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...but F.E.A.R. itself.
There is such a thing as cultural osmosis, the indirect gleaning of knowledge, wisdom or just plain common sense from books, movies, or the experiences of others. If you're ever forced to defuse a bomb, for example, you're probably not gonna cut the red wire first, on general principle (same thing goes for "splitting up and checking it out").
So you'd think the special-forces types in Vivendi's forthcoming F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) would start thinking escape route when the Creepy Little Girl With Hair Hanging In Her Eyesâ„¢ shows up. But nooooooo.
Monolith has done an extraordinary job of keeping the storyline close to the ranger-vest prior to release, but F.E.A.R. is essentially what happens when straight-up military ops gets put through the, erhm, Ringu. F.E.A.R. asks the question: What happens when a manly-man combat team faces a threat that may or may not be supernatural in nature? With a little Matrix-style showy action on top, why not?
It's a gorgeous looking game so far, that much is certain, with a hardcore military ops feel that would do Half-Life 2 proud, only with greater attention to the melee option. And bloodier. And weirder. The locales we've seen so far - a military base, with lots of functional corridors, equipment warehouses, offices spaces and so forth - are very straightfaced and mostly feel like real places (although there's a troubling "start-to-crate" factor here - almost, but not quite, as bad news as the Creepy Little Girl With Hair Hanging In Her Eyesâ„¢.)
Players command a First Encounter team charged with doing a sweep-and-clear on said military base. Right out of the gate, almost the whole team gets ashed (think of the ghost-flake effects from the movie Kairo) before your very eyes. Alrighty, then. From that point, you're on your own, in a dark military installation crawling with soldiers trying to kill you the old-fashioned way.
But it gets much worse, and quickly.
Strange phenomena start manifesting themselves. A screen-blurring 'fear effect' warps the visuals as freaky-looking phantoms stride into view (also wearing military combat gear, before they disintegrate, walk through walls, or do other things they ought not to do); objects move by themselves; spectral lights carve glowing tracers in the air. When the fear effect kicks in, a bullet-time slowdown occurs; you can watch the slowed lick of flames, hear each shell casing hitting the floor, etc. And sometimes, the mysterious little girl in the red dress appears.
And when I say appears, I mean, like, right next to you, or on the fringes of your vision. You're riding in an elevator, pumped up from combat, expecting a killing rain of bullets when the doors next open. Then the light in the elevator starts flickering and stuttering, as though the building maintenance crew is off watching David Lynch movies. And in mid-flicker, you see it, just for a moment: The girl, right there next to you, in the corner, watching you. Not cool.
Another incredible moment - one that Monolith evidently didn't mind previewing - took place in a long, narrow corridor stacked with crates. Without warning, from as far down the corridor as the eye could see, they began erupting into explosions, chain-reacting down the narrow hall toward us, filling it with flame and slow-mo debris. And at the very end of the hallway, there she was, still and small as all hell broke loose. Still getting neat little arm-hackles just thinking about it, actually.
The 'fear moments' are often scripted, but it doesn't feel cheap, because they're scripted so damned well. The player can also bring about the effect himself for slow-motion 'focus' attacks designed to simulate the cranked-up reflexes of a super-soldier in the zone. When gunfire isn't appropriate, players can also execute slide attacks and melee silent kills to take down enemies with minimal fuss.
Speaking of fuss and unknown belligerents trying to kill you, the time I spent with the game made me respect my enemies with or without supernatural assistance. Given half a chance, they will hand you your ass. These guys will flank you, draw you into ambushes, flush you out with grenades and coordinate assault teams against you.
The ambient radio-chatter and gunfire effects are really crisp and convincing, bullet holes stay in walls and bodies stay where you dropped them (unless they suddenly disintegrate for no natural reason or get chowed on by former buddies gone cannibal, or…well, you get the idea.) The overall, deadpan reality of such touches only serves to make the creepy stuff more threatening, by contrast. And Monolith knows it. You can almost hear the designers cackling around the next darkened bend.
You probably have questions. "Enough about the mechanics," you may be saying. "What about the story?" And I have answers: I don't have a f#@&ing clue. There's a nasty bit at the beginning involving a nervous-looking soldier sitting in a small, dark room, apparently losing his mind in big, friendly chunks, before some footprints that seem to come from nowhere. Oh, and then he eats somebody. Gee mom, I wanna go home.
F.E.A.R. was one of the most promising-looking titles on the E3 show floor, and it's to the game's credit that it could cause creeps even with that ungodly din of a hundred different game soundtracks cranked up to paint-peeling decibels. This may be the first time in Game Revolution history that we're glad a developer's getting all anal about keeping game info a secret. This one looks like it's worth the wait.
But if the girl starts singing off-key nursery rhymes, I'm outta here.