[9 August 2007]
Nothing beats a good horror movie. Nothing, that is, except for a good horror-themed video game. It is almost impossible to be scared while watching the latest glossy Hollywood gorefest. The latest scary video game, however, will frighten the chastity belt clear off of your virgin loins.
F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon is simultaneously one of the most boring shooters out there and one of the scariest. Most horror games work by making you question whether or not you want to go through a door or turn a corner. You know you have to keep going if you want to progress, but you don’t want a horde of zombies chemically infused by the Umbrella Corporation to bite your neck off. F.E.A.R. takes this fear to the next level. It is a first-person shooter, more like Half-Life than Resident Evil 2, but it combines elements of both. It has the long pauses and creepiness of Resident Evil 2 combined with the gun battle mayhem of Half-Life and slowly unveiling storylines that are a throwback to the late ‘90s.
The game was originally released in 2005 for the PC, then the Xbox 360 version came out, and now it has been ported to the PlayStation 3. I can’t wait until the Wii version comes out. Resistance: Fall of Man was a great game that worked well on the PS3, but the PlayStation consoles are notoriously unkind to first-person shooters. For example, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64 are better than Killzone for the PS2, which came out a full generation later. Resident Evil 4 wasn’t bad on the PS2, but it had some issues that just weren’t present in the GameCube version.
Back to F.E.A.R., which, as you can probably tell, is sooo creepy that I don’t even want to mention it more than once. I fear that I fear F.E.A.R. and that our greatest president ever was correct, but not in the way he meant. It took me a while to finish, because I could only play the game while there was still daylight. Let us analyze this further, shall we?
F.E.A.R. begins with a motion-picture-quality opening sequence and ends conquered. In between, there are guns ablaze, a little girl, questions, frightened people, crazy people, dead people, and questions answered. The firefights are particularly impressive even if your arsenal is not. At your disposal are guns that you could purchase in real life after a three day waiting period. Shotguns, sub-machine guns, handguns, assault rifles, and missile launchers—you know, all weapons that you can pick up at your local traveling gun show. All the weapons are boring, but the damage that can be dealt to the surrounding environment and the choreography of the kills make up for the lack of creativity in the weaponry. The gunfights are of an almost cinematic quality, especially with a slow-mo feature that allows you to be a “god amongst men”. Hearing curse words in slow motion is an unfortunate byproduct of this ability, but the drawn out “NOOOOOO” that crawls out of a defeated foe’s mouth adds some unintentional comic relief to an otherwise dense and depressing, yet engaging gaming experience. The plot here is better than that of any movie that came out this summer and it involves the usual gaming culprits: corporations exploiting overeager scientists, scientists repenting after experiments gone awry, corrupt government officials, and a touching mother-son back story. Also, everyone and your brother want you dead. And maybe someone else, too, but I don’t like being too much of a spoiler.
Somebody took his ugly pill this morning.
What makes this game truly scary is not the two factions trying to kill you, but the creepy little girl and the bloody weirdo that mess with your head as you move through the levels. The bloody weirdo is Paxton Fettel, and he is your main target who you get to think is behind the whole mess. The little girl is the real culprit and seems to be ripped straight out of the Japanese horror film Ringu. You are a new member of the F.E.A.R team and you get called in to locate this Fettel character and put a stop to his madness. Little do you know that in between shootouts and being messed with in the head, there are some really blah strolls through office buildings. Where are Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam when you need them?
Seriously, the F.E.A.R. factor in the game is more interactive than usual. You might crawl out of an air duct to find yourself falling into a sewer pond which turns into a bloody hallway that you have to navigate. It doesn’t sound scary now, but these unexpected twists lull you deeper and deeper into a state of F.E.A.R.
Okay, I’ll stop.
On to the negatives, not least of which is that there is seriously something funky going on with the Sixaxis controller. It’s easy to find yourself constantly stuck and spinning around in circles while enemies are shooting at you. Maybe it has something to do with the way that the program logs the commands after being ported from machine to machine. Developers should spend more time on ports so that issues like these don’t keep occurring when transferred from PC to console or vice versa. Day 1 Studios could also have changed the Dell XPS laptops that appear within the game to PlayStation 3s for the PS3 version and Xbox 360s for the 360. At the very least, it would have been funny to see a PS3 sitting in the middle of an office, since people generally aren’t even buying them for their homes.
Horror flicks are scarier when you’re young and impressionable, when you think that saying “Bloody Mary” 666 times while staring at a mirror will cause a vengeful Elizabethan woman to appear. Ahhh, just thinking about it gives me chills. The older you get, the more you realize that it is just a movie, or that it is just folklore. Since kids are maturing faster and faster these days, it is no wonder that the horror film genre is going through such a drought. The Hollywood answer has been to up the gore factor and lay off the psychological aspect that actually made films, such as The Exorcist scary. Horror games like F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon are immersive by design and therefore have the current psychological edge, not to mention that according to Jack Thompson, video games are the most violent and influential things ever, so games must already have the advantage in gore. F.E.A.R. is also the closest thing to a real life “Bloody Mary” experience that you can buy for only sixty dollars.
Gamers have, of late, been more loyal to their games than the average moviegoers to their multiplexes, as evidenced by shrinking ticket sales year after year. It has been said that movies are making literary fiction obsolete, but in reality the film industry has more to F.E.A.R. from video games than books do from movies.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/fear/