Dark Signal: The Origins Of FEAR

By Duncan Harris on October 1st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.


Update: A second conversation with Craig Hubbard revealed a few more details, so I’ve added them where appropriate. The section ‘Mergers And Executions’ now talks more about cut villain Conrad Krige and the game’s improbable original opening (a car chase), while a new section on its famous radio chatter has been added to the end.

In this second of three conversations with the Monolith veterans at Blackpowder Games, whose debut Betrayer is kind of available now, it’s time to look at FEAR: First Encounter Assault Recon. Well, it is if you do things backwards.

Here is a game I still believe has the best AI combat of any firstperson shooter. Nuts, you say, but then you might also think I’m talking solely about combat AI, whereas an arguably greater part of selling gunfights against robots is artistic. FEAR’s ragdoll weighting, for example, by animator Andrew Grant, is second to none: you drop a guy in this game and they go down like a sack of steel-plated guts. Fire a high velocity metal stake through their head and you nail them to the goddamn wall.

In a system that’s only as good as its least effective part, audio doesn’t slouch. Chop at the armour of a Replica Heavy and you’ll see and hear sizzling chunks of metal burrow into kevlar, making the brute do his ‘so that’s what my kidneys feel like’ dance. That reciprocates to the weapons, of course, setting apart the Type-7 sniper beam as it atomises flesh and chucks smoking bones at your enemies. Close enough with the combat shotgun and you can pretty much breathe your victim in. There is no pea shooter.

As a proportion of actual game time, in fact, the most fear in FEAR is that of enemy soldiers yelling ‘SSHHIITT’ before diving through windows for their lives. What else would a supposedly smart person do? The game’s next trick, one of its creators’ favourites, is to turn this empowerment against you whenever you forget to be scared, as you really should be when a girl like Alma Wade has your number.

Capital Jitters

I’ve always quite liked the name FEAR: First Encounter Assault Recon. You might quite like it, too, though maybe less so after reading the next few paragraphs. I like the typography, the way it works in any format at any size. I like how it makes idiots like me have to write it in giant capital letters, suggesting that only it, STALKER and VIP starring Pamela Anderson should be shouted from the rooftops. And I like the acronym, believe it or not, that military twist. It says to me ‘Ghostbusters with assault rifles’, which is mental.

Know what I like more? This:

Craig Hubbard: We didn’t actually come up with the name. We didn’t want an obviously horror name. We wanted something a little more mysterious, so that when you played it it felt like an action game with a horror twist to it, as opposed to a game where you’re going in expecting to be scared.

We had one name we wanted to use but it didn’t fly: Signal. It tied into the fact that as you’re exploring there’s this strange– things keep cutting into your radio transmission, so it’s that notion of being communicated with. The other part of it is that we’d spent four years making fun of acronyms, so to suddenly have an acronym wasn’t… it wasn’t our favourite. I think in retrospect I’m fine with it, it’s just that at the time we were really set on a different approach.

The typography was David. If you look at the logo David designed you can see how he tried to de-emphasise the acronym aspect of it, which I think looks really cool and actually does add some of that futuristic military thing you’re talking about.

David Longo: The type is actually reworked from a Neville Brody font that I really liked that had just this strong weight to it.

Bumps In The Night

FEAR was just a difficult game in general. Players really had to learn its options to achieve framerates fit for a mouse-look FPS – the game was terrifically top-end for the year after Half-Life 2 – while its developers faced down their own next-gen demons.

Hubbard: In the past we’d been able to go on polygon count and things like that to get an intuitive sense of where the performance was going to be. On FEAR there were so many variables that you really had to come to understand the technology to even begin to predict what was going to work. We knew from the outset that we weren’t going to be able to do a lot of lights and so on, but still there were so many parameters that you had to get a sense of how they all worked before you could really build environments that were going to be viable, and that was really gruelling.

I don’t think it’s a matter of horror games generally being expensive because there are a fair number of relatively low budget horror games, and even some recently, like the Penumbra series. The challenge with horror is that it takes a lot of iteration to get it right – because you have to react to how people are playing because it’s dynamic, and you don’t know where people are going to be looking. So you have to kind of set something up you think is going to be cool, then watch people play and see if it’s working, and if it’s not then you have to keep tweaking it until it’s effective.

For Everything A Reason

If the rhythm of horror evokes musical composition, FEAR is a virtuoso not just in the performance. Timing the scares in such a way as to keep people playing, shredding and healing nerves and tempo, is a torturous process in itself. Some of the time, at least.

Hubbard: We had some ideas we thought would be cool upfront that we specifically built as horror showcases, but then there were other places where it felt like an opportunity. It always works best when you’re not expecting it, where as a player you’re intuitively thinking, ‘Okay, at this point I’m a little off-guard, in a mindset of just going from point A to point B,’ so this is a perfect time to interrupt that with something chilling.

It happens a lot where we have an intuition about something and then, as we play test, it starts to feel good and we go with it. I don’t think we’re quite smart enough to foresee how it’s all going to work out.

Longo: There were a lot of unexpected moments that people were introducing late in the game. Our producer, Chris Hewett, he came up with some ideas to just add extra scares in places where he thought it would feel good. I know Jared [Gerritzen, level designer and now creative director of Blacklight creator Zombie] also did one of the sequences with the tiles coming off the walls. So there was a lot of collaboration, and people seeing opportunities to include something they thought would add something more to the experience in a particular area.

The most fun memories I have from development was Craig would occasionally grab people from the team and say, ‘Come into my office, I want you to play something.’ There’s one when Alma’s doing her crazy crawl across the floor, and everybody who played it jumped. And he kept pulling in more people, and people would just stick around to watch the scare for the next person.

Girl Power

Late to the J-horror party – Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge had come, gone, and been remade by 2005 – creepy haircut girl Alma Wade is still a force to be reckoned with in FEAR. A heady dose of Akira helps, Alma channeling the apocalyptic Tetsuo as she decorates rooms with her victims, threatening to break quarantine whenever she gets round to it. Post-Fukushima, her interest in a city’s water treatment plant has a heightened chill.

Hubbard: The thing about FEAR is that we actually started on the project before The Ring came out in the US. We thought we were being really novel and doing something that would come out of left field, but by the time we released, because games take so long, that had already crested.

In any case, I don’t want to give too much credit to us for the concept because I was pretty heavily inspired by the novel The Ring, in which Sadako is kind of a viral ghost. She’s basically raped by someone who has smallpox, one of the last people, so I was really intrigued by that notion of a viral ghost who’s changed into a different kind of virus that spreads somehow through this tape.

When I was a kid, where I was growing up there was a project in Southern New Mexico to dig a deep hole and put a bunch of toxic nuclear waste in it. People understandably were very concerned about it because science suggested it was a ticking timebomb where the salt would fill in the cave and crush the containers, and it would all leak out into the water table. So that was kind of something I’d internalised, and the thought of then turning her into a very literal toxic waste thing, with a nuclear overtone, was a cool spin on it, and would be much more apocalyptic, and more visceral. Akira was a huge influence.

Reality Bites

Japanese influences aside, the common thread throughout FEAR is physics simulation. It’s hard to overstate the benefit of knowing that the same realistic system behind the spiralling props and body parts of its combat gives Alma her powers, from blowing entire rooms apart to subtler poltergeist phenomena. Perhaps it’s only natural that one of the first heavily ‘physicalised’ games is also one of the best, even if that caused a whole heap of problems.

Hubbard: It’s a very direct reaction to something that you’ve done, and you can feel your impact on the world even if the physics are very cartoony and not realistic. That’s a lot more satisfying than a canned response, but even a canned response can be fun if it looks and sounds good. But that was something that, early on, we didn’t have that we were desperate to have because the movie references that we looked at, like Hard Boiled, a lot of it comes down to: a gun gets fired and stuff flies.

Early on we mocked it up to kind of show what we wanted with the animation. Chris Hewett, our producer, had set it up so you’d shoot a guy and he’d fly back over a desk and stuff would fly off. It was all canned but it was really satisfying, so we instantly knew that was exactly what it had to be. It was also why our initial focus was on nailing the combat.

The opening tea room sequence of Hard Boiled is everything you need in a game, it’s so explosive and incredible. So we spent a lot of time trying to get that to work in a box, and once we had that we knew what we could get away with. But there were still a lot of things we thought we could do that we ended up not being able to.

We were using shadow volumes and not shadow maps, which is what everyone’s using now, and when a shadow volume is going horizontally across the screen it eats up a lot more performance than when it’s top-down. (I’m not a rendering guy but this is my understanding of it.) There’d constantly be these cases where a room looked really simple, like it was going to work, but then you’d put a light in it so you could see and suddenly it just dies and you can’t have combat in there. There was a lot of that sort of thing.

Also, because we were dealing with normal maps for the first time and just getting a handle on that, there was a lot of expectation of what we could do based on No One Lives Forever 2, where we really had our system down. And it wasn’t a good gauge to go by, so we had to pull a lot of stuff out of the game.

Midnight City

Two things that often go together in games are strong senses of place and time. Like Rocksteady’s Arkham games, FEAR takes place across a particularly bad night in a place of obvious significance – and interest – to the outside world. Though confined to the cubicles of a years-old FPS, you’re seldom out of sight or earshot of the game’s anonymous American city. Turn on a radio and its airwaves, always several steps behind, paint fuzzy pictures of a catastrophe in progress.

Longo: You’re trying to just flesh out an area, keeping in mind where this is supposed to be and giving that impression that it doesn’t just end with the space that you’re in, but continues. It was really tricky with FEAR to get some of that to work, but we did the best we could.

A lot of it was technology; we had a pretty tough set of tools to work with. We were trying to keep the areas small. Even close quarters combat was sort of a by-product of some of the limitations of what we could do with the technology. On the art side it was challenging.

Two things I wish we could have done better. More memorable landmarks: there’s a lot of claustrophobic maze-like areas where we had to break up offices and industrial areas, and even the underground facility, where it became a little bit repetitious. It would have been nice to have a couple more standout centrepiece experiences where you get a little bit of a breather, and feel like you’ve progressed and been rewarded visually with something new. We didn’t have as much of that as I wish we could have done, but then I think we also had five environment artists on the team at the time.

The second thing would be just adding a bit more storytelling to the environments. We had so much real estate to complete the game. Compare FEAR to Condemned 1 which was being done at the same time; they probably had a similar-sized art team to us, but the game is much smaller, so being able to go back and break up some of the big shapes in the work with more distress, stain decals coming down walls, things that just give it more of a richness… That’s something we just couldn’t afford to do because we had so much to work on. It’s easily four times bigger [than Condemned] in just square footage.

Man Of The People

David Longo’s Flickr feed offers a teasing glimpse of his work on Monolith’s best games, one caption revealing that FEAR, along with all its other compromises, had no concept art team. Were there advantages and disadvantages?

Longo: Umm, there were disadvantages. For FEAR I was the art director but also the– I can’t remember what the title was in the end, some kind of 3D whatever [Coordinator]. I was putting together the schedules for all the 3D guys, and then later on Wes, our technical art director, had his first child so I’d do the schedules for all the environment artists as well. All these things just spread what you can do a little thin.

I had to do the concepting for characters, and also some of the environment work and propagation work and whatever, so I just see disadvantages. I’d have loved to have had a fulltime concept person, it definitely frees up people like me to focus more on just trying to really polish the experience and give everybody as much attention and feedback as I can. But it’s fun to do at the same time. I really enjoyed being able to contribute in that manner, but yeah, I think we could have used a concept artist.

Mergers And Executions

In the sense that characters are few and far between, each encounter a little light in the darkness, FEAR seems perfectly cast. Paxton Fettel, the psychic cannibal antagonist, is a big enough presence to allow Alma and her arsenal of POV-hijacks and poltergeist tricks to take on an omniscient, environmental role. Geek fatbody Norton Mapes provides vital comic relief, while Armacham president Genevieve Aristide and amoral scientist Harlan Wade are the parents (only one of them literally) of the game’s battling enfants terribles. It wasn’t such a tight fit originally, though.

Hubbard: One of the things that happened on the project was that, early on, I made the mistake of over-drafting the story. FEAR was really the project that taught me not to do that, made it crystal clear. And it was because I’d drawn up all the stuff for all the characters, and that required twice the game than we actually made. So we ended up cutting half the game, and things like the personality of the other characters fell away. But Norton Mapes was so tightly integrated into the levels he was in that he sort of survived it.

This was also one of the liabilities of being stuck with the name FEAR: it forced us to keep this notion of this FEAR team, this made-up thing that had an expository overhead. Later in the project I came up with the perfect solution, which was to make the main character a military guy that gets called in, like a SWAT guy. Because that doesn’t require any exposition, you just know how it works. So then it could have been much more constant. Right at the beginning of the game, where you’re locked in place and being talked to about the situation, is a total band-aid solution to the exposition thing: let’s just get it out of the way.

The role Paxton Fettel ended up in is very much meant to provide misdirection, to make you think that he’s the villain going after the innocent victim. He again, like everything in the game, sort of evolved from a different role. He wasn’t the main villain, originally, but we ended up consolidating just because there wasn’t enough storytelling real estate. When we cut stuff we basically kept all the action scenes, so there wasn’t a lot between them to get the story across.

The other original villain was Conrad Krige – in tribute to Alice, who played Alma Mobley in Ghost Story, which as you can probably guess is where I got the name Alma. Well, it was really from the book, which is one of my favourite horror novels. Anyhow, the idea was that the player, Krige, and Fettel were all prototypes. Fettel was kind of a failed experiment who served as interrogator (by eating the flesh of his victims to steal their thoughts), whereas Krige was the perfect soldier. The problem was that there wasn’t enough room in the game to have Krige do anything that would really dimensionalise him as a character.

One action scene that notably didn’t make it was the car chase. The idea was to start in media res during a high speed car chase with someone else driving and you fighting enemies on motorcycles and evading a gunship. The thing was that in my opinion it needed to be simple and visceral, but the prototypes kept turning out overly complicated and hard to play, with lots of twists and turns and jumps that looked cool from outside the car but were nauseating from the passenger seat. In the end, way too much effort went into it because people liked the concept, but we finally killed it.

Chasing Ghosts

The less-is-more approach of a Jaws or Alien seems anathema to games that are several times longer than a movie, flooded with ambient light, and home to ultimate badasses. FEAR’s combat is its solution, each gunfight like a raucous rendition of Show Me The Way To Go Home. And when Alma or some other nightmare does appear, it’s always through a fug of psychic turbulence, blood-smeared frosted glass, or some other tech-driven disguise.

Hubbard: You want to see something just enough that you can evoke it in your mind and kind of picture it a little bit, but not enough that you can really understand it. It’s like a song: once your mind fully understands it, it’s no longer interesting to listen to. But that point where you’re trying to make sense of it all, trying to pick up on all the subtleties of the arrangement, it stays fascinating. Horror works in much the same way.

One of the reasons for the glass was that when you did transparent glass you couldn’t see it, because at the time it wouldn’t pick up any specular lighting, so we couldn’t make it visible. But we certainly tried to take full advantage of the frosted glass. In the Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Seance, based on Seance On A Rainy Afternoon, there’s actually a scene like that where you see something through frosted glass and it’s just super creepy – and you know that if you could see through the glass it would lose all its impact.

Because of the way we work, you get a scene in there and if it feels like you’re seeing too much and it’s not quite effective, you just keep tweaking the timing until it’s just enough to get an impression. Alien was an indelible experience for me. My friend’s mom had the novelisation and she read it, then my friend read it, and then he gave it to me. We were out fishing on the day the film came out, and all three of us were like, ‘We gotta go see this.’ So we got in the car and headed back to town and were just completely blown away by it. But a lot of that is because you never get a full understanding of the creature. But at the same time, as a horror fan, I love to then get the behind-the-scenes book that shows the actual models, and then to understand it. Because it’s sort of disassociated with the film, I can still see the film and be completely scared by it.

Longo: I think that when we – the artists and the art team – set out to make an asset, we’re trying to anticipate any possible use of it, even a quick scare, something you’ll see for only a fraction of a second. If it doesn’t have the love and attention the artists like to put into something, you’ll notice it, or at least the artist who made it will notice. So I think everybody did try and do the best that they could to make sure things looked the best under any circumstances.

Shockwaves

Hubbard’s love of Alien may not have instructed FEAR composer Nathan Grigg, but elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible score, alternating as it does between melancholy, wonder and monstrous Giger-esque soundscapes, must have. Sometimes little more than a heartbeat, it feels remiss to mention the game’s soundtrack last.

Hubbard: Audio is a huge part, and it goes back to what we were saying about the expense of horror. If you’ve got good audio design then, in my opinion, you’ve done 90 per cent of the horror, especially when it plays with your expectations. The sound from The Grudge, for example, is that whole film. The score of Alien was just so jarring and unnerving: there’s a melancholy vibe to it that turns into almost a scream. I just love it.

We had a great composer who really got what we were trying to do and developed it. I still think that music he chose for the opening cutscene was just so perfect, really unsettling and off-putting but at the same time really beautiful. And there’s some playful stuff in there. It really helps with pacing when you’re not monotonous with your music and can come out of left field with it, let off the pressure a bit.

Anything can come back to music as example, and if things become too patterned or too regular, it goes back to that notion that your mind can understand them quickly and dismiss them. Kurosawa – I saw an interview with him where he talked about how he deliberately leaves some awkward edits in his films that would be easy to fix, but he does it because his feeling is that if the film’s too smooth, you’re just done with it. Whereas if it jars a bit, it sticks with you a lot longer. So that was something I read early on that had a big influence.

Chatterbox

A quite separate and no less important part of the soundtrack is the game’s famous radio chatter. Nothing tells you the enemy is losing its shit quite like an argument over which tragic Replica soldier has to go over the top to face that lunatic (you) who can almost outrun his own bullets. At the risk of spoiling the magic, this three-part series of YouTube clips reveals the extraordinary amount of VO it required.

Hubbard: For the enemies, what happened there was that we realised players weren’t picking up on all the cool things the AIs were doing and reacting to, so we made them call out their behaviours. Someone also came up with the idea of having them reference the player’s location, which I loved conceptually but was terrified of technically. But it worked out okay.

Getting the VO right was actually a pretty gruelling process. Actors generally don’t like to shout because it blows out their voices, so it took a lot of experimentation and failed attempts to get the right level of intensity without ruining any voiceover careers.

As for story dialogue, there was a lot more of it originally, but as I was implementing it, I realised the game was feeling much too cluttered, so kept distilling it down to be as concise as possible. I think I threw away about twice as much dialogue on FEAR as I wrote on NOLF 2. But the less there was of it, the more effective it felt.

The other issue was that we discovered that when players are in the mindset of playing the game and worrying what’s around the next corner, they don’t really pick up on voiceovers that don’t bear directly on the action, so you have to find moments where the audience is going to be receptive. Again, it was mainly an issue because of the expository overhead I mentioned earlier. Had we been able to scrap the notion of the FEAR team, we could have kept the storytelling more visual and experimental.

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34 Comments »

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  1. Gurrah says:

    FEAR, where Shadow Warrior really has the most satisfying sword-play, FEAR for me has always had the most gritty and visceral gunplay of any FPS. For a good time replay the game and do not use the slow-down at all, it makes for such a brilliant experience.

  2. Paul says:

    Fear was nice and all, but my favourite Monolith game will always be AvP2. I wish article like this came out about that game one day. I am itching to replay it.

  3. thealgor says:

    Great article! I love the screens too. One of my favorite features is when you take down a soldier and his gun may keep firing wildly (that can still injure or kill the player). A simple way to add spectacle and keep things exciting. Oddly enough you don’t see it that often in games.

    • jonahcutter says:

      If I remember right, that would happen in STALKER too. It’s a great little way to add a dimension of unpredictable danger to any encounter.

  4. DatonKallandor says:

    Some more highlights not mentioned in the article:

    Volumetric smoke and dust as well as debris being thrown up by any bullet impact. It makes the fights feel like incredible destructive whirlwinds tearing through rooms.

    Locational damage that wasn’t just “head-shot, limb-shot, body-shot”. The exact position of armor mattered. The different guns had different reactions to armor. Your basic assault rifle shooting the breastplates or shoulder-plates of the medium Clone Troops would throw sparks and barely hurt them, while an impact in an unprotected area would throw up the telltale blood-spatter of a hard hit.

    A lot of enemy chatter. No other game ever did it as well as FEAR though many have tried. The clones could have felt like fodder or robots (compare and contrast with Star Wars Clone Troops, which the movies handle like robots) but the voice work, AI and animations combine to make them feel like well trained humans up against something they can’t understand. Both the superhuman Pointman and the supernatural Alma. They actually acknowledge the fact the player has bullet time – it’s not just a gimmick gameplay mechanic.

    • subedii says:

      One of the best AI bits for me was when the guards realised something was up and went to investigate:


      Squad leader: “What was that?”

      *Grunt 1 walks around the corner, is instantly vapourised by a grenade ambush before he can react, you remain unseen”

      Squad leader: “Check that out”

      Grunt 2: “F*&^ YOU!”

      I laughed the first time that happened. Yeah, like he’s going to follow THAT order after seeing what happened. I think it only works if you get one of them without them knowing what hit him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reaction like that in a game.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      “Heee’s tooo faaaaast”

      It had a great sense of rhythm too, not just in battles but across and between them. There were times when it clearly divided the game up into BE SCARED NOW and SHOOT MANS NOW sections, but at its best it messed even with that expectation and brought the two together perfectly. The first encounters with a Heavy – the timing, the entrance, the sounds – and the cloaked replicas still stand out as two of my few genuinely panicked “Oh god oh fuck oh shit” moments in gaming. They accomplished what Bioshock and Half Life tried but didn’t quite manage with the Big Daddies and the ninjas.

    • CrowPath says:

      What I remember being impressed by was the AI would see your flashlight illuminating walls in their FOV, regardless of whether they could see you or the actual light. It encouraged you to turn it off and stealth a bit more when approaching new areas.

  5. Dowr says:

    To this day, no FPS has topped F.E.A.R in terms of gunplay.

  6. Alexrd says:

    What a great article. After all these years, F.E.A.R. still is my favourite FPS.

  7. nrvsNRG says:

    so glad to see everyone acknowledging how great this game was. ive still not played a game where gunplay has felt, and looked, as good as in FEAR (and i’m including the crysis games in this).

  8. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Neville Brody! I think we should replace literature namedropping in dev interviews with graphic design namedropping.

  9. haradaya says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one here who still has much love for F.E.A.R.
    There’s simply nothing else like it. I remember when it was released I was amazed and thought surely this was the new standard to gauge AI by. Fast forward 8 years and the only shooter I’ve played since that had a semi-thinking AI was Far Cry 2.
    Funnily enough, FC2 is also one of those games I can keep playing indefinitely.

    Try playing F.E.A.R. on the hardest difficulty without using slow-mo too much, and wildy spray bullets in the direction of your enemies while relocating, to discourage them from returning fire. It’s such a thrill. You don’t have time to take accurate shots once their weapons are pointed at you. Using the slide-kick became my favorite move to dash into cover with. I’m pumping myself up to play it some more.

    • orange says:

      I’ve finished FEAR without using slowmo and it was awesome. It really changes the way you play it.
      FEAR is also one of the only games I can keep playing over and over again. Lost count how many times I’ve finished it, easily over 20 times. Though I often load up specific parts and keep reloading them and replaying them in as many awesome ways as possible :)

  10. Ideas says:

    I loved FEAR so much. I wish that the interviewer would have asked more questions about FEAR’s gameplay and what the devs thought made the gun battles stand out so much. And also I would love to learn why FEAR 2 was so much worse than FEAR 1.

    • Duncan Harris says:

      Well, it is supposed to be about ‘art technology’ and I was kinda stretching that already. I might try and add a couple more questions I really wanted to ask, though. Conrad Krige was the villain they rolled into Paxton Fettel, and I’m intrigued to know about him. And this car chase level they cut. Car WHAT?

      I actually liked FEAR 2, though more the reasons I liked Condemned rather than FEAR. The FEAR 1 team only really came in to help with the later stages of FEAR 2, I believe.

      • Alexrd says:

        Did they have any input on the expansions? Personally, I found them to be much more enjoyable than the official sequels…

  11. orange says:

    Awesome! It’s nice to read up on some background info of one of my all time favourite FPS’s. FEAR still has the best gunplay to this day and made for some intense and rewarding action sequences.

    I quite enjoyed FEAR 3 too, but I was hoping for a large improvement in the physics department. I want a room to be completely obliterated after leaving it. Destructibility on a small scale is much more awesome than on a large scale.
    What I would like to see: All objects such as tables breaking dynamically with real physical debris flying around the room affecting other objects and enemies, glass shattering realistically and window blinds/curtains torn to pieces (cloth physics), ceiling lights falling and crashing on the ground, real fluid blood and not just a texture, concrete walls dynamically chipping off when shot at, grenades creating craters on the ground blowing away all nearby objects in all directions with debris possibly getting stuck in walls and much much more! FEAR was amazing, but most objects remained static. Imagine all those office desks which the enemies are using for cover being blown to bits from a grenade explosion or shredded from bullet fire :D

    • orange says:

      Oh and make sure you watch these two FEAR gameplay videos. Possibly the best videos which show just how f***ing awesome the action gameplay is in FEAR:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEiD2qSH9oo

      • skyturnedred says:

        I just started FEAR2 to see if I could be bothered to finish it this time, but after that video? I’m searching for the FEAR1 case right now.

  12. Wedge says:

    Man… I remember playing this game at 320×240 with pixel doubling on a CRT TV to make it look passable, as that was the only way my AMD 3000+ and 6600GT could run the game well enough… I should go back and play it sometime now that it’s a cakewalk to run. Also SLIDEKICK. I remember it being one of the first games to have such extensive ragdolls, and had a lot of fun slidekicking corpses into piles. Probably also the first game I can think of to have the player model designed to be viewable from the first person viewpoint. It’s weird how the game was so generic in it’s environments and story, but had so many unique and well done elements that haven’t really been matched by anything since.

    Also is Monolith basically dead now?

  13. RPSRSVP says:

    It was a long time ago but within 30 minutes of starting the game, I knew it had the best AI of any game I ever played. Also it had some funny AI chatter. I tossed a frag as I saw a few enemies from above:

    Soldier 1: Grenade!
    Soldier 2: Run!
    Soldier 1: I can’t!
    Soldier 2: Shit…

  14. defunkt says:

    Yep, FEAR is the only single-player game I’ve completed since *The Internet*, the AI was good enough to pass for actual human opponents.

  15. captain nemo says:

    Excellent article on a great dev team and a great game

  16. Robmonster says:

    Where’s the cheapest place to pick this up these days? Is it in any bundles or offers?

    • Premium User Badge

      cpt_freakout says:

      It’s 10 dollars on Steam and GamersGate, and 9 on GMG. I think that’s the cheapest you’ll get. The sequel is at around 15 dollars everywhere.

      Speaking of which, I’ve never played these games, but a friend recommended them to me recently, and I take this article as a signal from R’yleh to just go ahead and buy ‘em. Still, I’ve read around that the sequel isn’t as good, and that the 3rd one in the series is just terrible… anyone care to chime in? :)

      • RPSRSVP says:

        The 2nd is ok, 3rd one is terrible. The last 2 weren’t made by the same team and it shows.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        No, Monolith made FEAR 2 as well, and personally I like it a bit more than the original. The gunplay is slightly less satisfying, but just about everything else makes up for it. The environments, the enemies, the setpieces, everything ramps up the sense of enormous encroaching doom.

        Really, it’s Aliens and Alien. Both very different movies in the same universe, both very good at what they were doing, and both feeling strangely connected despite all their differences.

        As for a third game, there was no third game. But imagine if there was! Imagine if they’d farmed out the IP to some other developers who had never made a PC game before and completely stripped away everything that made the first two so brilliant. That would be hilariously awful. Thank god it never happened.

        • Duncan Harris says:

          It’s worth remembering that Monolith is (was?) a two-team studio split between the guys who did NOLF and FEAR, and the guys who did Tron 2.0 and Condemned. I dare say there was mingling involved as projects came to an end, but one Monolith game doesn’t necessarily have the same heritage as another. The FEAR guys only worked on late elements of the sequel, I believe. I liked all of the above games, btw.

  17. Shadowcat says:

    Aaiiii! The Oranges of Fear!

  18. MrUnimport says:

    Nice to see them acknowledge the Akira influence.

    And for all the emphasis on atmosphere they sure don’t have much to say on the topic of all that dull vent-and-basement-crawling.

  19. zin33 says:

    FEAR 1 and its expansions (extraction point esp) are my fav first person shooters to date

  20. icemann says:

    Fear 1 + it’s expansions were awesome. Best of the series easily that I have played so far. The last expansion in particular is the best of the lot.

    Tried playing Fear 2 but the combat and movement just felt sluggish and the game lacked alot of the atmosphere that was so good in the first. They also somehow managed to screw over the shotgun which in the first game was one of the best weapons to use against certain enemies (the armored ones in particular).