Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Monolith
Platform: PC

Reviewer: Iain King

Alien Breed on the Amiga made me tense, and when the calm female voice warned me I had sixty seconds to reach minimal safe distance I did panic. I may have jumped on level one of Doom, in that room where the lights go out and the Imp seems to appear from nowhere. It wasn’t until the demo for Aliens Vs Predator, though, that a game made me feel afraid. Blip-blip went the motion scanner as I edged slowly down a corridor. Doors hummed open, then: the shriek of an Alien, and short, controlled bursts were no longer an option. The first time a face-hugger killed me I jumped back from my monitor. Now? Aliens? Ha! Insanity-inducing Ancient Ones? Phshaw! Ravensholm? I laugh as I wander around, zombies merely target practice or comical trap fodder. No other game is scary anymore, because F.E.A.R is an understatement; F.E.A.R is terrifying.

When a psychic test-subject goes rogue and takes command of a legion of telepathically-controlled super-soldiers (in a viscerally bloody, keenly cinematic intro), you, as a government agent, are the one they send in to kill him, even if you have to go through all thousand of his puppets first.

Which is nice, because the fire-fights in F.E.A.R are amazing. Mostly unscripted, relying on the cunningly-written AI, they are incredibly cinematic and visually awesome. You see shockwaves, shattering glass, fire, and rag-dolls used oh so brutally. The blood is dark and red and gloopy, and more of it gets splattered on the floors, walls and ceilings than red paint in High Plains Drifter.

The AI is excellent – enemy troops will dive-and-roll through windows, run for cover (spraying fire wildly backwards as they do) and try to outflank you, and killing them is all the more satisfying for it. The guns don’t just look good, they feel good – weighty and solid, and packing a hefty punch. You can feel the kick, and your victims can sure as hell feel the bullets. The battles leave you bright-eyed and panting, and while the game can be viewed as a string of them joined together, you still find yourself hitting the reload button so that you can play that last gunfight just one more time.

After each fight the music fades away, and pretty quickly you develop a Pavlovian response to the silence: it makes you want to quicksave and quit. The silence makes you nervous because every battle in F.E.A.R is followed by a harrowing, heart-deteriorating section where you don’t need to shoot at all, you just stalk nervously through deserted corridors getting the shit scared out of you by a little girl in a red raincoat.

Her story is a gruesome one, and you have to play all the way to the end to find it out. Along the way you get scared. A lot. The game literally has you jumping at your own shadow (unlike most FPS’s, F.E.A.R models your in-game body). It uses every cinematographic trick in the book to give you the willies, and it even invents a few of its own, tailor made for the medium. The developers have gone to a lot of effort to make you afraid and, if you play F.E.A.R, you will be. You will be!

You flip-flop, being alternately adrenalised then terrified for about ten hours of play, right up until the astounding, apocalyptically explosive end-sequence. The only part I disliked was when the (entirely linear) plot diverged from my moral compass; I didn’t understand why, when I wanted to be their friend, one of the characters was still trying to kill me... well, that and the fat guy. I really wanted to kill the fat guy.