When it was released for the PC in 2005, F.E.A.R. met with critical acclaim but not matching commercial success. Undaunted, publisher Vivendi Games pressed ahead with an Xbox 360 port — which it released on the same day as Gears of War, the most-hyped game of the year. Time will tell whether F.E.A.R. finds a bigger audience on Microsoft’s console, but this problematic translation may not deserve to.
WHY SETTLE?: F.E.A.R. does some things right — but not enough.
The slick presentation that so pleased critics last year has made the journey safely. As the newest member of a paranormal strike force called First Encounter Assault Recon, you’re on the hunt for an evil psychic named Paxton Fettel who’s controlling an army of cloned soldiers with his mind. As if that weren’t cool enough, the psychic also seems to be responsible for your own hallucinations and flashbacks. Or maybe the creepy, pyrokinetic little girl you keep seeing is the culprit. The folks at Monolith have taken a page from the Half-Life series and done an excellent job of tricking you into looking exactly where something freaky is happening. The best parts of F.E.A.R. are the quieter moments when you turn around and glimpse the little girl creeping out of view. Or you see Fettel’s shadow in sharp contrast against a wall, only to round the corner and find nothing. The scare tactics aren’t much different from the ones that appeared in the 360 launch title Condemned: Criminal Origins, but they’re effective nonetheless.
As the game goes on, the hallucinations and apparitions become scarcer, and what you’re left with is a somewhat muddled first-person shooter. F.E.A.R. seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. The mechanics incorporate ideas from tactical shooters: the crosshairs’ precision depends on whether you’re moving or standing still, and your character can’t take more than a few bullets before croaking (though you can build your health meter over the course of the game). The hook to the combat is something called “reflex time,” the umpteenth video-game attempt to replicate The Matrix’s bullet time. For the most part it works; you can enter reflex mode for only a short period, and watching the bullets meander across a room before casually detaching an enemy’s head from his neck can be a thrill. Even so, when firefights become a matter of crouching behind a crate and waiting for the reflex meter to fill up, the game feels more languorous than anything.
In the end what kills F.E.A.R. is the control scheme. I can live, grudgingly, with another game set within the confines of factories, warehouses, and office buildings, especially if it does the things F.E.A.R. appears to do so well. But the translation to the Xbox 360 is the most convincing argument yet of the keyboard-and-mouse combination’s superiority to the joypad. Perhaps there was no good way to cram the commands onto the 360’s controller. Moving and aiming work fine, but the more advanced controls, which were so well suited to the keyboard, seem jammed in wherever they’ll fit.