Have You Played… F.E.A.R.

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/images/15/may/fear.jpg

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

F.E.A.R. may not be the best first-person shooter of all time but it has the best shooting of any first-person game.

Monolith’s horror-shooter hybrid, which mashes up special forces shenanigans and J-horror motifs, is one of those games that can ruin others in the same genre. Only for a while, granted, but just try playing Half Life 2 after a F.E.A.R. session. Every gun feels like its shooting blanks and the ragdoll physics make every enemy look like a collapsing sack of spuds.

F.E.A.R. is one of the few games that transfers the momentum and energy of a bullet into its target, sending bodies cartwheeling across rooms and throwing up clouds of dust and debris as shots punch into walls. It’s magnificently horrible and the ability to shunt everything into slow-motion at the press of a button allows you to appreciate the whole show.

The office environments become repetitive after a while, as if the real horror of the game is being trapped inside a fictional 9-5, but the action puts almost every other game to shame, and most action movies as well.

70 Comments

  1. crowleyhammer says:

    My Mrs loves the original, Wasn’t too keen on the sequels.

    Oh and classic case of creating an acronym before desperately trying to come up with what it stands for!

    • FreeTom says:

      I agree with your missus, about this as well as your personal inadequacies.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Yea, I got the Fears in a bundle on Steam. Loved the first one, even tho it was 2spooky4me, especially when the girl just spawns into a corner, I cant deal with that stuff.

      But holy hell, what happened with the sequels? They are completely different games, from writing to mechanics. All they had to do was copy the engine and update the textures and it’d have been fine…

      • Jalan says:

        The shift in the second can (at least partially) be blamed on Monolith being acquired by Warner Bros.

        The design decision to shift the second into a more “cinematic FPS” was a sad day for this series.

        The third was not a Monolith title at all and it shows, with the focus being shifted even further away from whatever the second was supposed to be and the idea of the first being used merely as a vague reference point in an attempt to pretend like the development knew exactly where to take the game to keep it fresh.

        Here’s a retrospective look at the series which touches on quite a few valid points on how things fell apart for it.

        • rabbit says:

          yep. never bothered with any of them after the first. the third one looked weird.

  2. gou says:

    the level design and the way the ai navigated it setup some truely brilliant set-piece like moments. quite often i would reload a quick save just to see how the fight goes differently each time.

    • w0bbl3r says:

      Agreed, I did the same.
      It was still very “programmed” AI, strictly set to do a set number of things depending on where you were and what you were doing, but I never quite figured it out. They always seemed very clever, even though you could see it was following AI videogame programming a lot of the time.
      How they would upend tables, tip over soda machines, or just run away to come around from an unknown side door 2 rooms to your left, always kept me guessing, and had me replay this game multiple times.
      Each firefight looked the same, but played extremely differently.

      And the destruction, the dust, the sparks from bullets hitting metal objects. Sometimes I would have to retreat purely because I couldn’t see anything for dust and debris flying around the place.
      Amazing game, totally underrated and under-valued.
      We need a new game like this with modern tech, it would be amazing. A shame the sequels were awful.

      • RedViv says:

        The problem with combat in the sequels, I think, is that the AI was still just as good. Not better. But the areas had changed substantially in layout, so they seemed pretty silly.

        The other problems with the sequels… They felt like just about any horror sequel of a reimagining of a Japanese horror film, those that were the big stuff during the 00s. Too gross and jump-scary, lots of retreading and overly convoluting the plot.

  3. Spuzzell says:

    I played through all the FEAR (insert “.”s wherever you like) titles last year after picking them up in a bundle, and FEAR is still excellent. The DLC is fun but unessential, but FEAR is fabulous.

    And it has the single most adrenaline spiking jump scare of all time.

    FEAR 2 is mediocre and FEAR 3 was actually pretty decent. Just to finish off neatly. Both are appalling PC ports though.

    • anthonyp452 says:

      Referring to the ladder sequence?

      • SomeDuder says:

        Personally, the dream sequences are the worst. Oh, and the final section, where dream-Adas keep spawning, goddamn…

      • liquidsoap89 says:

        The ladder terrified me the first time I played FEAR. Another big scare was when she comes running out of a closet on all fours as you turn around a corner and look directly at her.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    F.E.A.Rs gameplay is so great, I wish more games would allow the physics and gunplay coupled with the ability to break out some punches, jumpkicks and slides when needed.

    Didn’t really get along with F.E.A.R 2 personally, but F.E.A.R 3 is a pretty neat coop experience, one player as a regular runner and gunner, the other as a ghost with some ghost powers. There’s some friendly competition each map to see who gets the highest score, so playing it twice in a row and switch who plays what character is worthwhile.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      FEAR 3 may have been a great co-op FPS, but it utterly failed to be a FEAR game. The pacing was been completely thrown off by the insistence on non-stop action. If you don’t have time to stop and smell the corpses, you don’t have time to be scared by them, either.

  5. Sunjammer says:

    One of my absolute favorite games, and the only FPS in memory I could play on the highest difficulty and *only* feel like it improved the experience. It’s so full of amazing combat scenarios that feel amazing even if you are completely trounced in them, and you just welcome the opportunity to try again. And when you finally do land it and leave the room a silent cloud of dust and bodies, you feel like you’ve just perfectly executed a John Woo movie shootout.

    A glorious, glorious game.

    • BorgiaCamarones says:

      I’d say playing the STALKER games on master difficulty is mandatory to make it a good experience, but other than that, yeah, feels like they actually did something else than turn enemies into bullet sponges here, which is awesome.

    • SkiddyDave says:

      The first Crysis also had a lovely difficulty slider which on the hardest level did things like change the language the enemies spoke from English to Korean, turned off the grenade indicator, and I think hobbled the enemy highlighting in some way as well. It felt like difficulty through realism rather than through numbers, great stuff.

  6. RaunakS says:

    F.E.A.R., the Prince of Persia trilogy and Titan Quest remain my favourite games of the mid 2000s, far outstripping Half Life/Far Cry/Doom and the like.

    I remember there was some really nicely done behind the scenes featurette that came with the disc as well, though my copies have long since moulded away …

  7. Darth Gangrel says:

    I got the sequels in a Humble Bundle, but have waited to play them until I got FEAR 1, which I still haven’t bought (Christmas Sale perhaps?). It still looks great to my backlogged eyes and since I managed to play Crysis 1 on my laptop, I think I can play this as well.

  8. Troubletcat says:

    FEAR is the best single-player shooter ever made. There is simply no equal.

    This coming from someone with very traditional rankings of what are the best games (in that it’s almost exclusively games from before 2005, largely games from before 2000).

    But FEAR is the best and the coolest and the strongest in the pure shooter arena. It’s better than Half-Life or Half-Life 2 (just BARELY in the case of the second game, but I think it makes it)… it’s just… FEAR is too damn good. It’s better than it had any right to be. The AI, the tone, the way the weapons feel, the movement… it’s immaculate as far as I’m concerned. The only place where it can be questioned is in the pacing and variety, as the article mentions, but most truly great shooters stumble there as well, I think FEAR less than most.

    FEAR 2 and 3? Neither came even close.

    • Petethegoat says:

      Easily better than Half-Life 2, since it’s actually fun to shoot people in FEAR.

    • Lord_Mordja says:

      That’s why you install SMod, which pretty much ports FEAR’s gunplay into HL2!

  9. gabrielonuris says:

    I’m still baffled why didn’t any other game try to mimic its features; when I first played FEAR, I thought: “damn, we’re about to have some great shooters from now on.” But no. FEAR is unique. Not even its sequels were capable of doing better.

    • haradaya says:

      I thought the same thing back then. Back when I was sure games would keep pushing each other further into greatness. What a let down.

      Far Cry 2 is the only shooter since that had me pleased with it’s AI. Although the AI’s “intelligence” isn’t as obvious and a bit more slow in their decision making, they are a lot of fun to decieve in and out of combat.

  10. Psycold says:

    I probably played the original campaign more than any other FPS, they literally perfected first person shooter combat with that game and it had the best AI to date…they still haven’t even come close.

  11. wombat191 says:

    still remember a few honest jump scares that got to me and a few times the AI did actualy unexpected things like climbing under rubble to flank me leaving me thinking WTF

  12. The First Door says:

    I remember watching some talks about how they did the A.I. in FEAR and it really is very clever. I remember it quite often surprised me by flanking me without me realising, which made for a rather nice, tense experience. I am still terrified of those fizzing invisible ones though!

  13. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    Loved it to bits, although it’s been an age since I played it. May very well have to install it when I get home.

    The only thing I resent about it is that it meant Monolith veered off into grimdark territory, effectively signalling the end of NOLF. I know there’s intellectual property problems holding up any chance of NOLF 3, but it doesn’t prevent Monolith from trying to come up with another property, equally as colourful and humorous.

    I also had some great fun with the multi-player, where I realised that as a knife-wielding maniac with a penchant for sliding kicks, I had a massive speed advantage over guys with guns. The close, confined spaces of the maps only served to make that play style even more effective.

  14. anthonyp452 says:

    The AI in this game really is astounding, still on the the standards for the genre. The shooting mechanics are also unbelievable, there’s just something about the gunplay that makes it crunchy and brutal (tough to explain, just play it). Also, the game holds up perfectly, even the visuals are decent enough.

    • anthonyp452 says:

      edit: *still one of the standards for the genre

    • Jalan says:

      I’m still impressed that the AI was handled by one person.

      Like the retrospective I put in a previous response mentions, this constraint led to a number of interesting decisions such as making the level layouts rather simplistic in nature to make certain the AI wouldn’t get unnecessarily hung up on things.

  15. sandineyes says:

    One of the things that I like about FEAR is the balance between the player character and the enemies. Sure, the game is pretty easy once you get the hang of using the slow motion ability, but other than that advantage, it always felt like the enemies were at least as tough as the player, which, combined with the excellent AI and/or scripting, made it all the more satisfying to overcome them.

    It is also probably the best example of creating a system where enemies are strong, but not tedious ‘bullet-sponges’. It took a lot of bullets to take down one of the basic soldiers in FEAR without a head-shot, but the excessive use of blood, the near-uncontrollable recoil on automatic weapons, and the way the enemies reacted to getting shot really made the combat feel frantic and exciting in a way that no previous or subsequent shooting game ever managed to do.

    • Renegade says:

      Unless I’m mistaken I think on the hardest difficulty the AI’s guns would do pretty much the same amount of damage that you would do to them. The only advantage you had as a player were medpacks and bullet time.

  16. vorador says:

    The slow motion thingie was a mistake. It made things too easy, and it broke the pacing by having to wait for it to reload. It was a cheat mechanic.

    If you didn’t use it, the game actually improved. You needed to use cover and move around while avoiding the pretty good AI trying to flush you out.

    Too bad the sequels were underwhelming.

    • haradaya says:

      Well it was also completely optional. So I don’t think it’s fair to call it a mistake. I agree the game is a lot more intense when used sparingly for when you’re about to pull a John Woo moment.
      The spec ops in Perseus Mandate are incredibly hard to beat without slowmo tho.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    I love the game. I actually managed to finish it last year (or was it this year?) and holds up not only well, but fantastically well. I could live without the “scary” moments: the action is what makes this game such a wonderful one.

    The first slo-mo when you face the first high-as-fuck-tech soldier in the game is SUCH a moment…

  18. oceanclub says:

    It’s weird how both F.E.A.R and “Dark Messiah…” were both glimpses of a future where physics would be used meaningfully in visceral combat. (The latter especially – my ropey attempt at invisible cuts aside, this old video I put online showed how you all the possibilities that DM offered in combat that makes so many later games seem tame): link to youtube.com

    • haradaya says:

      I agree so much it frustrates me.

      The reason we don’t see more must be something in the direction of devs being afraid of the unpredictability of real-time physics making their game look wonky when it misbehaves. It’s really sad that there hasn’t been a game with as much interactivity with physics as Half-Life 2 yet. Thought for sure that would be a new standard to be a “modern” game back then.

      • PoulWrist says:

        Probably something to do with consoles.

        • DoberHund says:

          ^This

          Don’t want to hate on consoles, but there is a reason why Dark Messiah and FEAR needed good hardware back when they were released. Same for Crysis and there is a reason why physics features in Cryengine 3 have been massively reduced compared to Crysis 1 Cryengine 2. Consoles aren’t capable of this. Same goes for real time lightning/shadows and moving objects.

  19. ResonanceCascade says:

    It took until Far Cry 3 for another FPS to match up to the great AI and gunplay of F.E.A.R. (I’m excluding Halo, which also has magnificent AI, since the last several games weren’t offered on the PC). The horror and story were both completely ineffective, but it didn’t matter because the game was just so damn fun. I still fire it up and put in an hour or two about once a year.

  20. Sin Vega says:

    Never understood the love for this one, to be honest. It opened the same way every shooter opens, with dull pludding around an empty level waiting for the bit where you can actually do anything, and then the generic gas mask dudes showed up in the series of grey warehouses. I was bored stiff within an hour or two.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Guess you just don’t like shooters, then.

      • Geebs says:

        Leaping clumsily to the defence (because I can’t see my own feet): I never really got FEAR either. The enemies are utterly generic, the environments are rather dull, the shooting wasn’t particularly weighty, the sound was bland, the plot was more boring than it would have been if they hadn’t put in a plot at all.

        Around the same time…ish I played Half-Life 2, Halo, Doom 3 and Riddick and I enjoyed all of them far more.

        • haradaya says:

          Nah I can’t let that one about the sound slide. Sound was immense. It’s by far the best demo of what EAX could do before it died.
          Of course you need Creative Alchemy to enjoy it on modern setups.

        • Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

          You reckon the shooting want particularly weighty?? It wasn’t a particularly standout game but the gunplay is still to be bettered.

          • Geebs says:

            I remember it as not having a particularly good shotgun, and as we all know, a good shotgun is the only important measure of a shooter.

            As far as the sound is concerned, it was more the unnecessarily Hollywood sound design that failed to grab me, than the sound quality per se. All of that “BEEEOooooow…clonk clonk clonk clonk….wrrrrrrRrrrRRRP” stuff is terribly overdone and sounds more like “I need to call a plumber” than an intense firefight. Max Payne did it much better.

        • Jalan says:

          The first F.E.A.R. had one of the best (regardless of any true to life/realism factor and obviously exempting ridiculous/silly variations) shotguns in any modern FPS.

          The sequel’s shotgun paled in comparison to it (and was allegedly changed in final design, which may have something to do with why it was so unimpressive).

        • Distec says:

          I’m willing to allow generic, faceless, military enemies so long as they are done this well. See also the HECU grunts from Half-Life and the Combine Overwatch from its sequel. They’re great examples of stock enemies being elevated well above the sum of their parts when all the small details are nailed down.

          The intro to FEAR also set the tone for me. There’s a small part in the opening where you witness the replica soldiers being activated by Paxton Fettel. The music and the strange “reverse scream” audio cue that precedes them going online has stuck with me in vivid detail, and I think the cool factor colored every firefight exchanged with them.

  21. Spakkenkhrist says:

    I recently replayed this and the expansions and it confirmed my suspicions that it has without doubt the best gun-play of any FPS I’ve played. I love the way your enemies spasmodically fire their weapons as they go down, this needs to be a thing in all games (yes ALL even those without guns or enemies).

  22. Viral Frog says:

    I still haven’t played a single game in the series. I have the first and expansions or whatever… Maybe I’ll dive into it soon as I finish Metro 2033 Redux.

  23. int says:

    Afraid I didn’t… Just kidding! Alma time was spent on FEAR when it was new.

  24. fish99 says:

    I absolutely adore F.E.A.R. and its expansions (but not the sequels). Great gunplay, the slow-mo was awesome, the jump scares were done just right, it was super tense, and it even had a good story.

    It was basically the Matrix lobby shoot-out meets Carrie.

  25. zat0ichi says:

    yup. I liked this as well.

  26. liquidsoap89 says:

    FEAR is my #2, only a tad behind Half Life 2. The sense of power you get from the guns (and feet) you wield is almost unmatched. It manages to make a generic shootout in a warehouse into an intense Matrix-esque bullet ballet. And I’d say FEAR took what Valve did with scripting things based on you walking to certain spots and did an even better job. Some jump scare moments were absolutely flawless, with perfect timing and managing to direct your attention.

    I thought FEAR 2 was fine. It had to fantastic gunplay of #1, but with a more bland everything else. FEAR 3 was dump though.

  27. Giftmacher says:

    I once beat FAR without slowmo, using only the martial arts attacks. There were a few spots where I needed to lob grenades to defeat an armored (kung-fu proof) enemy, but otherwise I managed to do it! The challenge exponentially increased my already high opinion of the game’s level design and ai; you really have to sneak around when you’re only using, and there are a surprising number of (maybe intentional?) Opportunities for stealth. In the final waste water level, you can skip and entire enemy patrol, who are then programmed to circle back on you and actually make a later encounter harder by flanking your rear. Fantastic fucking game.

    • Giftmacher says:

      Ugh, remind me not to make long posts from my phone again. Damn autospell. Hopefully the post is still legible.

  28. DLFReporter says:

    Absolutely one of the best FPS I have played back in those days. The fire-fights, the AI, the ‘destructible’ environment and the horror elements all made for a truly unique experience. The ‘bullet-time’ was just the icing on the cake. Really great! :)

    I agree that every other FEAR after the first is best forgotten. ^^

  29. mbp says:

    FEAR was the first shooter I played where the AI used flanking inteligently. A lot of it was in the level design where every piece of cover seemed to be bypassed by a protected route that the AI could use to get behind you.

  30. haldolium says:

    As many here, I also loved FEAR. Outstanding action that hasn’t been reached again since (at least not on PC). Many elements were just done perfectly right, focused onto the action, letting the player be his own director of the game instead of forcing him into a static and linear sequence of scrips.

    I never thought of it being a good horror game really, I found even Doom 3 more scary. But the combat action with a truly dynamic A.I. was and still is wonderful.

    I also remember that the demo they made before launch didn’t spoil anything, since it has been a unique assembly of various parts of the final game, instead of just offering the first level or so. I always liked when developers did that. Sadly demos are a gone as well mostly.

    For anyone interested in how the F.E.A.R. A.I. was achieved, the paper from Jeff Orkins 2006 GDC prensentation is still online:
    link to alumni.media.mit.edu

    Very interesting read, and very well written. Quite comprehensible even without much background knowledge.

  31. TAIMAT says:

    my first thoughts were f.e.a.r.=(max payne + the ring + cs)

  32. Immobile Piper says:

    Played, never finished.

    Shooting was really good but I just got too scared to finish it. I’m pretty jumpy when it comes to horror games.

  33. skyturnedred says:

    Best damn shooter (mechanically speaking) that I’ve ever played.

  34. Psychomorph says:

    I fear I have played it.

  35. rabbit says:

    also has the best explosions of any game in the universe ever

  36. dub cee says:

    I’ve played through this game half a dozen times and think the first few levels are amazing. Really fun node-pathing ai that is constantly adjusting to flank the player. However, once the game hits the office building it turns into a corridor shooter and it feels like the ai doesn’t have enough room to move around.

    I worked at Vivendi Universal when this game was released and heard rumors that Monolith had to rush production in order to meet the release date. I feel this is reflected in the endless office levels that make up the bulk of the middle game.

    IMO this game had a lot of promise but not enough time to make it great. All in all still worth playing, especially if you’re a shooter fan.