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Critical Reception: Monolith's/Sierra's F.E.A.R.

In this week's Critical Reception, we take a look at the Monolith-developed, VU Games/Sierra-published suspense/horror first-person shooter F.E.A.R. for the PC. Wi...
In this week's Critical Reception, we take a look at the Monolith-developed, VU Games/Sierra-published suspense/horror first-person shooter F.E.A.R. for the PC. With a different and decidedly eerie take on the FPS, this title is one of the more critically acclaimed of the year so far, and is readily described as "one of the most atmospheric and creepy games ever made, as well as one of the most intense shooters that you'll play this year" by GameSpot's Jason Ocampo. In fact, by conferring a cloying sense of unease via sound, environment, action and sometimes the deliberate lack there-of, and twinning this with compelling gameplay, the game has garnered critical honors among major game reviewers with a 91% average score, according to game review compilation site GameTab. One thing especially focused on is the chilling feeling of tension that accompanies the gameplay as IGN's Tom McNamara relates that "...the scare factor comes mostly in the form of unusual noises, moving objects, moody lighting, and foreboding cinematic music. To say that F.E.A.R keeps the tension running high is an understatement -- playing the game for a few hours straight can get a little draining, because the environment has been so well-crafted to keep you edgy and watchful. I found myself unconsciously leaning in towards the monitor, then realized I was setting myself up for some heart-skipping moments. The game draws you in, making you trepidacious yet incurably curious about every room you enter." As far as gameplay goes, GameSpot's Ocampo suggests: "F.E.A.R. works because it elevates first-person shooter combat to cinematic levels. And while we've certainly seen games with movie-quality combat before, you've never seen anything quite like this. Playing F.E.A.R. is like battling through a John Woo movie like Face/Off, because when firefights happen in this game, they're downright glorious to behold... Gunfights in F.E.A.R. just feel right." Accompanying this viceral ballet is the popular bullet-time mechanic, as Ocampo notes: "your most important ability is your ultrafast reflexes, which can be activated in short bursts to create a sort of Matrix-like bullet-time. Now, bullet-time has been done to death over the past few years, but the execution of bullet-time in F.E.A.R. is still well done." Another feature that impressed reviewers was the game's A.I.- McNamara writes that "...the enemies are very mobile and aware of their environment and chances against you. As you pick them off one by one, they'll request backup, caustically refuse orders from their superiors to move in, flank you, toss grenades in your face, take pot shots, lean around obstacles, swear, wonder aloud where you are, make fearful pronouncements about your combat prowess, and notice your flashlight beam, among other details." Multiplayer comes as standard, similar to most FPSes released these days, but there's a slight wrinkle, as Yahoo Games' Mike Smith explains: "Multiplayer features the standard range of deathmatch and capture the flag modes we've come to expect from FPSs, but there's one twist: The slow-time feature is available in some modes... Time slows down for everyone, but your enemies' movements are slowed down far more than yours." With few qualms about the game, a minor concern to Smith was that "...the game is quite a system hog -- similarly pretty games run smoother on the same hardware. You shouldn't have serious problems if you're on a new system, but you might have to turn down the graphical bells and whistles a notch lower than usual." GameSpot's Ocampo also zeroes in on lack of variety in some places, noting that "...the cloned soldiers represent the opponent you'll battle most of the time" and that "the environments can also feel a bit repetitive after a time." But all in all, F.E.A.R. taps into the same atmospheric vein as such horror movies as The Ring and Ju-on, but with all the kinetic action of a John Woo flick, resulting in critical success that may well be a commercial one for PC too, though a later next-gen console release for the game (which is as yet unconfirmed) might bring it to an even larger market.

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