while you just come to expect it, and the shock is critically reduced. Fettel is arguably scarier, with a rasping voice and creepy monologue, but both he and Alma often appear around corners or behind windows so by the time you've spotted them, they've started to disappear. That pretty much sums the game up: it tries to be too clever and too scary, but as is so often the case with this type of ghostly, fleeting-glimpse horror, unless it's put right in front of your line of vision, its effectiveness is reduced.

That aside, the combat is solid without being spectacular, but it is fun to use some high-tech weapons and there's enough traditional run-and-gun action alongside sniper-style attacks to satisfy hardcore FPS gamers. There is a "Reflex Time" feature, a finite Bullet Time mode that the Point Man can use to increase the odds, and the enemy AI is very intelligent, stacking up in waves to flush you out.

The plot is interesting and intriguing, but again it reveals so little about itself that you're left feeling annoyed at the slow pace of it, so you grow apathetic to finding out what's going on in the first place.

F.E.A.R. has borrowed some great ideas from prominent J-Horror films such as The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water, but because this is intended to be a scary, plot-driven shooter rather than your jack of all Halo clone, merely borrowing genre stereotypes unfortunately waters them down.

Whilst this is certainly worth checking out, it has neither aged well, nor has it got enough staying power to make it worth playing repeatedly. The fact the majority of its achievements are gained from online play is also curious, and seemingly undermines the validity of the single-player experience. Although it's a firm start to the series, it's a long way from being perfect.