Fear was a pretty good FPS. It was graphically stunning, particularly considering that it’s a few years old, it had a suitably creepy backstory if you took the time to listen to voice mails and check laptops, and the “Penetrator” might just be my second-favorite videogame gun of all time. (Sorry, nothing beats the Land Shark Gun)
It just didn’t pull off the “horror” thing all that well.
You are almost always in control of your environment, and being scared is all about not having control.
The best scare in the game involves a ladder, and it pulls off the scare because, well, when you’re on a ladder, you have almost no control – your weapon is holstered, you can’t jump off the ladder, all you can do is go up to the top or down to the bottom, and getting on and off a ladder is something the game does for you. You are actually helpless during that brief period, and this is a pretty rare thing in Fear.
There are also a couple of “let’s flash something right in the middle of the screen” early in the game – again, the player is out of control – and those are plenty jump-inducing, but you don’t see them after the first couple of levels. The game seems to stop trying to scare you after level 3 or so, and doesn’t pick up again until the next-to-last level.
It doesn’t help that the player is a genuine badass. Special forces, superhuman reflexes, carrying a small arsenal of guns, in an environment dripping with spare ammunition and where you can save at any time… the proper response to any conflict is to shoot the hell out of it and count bodies later, never “run screaming like a little girl.”
In fact, running – screaming like a little girl or not – usually isn’t an option if you want to progress in the story, and neither is stealth. The game has a pretty neat melee combat system, but getting close enough to someone to bust out your kung fu is a pain in the arse.
You’re going to have to shoot mans, lots of mans, which leads to the next thing I’m going to bitch about.
80% of the enemies in Fear are, if you follow the story, enhanced-human clone soldiers, all connected via a telepathic link to a single uberpsychic general.
This sounds pretty creepy, and it might be, if only they weren’t so damn chatty.
If you’re walking down a dark hallway with your flashlight on, for instance, and it’s seen by one of the clones, he will loudly shout “flashlight!” to the rest of his squad, which alerts you to their presence. They’ll also helpfully shout “grenade out!” or “fire in the hole” when they’re throwing a grenade at you, shout for reinforcements when they’re down to low numbers, and so on and so forth.
They’re all supposed to be in telepathic linkup, right? About the only sounds they should be making are footsteps, and maybe involuntary screams.
Now, I get that it would be really unfair if they silently split into two groups, with one group taking a side hallway to get behind you while the first group set up an ambush for you to walk into, but it would also be super creepy, especially if they were smart enough to use air ducts, etc, and you were trying to figure out from footsteps just where an attack would be coming from.
You do occasionally fight a variant of the clones that IS silent and has Predator-style optical camoflauge, and those ARE creepy as all get out, but the rank and file? Not so much.
I’d been told that the creepy level ramped way up near the end, and this is true, but it’s only really notable because the majority of the game, after an intro that does a pretty decent job of jolting the player, settles down to a straight-up shooty game and stays that way for a surprisingly long time.
It was still a good game, but it left me wanting. Fortunately, I have Dead Space to try out next, and that looks like it should make me jump a bit.