F.E.A.R. is probably the best first-person-shooter of the year. It’s also a slight disappointment.
I say “probably” because we’ve yet to see Call of Duty 2 or Perfect Dark Zero. The disappointment, I’ll get along to later. For now, it can safely be said that this is the most atmospheric, exciting, and thoroughly engrossing shooter I have played since Half-Life 2. It’s a better single player offering than Quake 4, and puts every other FPS this year to shame. It’s a must-have PC title – one of those games that you owe it to yourself to experience. Whatever else follows, I can’t say this enough.
A lot of the appeal is down to the game’s much-hyped ‘bullet time’ feature. F.E.A.R. regularly hits you with unbeatable odds, and the only way to survive is to take control of time. You hit the key, the screen blurs, colours lighten and suddenly you’re in the middle of the most beautifully choreographed action scene in PC gaming history. A leap into the fray, turn, fire. Watch the bullets streak past and the spent cartridges fly out. Hit the ground, pivot, shoot again. Perfect headshot. Another faceless trooper tumbles to the ground. A shot flies out from the rear. Spin, aim, fire another burst. With a whoosh, time settles back to normal speed, and you’re (hopefully) surrounded by corpses. It’s a genuinely brilliant trick.
And F.E.A.R. uses it again and again and again. You can do sections of the game without ever touching the slowmo key, but on a decent difficulty level the game practically grabs you by the collar and demands you to. It’s not just the numbers of your enemy, it’s their intelligence. These guys will make use of cover, race to outflank you, band together to surround you, and find alternate routes in order to surprise you. They won’t go down easy, and they’re happy to riddle you with suppressive file. Outside of online games, I’ve never found opponents who make combat such an exhilarating, challenging experience. The ordinary troops – a bunch of armoured clones – are bad enough, but once the game starts throwing in the heavy troops and ultra-fast, camouflaged cyber-ninjas, it takes nerves of steel not to run home crying to mummy.