F.E.A.R. and lack of loathing?

Sam Hart

2008-01-22 17:05:14

So I've been replaying the F.E.A.R. games lately, and I've been musing as to why I like them as much as I do. I mean, in my Video Game Awards for 2007 I had F.E.A.R. Files in the honorable mentions page. But really, they have a lot of flaws, so why do I like them so much?

For those who don't know, F.E.A.R. was developed by Monolith, whose pedigree includes such classics as Condemned, Tron 2.0 and the legendary No One Lives Forever. F.E.A.R. has two expansions: Extraction Point, which takes place immediately after the first game ends and has the same characters, and Perseus Mandate, which follows a new team in events parallel to the original game as well as Extraction Point.

F.E.A.R. is a very by-the-book FPS with a survival horror theme to it. The levels tend to be rather linear, very rarely do you really have much freedom in how you can accomplish any goal. The series' gameplay can accurately be described as "Go from point A to point B killing all the enemies in your path, rinse, repeat". Furthermore, the graphic engine (Lithtech) hasn't aged as well as many of its contemporaries. This means that, graphically, the games tend to be rather blasé with boxy environments filled with hard-edged objects. This is made worse by the fact that most of the series (F.E.A.R. and Perseus Mandate) takes place in office buildings and warehouses.

The series has one major gimmick to it, the ability to slow time, but this isn't wholly original (we've seen it in games since Max Payne). Otherwise, the gunplay tends to be pedestrian and there's little in terms of modern FPS elements to be found in the games.

So what makes them so damned compelling?

This question was really bugging me... It's been bugging me ever since I first fell in love with the original F.E.A.R.- The games weren't bad games. They just felt dated in almost every way.

Sure the graphics were in glorious HD on my 360, but the boxy environments and level design seemed straight out of a FPS from the mid 1990s. Yes, there are a lot of different weapons, but nothing was really new or unique, they almost could be carbon copied and renamed from the weapons in Quake 2 or GoldenEye. Everything about the games feel like the games should have come out in the mid 1990s.

And that's when it dawned on me: The reason these games are as enjoyable as they are is because they feel like the FPSes of yore.

Don't get me wrong, I love modern FPSes. Halo 3 with its vehicles and sprawling environments, Bioshock with its intricate story and RPG-ish elements, Portal with its innovative FPS puzzle gameplay and brilliant minimalist story- these are great FPSes and really have pushed the genre to new heights.

But no one really makes classic-style FPSes any more. Linear, mindless, twitch-gameplay FPSes like Quake 2, Duke Nukem 3D, and Perfect Dark are few and far between these days. These are the FPSes that we were weaned on, and ones which most FPSes fans remember fondly.

The reason F.E.A.R. and its pseudo-sequel expansions are as enjoyable as they are is because they are the virtual equivalent of comfort food. Everything about them is familiar, not in a tedious way but in a nostalgic way. They remind us of all the great games that hooked us to the genre many years ago. The boxy warehouses with conveniently placed catwalks call up memories of Quake 2 levels, and the office buildings will undoubtedly remind you of maps from Counter Strike.

So F.E.A.R. is more of a classic-FPS fan-service than anything else, and comparing it to modern FPSes like Halo or Half-Life 2 just isn't fair. It's a series that I recommend highly to any fan of the genre as you will undoubtedly enjoy it as much as I did.