The New York Times once called F.E.A.R. “as thrilling and involving as Half-Life”. Considering the impact left in the wake of Valve’s exceptional and legendary first-person shooter, how would this action-based survival horror game ever match up to that same level of ingenuity and quality? In a market dominated by first-person shooters at the time with the rise of Call of Duty and Battlefield becoming household names, it’s safe to say the competition was cut-throat. Yet, in all its shockingly boisterous ambition and sheer amount of depth and entertainment, the general consensus was that Half-Life was the reigning king – a mostly unjustified throne (until Half-Life 2, of course), because in my opinion, F.E.A.R. didn’t only surpass Half-Life, but demolished it.
F.E.A.R., or First Encounter Assault Recon, was developed by Monolith Productions and put players in the role of an unnamed recon soldier simply called “Point Man”. Point Man belonged to a highly trained team of elite soldiers working for an organization called F.E.A.R., whose sole job was to scout and initiate hostile contact with paranormal beings and events. Think Ghostbusters but much more hands-on and militarized (as awesome as that is to imagine a geared up Bill Murray mowing down legions of vengeful spirits). The story is a bit of a complex one too. After a man named Fettel mysteriously takes telepathic control of a team of cloned supersoldiers, F.E.A.R. is tasked with eliminating Fettel and putting an end to this odd paranormal case. However, things don’t go as planned as the team find themselves hunted by the ghostly appearance of a little girl named Alma who begins to seize control of them through telepathy too.
To get straight to the point, F.E.A.R. was a bloody terrifying, triumphant achievement in the first-person shooter and horror genres and a technical wonder. The seamless blend of action and horror made every encounter as freakishly entertaining as it was genuinely unnerving and relentless. Through the clever gameplay mechanic of bullet time, pioneered by Rockstar’s Max Payne, F.E.A.R. put its own spin on the nature of the mechanic. Players could willingly enter “reflex time” and marvel at the visual and audible splendor of their artillery striking each limb of the enemy while the clatter of the gun recoil and bullet impact echoed throughout the environment. To date, F.E.A.R. is widely praised for having some of the best shooting mechanics of any action title to date, in all its grizzly, satisfying glory.
F.E.A.R. also boasted genuinely frightening horror elements, intricately detailed through visceral trickery that drenched the atmosphere with a level of uncertainty and nightmarish visuals. This was all thanks to Alma, a now iconic horror character and resident evil puppeteer of the game. Alma could unexpectedly appear at any given moment in the thick of the action, making for some of the most unpredictable jump scares ever put into a horror game. At one moment, the game empowers the player, and in the blink of an eye, will have them at the mercy of the lurking supernatural terror. However, the jump scares weren’t cheap as Monolith really grasped the potential of its setting and utilized the horror to great effect, putting emphasis on the unpredictable nature of Alma and her truly menacing appearance while toying with the sanity of the player.
F.E.A.R. managed to consistently retain the rush of adrenaline through the perfect balancing act of action and horror. While the sequels diminished the experience by tipping the scales more into action territory and convoluting its story to no return, the first game left a remarkably profound and disturbing impact. No other horror game had yet to capture the very real feeling of being so displaced and completely taken aback by its unpredictability, that I believe it took several years for the likes of Hideo Kojima’s P.T. and Resident Evil 7 to really recapture that brilliant horror element. However, what makes F.E.A.R. still stand above even those modern juggernauts is its dizzyingly satisfying combat – a product of several original ideas expertly stitched together to make an unforgettable, thrilling experience.
Monolith Productions once crafted a game that The New York Times compared to Half-Life, but reflecting on it and replaying it several times myself, there was never really a competition or, in all judgment, fair comparison to begin with. F.E.A.R. achieves what many action/horror titles cannot even to this day, and exceeded the expectations of many gamers who weren’t prepared for the rollercoaster they were about to board. In my personal opinion, F.E.A.R. is one of my all-time favorite video games and a testament to the power of immersive gaming at its technical peak. Oh, and did I mention it’s brick-sh*ttingly scary too?