Monolith is an interesting developer. While I was disappointed that they never continued Shogo (unique shooter to this day), they’ve more than earned my respect and interest. I still have Condemned to play, sitting unopened next to the Xbox over there, and No One Lives Forever is the greatest PC shooter of its day (2000), full of character. I wanted to play FEAR ever since the PC demo was released back in 2006, but never did. I finally picked up the original, both add-ons (Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate) and FEAR 2 on the cheap in a Steam sale just now. It makes sense to (re-) visit these games now as FEAR 3 just came out.
The original was received very well and it’s fun to see how it’s held up. Visually very well, and the gameplay is interesting enough. It’s a good shooter with a nice gimmick – slowing down time – and for once, it comes with weapons I really like. The ones I didn’t really use were the submachine gun (because I always had something better to hand and the pistol was more fun) and the Penetrator, as well as the melee. I actually liked being able to shotgun my way all through, some long distance encounters aside. Generally it bugs me to no end if you have to upgrade from fun weapons to something else due to escalation of firepower through the game. It helped with the whole serious undertone of the game.
The Penetrator is in the game presumably to showcase the then novel physics, but it mostly serves to underline the system’s failures. I really wasn’t impressed with the way the enemies were dangling from the walls toy-like after a Penetrator round. Without the gun, the enemy reactions are very satisfying and can stand as an example to this day.
It’s weird that they’ve put some effort into the whole unarmed fighting system, but I never needed it. Maybe the ammunition should’ve been scarcer to encourage it, but as it is, I only ever used it when I happened upon an enemy face to face when reloading, and few battles were that long. Perhaps calling it a “system” is overselling it as it’s just you pressing one button, but there are multiple contextual moves you can do, which I found interesting, if unnecessary.
The level design was so uninspired that I almost stopped playing at the halfway mark. It got a lot better towards the end, but the main body of the Armacham facility was so dull and winding that I started to think about what it would’ve looked like all spread out as an actual building. The architecture did not seem to follow any logic. Often I felt like I was running through a funhouse shooting gallery, where the route was very winding, but signposted well so that I didn’t become lost. A sense of disbelief was hard to maintain when the environments were so make believe. The environments in general were just uninspired. I have never seen so many dull office rooms in my life. It doesn’t help that the game’s age shows the most in the very spartan space it presents.
It’s good that moving through them, I mostly felt like an unstoppable vengeful spirit, a hurricane of decisive force, applied at just the right amount. Towards the end you get so good at the mechanics that you can fly into an ambush and take down everyone before they can touch you. It feels really good. The AI reactions help, their behavior varied enough to make them feel like a force worthy of your attention, and not just targets waiting to be taken down.
The very good character models and animation help a lot. The way the AI changes position, vaults over obstacles and shoots at you from over the shoulder while running for cover makes for some of the best FPS enemies I’ve ever encountered.
The plot was one of the game’s main selling points, this being a horror themed shooter. They play with your perception, showing you flashes of things that aren’t there, good for surprising you at times, but I think calling it a horror game is going too far. Much of the time I was so engrossed in the combat that I just didn’t even recall the context. Monolith paces it out well, never overdoing the horror effects.
It’s a shame the actual plot is so thin that it can’t really take this super long, drawn out exposure, where you’ve connected the dots quite likely before the titles have rolled in the beginning. (I know I had.) But that’s really the only failing. They do a decent job with characters and writing and for an FPS, it’s good stuff. I liked the ending quite a bit, but the problem is that it was long overdue at that point.
If only it was the ending. The add-on Extraction Point continues exactly where FEAR ended, on a good high note. My problem is that I no longer really care what happens to the mysterious FEAR Point Man, the player’s alter ego, next – his conflict was resolved during the game in a satisfying manner. Most of the game’s mysteries solved, I am intrigued to see how the new developer (Timegate) handles the add-ons. So I’m not interested in the add-ons per se, but I do want to see where they take them. I guess they get a few scenes to make me change my mind, then. The beckoning of the actual sequel, FEAR 2, is very strong.
That’s a problem with plots. If you make me care, and bless you if you do, you can’t pretend that I don’t.