F.E.A.R. Demo Review


Creepy. The name alone was enough to have me scared. Scared in the same way that the name “Contract J.A.C.K.” scared me. And “First Encounter Assault Recon”? Please! “Fun Educational Activities and Recreation” would have been a less forced acronym, and quite possibly scarier, in that inimitable way that only edutainment can be.

As you might guess from the title, the game is an action/horror FPS, and it does make a squirmworthy effort to be scary. And from the short demo, I was genuinely spooked whenever one of the genuinely spooky moments happened, so I’d have to concede that on the “scary” front, it mostly looks like succeeding.

Mostly: the one “totally freak-you-out ha ha ha you will be sooooo totally scared and drip sweat spook area” in the demo looks like it might have been drawn in 1994 as a B-level from Wolfenstein 3D, and this does detract somewhat from the overall quality of the sequence, but – here’s the cool thing – the sound still gets you shivering. That or the fact that it’s freaking twelve degrees in this room. Brrr.

On the plus side: size! The demo weighs in at a rather chunky 600MB, and play time spans about… oh, say fifteen minutes if you really take your time meandering through it, meaning that there’s a very real chance you’ll take longer to download it than play through it.

As someone writing about games, I have another problem with it: it’s really hard to get a good screenshot from the demo, because it’s so bloody dark all the time. It adds to the atmosphere, but don’t expect to be blown away by a Far Cry-like holiday brochure shot. This one’s very definitely from the Doom 3 school of “keep ’em in the dark, and if they’re not crying enough – turn out all the lights. If they’re still not a complete wreck, play a loud sound effect behind them while they’re in the dark, and make them take damage from something unspecified, that’ll really freak ’em”.

Let’s play a quick game of spot the difference: One of these games is a scary thriller. The other isn’t yet released.

Far Cry (the holiday brochure game) FEAR's Little Girl

The graphics are pretty good – up there with Far Cry, Half-Life 2 and perhaps even Riddick. Riddick is included in the list as FEAR is one of the new breed of games where you actually have a shadow-casting body – look down, and you’ll see legs flailing away underneath you (flailing is the word – they’re not as believably animated as Riddick’s). The teeny thumbnail here and most of the shots I’ve seen don’t do it justice – the motion of the enemy characters is fluid, and for the most part believable. There are some nice special effects thrown in to boot, and the particle weapon packs a really satisfying punch and after-effect, especially when fired in slow-mo mode. There are nice, large sprays of blood on occasion too, though they’re typically short-lived (no pun intended).

The sound is really good. I mean, really good. Scary good.

The gameplay mechanics are something of a hodge-podge: Medikits can be stacked in your inventory, and are applied instantly with Z. In trouble in a fight? Z Z Z! Unfortunately, death comes very quickly, so you’re more likely to be creeping around with Quicksaves and Quickloads than remembering to use the medikits when under fire and trying to change your default grenade. Another notable feature is the “quick reaction mode” which you or I would probably call “bullet time” – in an “everything slows down for everyone” sort of way a la Max Payne 1, but it tends to run out quickly and in practice is of limited use, especially when the time taken to reload or fire a weapon is also increased. On the plus side, it makes it more “special”. But it doesn’t help with the weapon accuracy much.

If there’s a problem with the game, it’s with the weapons and damage model – I like headshots to kill. I like headshots to be achievable. I do not like the scatter-fire of automatic weapons, particularly when the enemy seem perfectly well-able to fire precision bursts with theirs. While I’m at it, the game actually seemed easier on Hard, but Medium knocked me around a bit.

Is the Single Player demo worth playing? Tough call. Did I mention it was really short? Yeah, it’s probably worth playing, if the download costs nothing.

I’ll give the demo 7 out of 10, it’d possibly have been an 8 if it was longer.

Aussies: Grab the demo locally from the Marina.