F.E.A.R. -- My Tardy Impressions

My videogame playing has certainly died off a lot the past few weeks. I haven't touched my Xbox, PS2, or Gamecube in months and even my DS and PSP have gone by the wayside recently. All I've been playing is the first-person shooter F.E.A.R. on the PC. And not because it's all that engrossing, but rather because it's so monotonous, so repetitive, and so easy that it's the perfect choice of entertainment for times when you just don't feel like thinking. And it's not really anything that F.E.A.R. alone is guilty of, but rather the entire FPS genre. How they continue to be so popular and sell so well is beyond me.

F.E.A.R. consists of 11 episodes, the majority of which take place in what seems to be the same exact location. You run through offices ducking behind desks for cover, searching for Medkits and extra ammo, and you blast your way through thousands of enemies that, for one reason or another, all look identical. I'm assured that there are multiple enemy types in the game, but as far as I can tell there's only about 5 or 6 varieties. Regardless, once you master the controls and get a feel for the way the game operates -- it's a FPS so this takes all of 2 minutes -- you are ready to plow ahead and leave a trail of blood and gore in your wake.

This game was billed as a merging of the horror and FPS genres. I don't see it. Aside from the occasional apparition and accompanying screeching music, there is nothing remotely scary about the game. Yes, it can be tense at times but these moments are so few and far between that they seem completely out of place when they are reintroduced. It's like reading through several chapters of a book about nothing and then having the title character suddenly appear for two pages and then quickly disappear yet again. Sure, you'll hear about what he's up to a few chapters later, but do you really care at that point? At no point in the game could I honestly answer the question, "so what's this game about?". And when asked that question, all I could honestly say was that it was about shooting guys before they shoot me.

But I still played the game through. Why? Because like I said, it's completely mindless entertainment. Lately, everytime I want to install a more robust game, I get bored of it within minutes and decide that I don't have the patience to play it. F.E.A.R. was nice in that I could play it for an hour or so a day and still get through it in under two weeks.

Of course, the game does have it's good points. Most notably, it's graphics and sound. In the technical department, I don't think the game has a rival. It definitely gave my machine a serious workout and I definitely did enjoy the eye-candy the game presents. I think that was part of why I kept playing it. It had been a couple years since I upgraded my PC and although Doom III and Half-Life 2 looked okay running in a slightly nutered mode on my old rig, F.E.A.R. is a huge leap forward for gaming as a whole. Maybe the upcoming game Prey on the Xbox 360 will look even better, but so far nothing on any platform that I've seen can really compare. And although the sound occasionally hiccups or is overdone, switching to SloMo mode and hearing each individual bullet casing hit the floor and the bullets whiz by overhead and debris slide across the ground was a feast for the senses. Even my wife who watched me play for a short while one night was utterly amazed by the level of detail in both the textures and the audio. She really liked the blood splatter.

But the game isn't just about looks, it also impresses with its artificial intelligence. As repetitive as fighting the same breed of enemies may be, these guys are pretty freaking smart and they will downright feel like human opponents at times. Unlike a lot of games where the enemies act the same way one hundred times in a row, the enemies in F.E.A.R. do adapt to your strategies and honestly seem intelligent. Yes, they occasionally puke on themselves and accidentally bounce a grenade right at their own feet, but so do I. I very well can't fault them for doing what I myself am guilty of.

All in all, the faults I find with this game are inherent to the genre (although Half-Life 2 seemed to rise above them) but if you look past the genre's limitations, this is probably one of the better games if for no other reason than the artificial intelligence and the shear sensory delight that this game provides. Don't go into it expecting much of a story or to be even mildly scared, however. And don't expect to want to play through it over and over, because I doubt you will. Ultimately, I expect this game to be remembered simply because of its graphics, if it's remembered at all.

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