What’s more, the game is incredibly atmospheric. Much has been made of the inspiration F.E.A.R. has taken from The Ring, The Grudge and the rest of the Japanese horror crowd – the creepy girl, the unsettling ambient noise, the sudden visions – but Monolith deserves credit for the way it has taken these elements and created a powerful action/horror hybrid. Suddenly, Doom 3’s shock moments seem awfully silly, as F.E.A.R. works your pulse hard with its terrific lighting and spot sound effects, winds you with a grisly nightmare interlude, then throws you straight into the thick of combat before your nerves have had a second to calm down.
And technically the game is a near masterpiece. Monolith’s new engine rivals Valve’s mighty Source when it comes to gritty textures, shiny surfaces and realistic water, and the displacement effect used on the glass bricks in the game’s office sections is a touch of beauty that would do any game proud. If anything, the lighting is even better. If you like eerie glows, worrying shadows and dynamic lighting, then F.E.A.R. will give you everything you’re after. The way ceiling lamps swing in the aftermath of combat is lovely, plain and simple.
In fact, those with a destructive bent have plenty of reasons to be pleased. Where Quake 4’s environments seem impervious to grenade impact, shotgun blast or anything short of a nuclear explosion, F.E.A.R goes big on shattering glass, exploding plaster and huge fireballs destroying chunks of scenery. The flame effects and sparks make you glad the gunfights are seen mostly in slow motion; it’s the only way you could ever hope to appreciate the detail.
And let’s not forget about the sound. The music is nigh on perfect: slow and atmospheric when it needs to build tension, violent and bombastic when the bullets start flying. The clatter of an SMG, the thuds of impact and the sound of bullet casings hitting ground deserves to be heard over headphones or with a decent 5.1 surround sound setup. The radio messages sent by your enemies not only give them character, they also give you information. When you hear calls for reinforcements, you know you’re hitting them where it hurts. The whoosh of time slowing down and the weird, low timber of the effects before it winds up again has to be one of the best gaming noises of the year.