Released in 2005 after careful development by Monolith Productions, FEAR1 is a first-person shooter which combines a paranormal storyline with visceral combat action and groundbreaking graphics. After the style of games such as Metal Gear Solid, FEAR aims to be more of an interactive film than a simple game, though it succeeds to a much greater extent than its predecessors. Better still, the scary little girl at the centre of the game's plot does not have a chilling English accent.
Please note that this entry contains spoilers.
The story of FEAR is told in three ways, with information from each being required for the player to gain a full understanding of events. While current events are taking place, the player encounters laptop records, radios playing local stations and voicemail messages which act as small jigsaw pieces of the plot. Meanwhile, the player is bombarded with hallucinations, many of which are sudden and can seem very real. This Entry will describe the basic series of events, but will leave the unnerving back-story for players to discover themselves. The story is split up into a series of intervals, each representing a level of the game.
The FEAR team was set up in 2002 to deal with paranormal threats that would stifle the rest of the US forces. The protagonist of the game, whose name is not given2, has been with the team for a week and this will be his first assignment as point man. Other members of the FEAR team include 'Rowdy' Betters (the team's commander), Spen Jankowski (the old point man) and Jin Sun-Kwon (forensics expert). The player is plunged straight into the game with no further details about the character they are playing.
Interval 01 - Inception
The story begins when Paxton Fettel, a psychic with the capacity to control a prototype clone army of 'Replica' soldiers, takes control and breaks out of Armacham Technology Corporation (ATC), a defence contractor for the mysterious project of which Fettel was part. Fettel is tracked to a building in the abandoned district of Auburn, and the FEAR team are sent to investigate. They discover a dead body inside the house, and the protagonist is sent up to the roof to search for Fettel. Fettel succeeds in knocking the player out by surprise, and explains to the helpless and half-conscious protagonist that 'they all deserved to die'. By the time the player wakes again, Fettel has gone, and the team leave Auburn to head towards a water treatment plant where the Replica soldiers are causing trouble.
Interval 02 - Initiation
The protagonist then joins up with an SFOD-D3 team and the group drop from the helicopter onto the southern periphery of a water treatment plant. Meanwhile, Jankowski arrives with another team to the north, but as the player searches for the control to open the entrance gates, both teams mysteriously disappear. The player fights their way through the plant to reach an empty basement where they see the first of many ghost-like representations of Jankowski. The player is then confronted by the little girl, who is surrounded by a wall of fire. An explosion knocks the player through a window, and the level ends.
Interval 03 - Escalation
The protagonist regains consciousness and is sent to continue searching the water treatment plant for Fettel. After much effort, the player discovers the body of ATC employee Bill Moody, who simply provides the cryptic '...if he finds Alma...Origin' before finally dying. The player must then defeat the rearguard of Replica soldiers, who are now withdrawing from the water treatment plant. Meanwhile, it becomes increasingly clear that something in the Auburn area is polluting the water in the plant. After defeating several soldiers dropped from an enemy helicopter, the player sees an army chopper coming in to rescue them.
Interval 04 - Infiltration
Accompanied by two SFOD-D soldiers the player is dropped onto the helipad of ATC headquarters, only to lose their two team mates almost instantly. Tasked with finding and activating the building's server, the protagonist first encounters Norton Mapes, an ATC engineer. Mapes asks the point man to disable the security grid, but then flees instead of activating the server, leaving the player to do all the legwork. Next, the player moves towards the last known position of the SFOD-D sent in through the main entrance of the building, only to find they were all killed without a shot being fired.
Interval 05 - Extraction
The protagonist continues to search for Fettel, but instead finds a group of Replica soldiers guarding Aldus Bishop, another ATC employee, who has been wired with C4 explosives. The player escorts the bomb expert Douglas Holiday to Bishop's location, but is then separated from the others and must find a separate route to the roof. By the time the player gets there, Bishop has been shot down by ATC security4, who have an unknown agenda. The player continues to follow Fettel's signal, getting close but then falling down a shaft and being forced to work around once more.
Interval 06 - Interception
The protagonist runs into Norton Mapes once again and falls for the same trick as before, but this time follows him. At this point Mapes becomes downright hostile, using the lab's security turrets against the player. After much evasion, the player comes across an apparition of Fettel, which predicts a coming war. Meanwhile, 'Rowdy' Betters has tracked Fettel to the executive building and has established that Fettel is killing the members of the ATC project from the bottom upwards, with Alice Wade being next.
Interval 07 - Redirection
The point man is therefore sent to rescue Alice Wade from the executive building before it is too late, but finds her office empty. However, there is an answer phone message from her father Harlan Wade, telling her to get to his office and find the 'proteus' file. Heading to Harlan's office, the point man finds both Alice Wade and a laptop file giving the location of an old underground installation known as the 'vault' underneath the Auburn district. The protagonist escorts Alice to the roof, but is separated on the way after fighting the Replica soldiers on every floor on the way up. The rescue helicopter is shot down, and Alice flees to her car in the basement before the point man can stop her.
Interval 08 - Desolation
The protagonist is flown to the Auburn district, but the army helicopter is shot down in the middle of an abandoned suburb. Since his team-mates are injured, the point man is forced to make his way alone through the area to find the Rammelmeir industrial compound in which the vault is situated.
Interval 09 - Incursion
After entering the compound, the player discovers ATC Security defending Mapes while he destroys evidence of Origin, the mysterious project at the centre of all the current events. Harlan Wade is seen on a screen communicating with Mapes, telling him not to be a lapdog controlled by the head of ATC. Wade catches and shoots Mapes just outside the vault door and then enters. Mapes gives the player instructions on how to divert power to open the door. After this is done, Mapes tells the player to destroy the facility, and the player enters the vault.
Interval 10 - Revelation
Upon entering the vault, the point man is confronted by a huge cryogenics machine which holds the body of the Alma, the small girl who the player is continually scared witless by throughout the game. The protagonist is then sucked into a dream world in which Fettel explains the truth and promises that he will set Alma free, but the player is then able to kill Fettel, thus deactivating the Replica soldiers. However, Fettel has already killed Alice Wade. Further on, Harlan Wade can be seen in a locked control room, recording a video explaining how he thinks 'she's suffered enough', before opening Alma's cryogenic capsule. Harlan is killed almost instantly, and the player rushes to the power plant to set off a chain reaction to destroy the base.
Interval 11 - Retaliation
Escaping from the area before it explodes; the player is attacked by increasing numbers of grey ghouls which appear from nothing. Finally, the player is forced to survive one last hallucination, which gives the full truth about the point man's origins. Reaching fresh air, the player has a few seconds to stand watching the nuclear explosion before a powerful wind knocks them unconscious.
Recovering, the protagonist is airlifted out along with Douglas Holiday and Jin Sun-Kwon. The final twist comes as Jin asks 'What happened to Alma?', and the player sees the supposedly dead girl clambering into the helicopter.
Gameplay and Atmosphere
Although the entire game is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, the game skilfully flits between different moods, with the tense combat with enemy troops quickly giving way to silence permeated only by the whispers of shadows and the flickering of lights. In this way, the player is forced to fight their way through squadrons in order to venture closer towards the truth behind what is going on.
Combat is usually against a group of between two and seven Replica soldiers, but sometimes the player may be surprised by tougher and more innovative opponents than these basic foot soldiers5. The game's enemy AI6 allows a squadron of soldiers to work together and use various strategies to attack the player. The game's levels are designed to allow many routes across each area, and so it is often possible for enemy soldiers to flank the player and appear from behind. However, this is a double-edged sword, as there are several opportunities to surprise enemies by appearing out of the ventilation shafts.
There are also many objects in the game which the enemy AI is allowed to recognise as useful in combat, and it is not unusual to see soldiers toppling bookcases for them to hide behind. They are also able to jump over rails and through windows, as well as crawling under obstacles and ducking past obstacles. According to the designers of the game these events are not scripted7, and so each run-through of a particular fight will be slightly different. The Replica soldiers can usually be heard communicating what they intend to do, and calls for reinforcements can hint that an enemy force is nearly defeated. Also, the amount of swearing taking place among the enemy soldiers usually indicates how well you are doing.
Combat consists of a both exchanging fire with enemies and the use of mêlée and martial arts moves, although the heavier enemies cannot be easily damaged through hand-to-hand combat. The game features ordinary weapons including a submachine gun, shotgun, rifle, pistols and rocket launcher, but there are also futuristic additions such as the particle gun and repeating cannon. The game also includes three types of grenade, these being frag grenade, proximity mine and remote bomb.
The enemies encountered in the game vary but are all traditional in the world of first-person shooters. Some Replica soldiers wear a hardened suit, making them difficult to kill even with a grenade, while others appear inside rocket launcher-wielding bi-ped robot suits. Meanwhile, a different kind of enemy is found in the ninjas, who feature exoskeletons and stealth camouflage straight out of Metal Gear Solid and attack by creeping up on the player in otherwise abandoned settings. Meanwhile, laser-shooting UAVs8 and security turrets also appear to defend the Armacham headquarters, as do men from ATC security.
Ever since it was popularised by The Matrix in 1999, 'bullet-time' effects have cropped up in a number of places, ranging from copycat appearances in films such as Bullet proof Monk, to use in computer games like Max Payne 2. Although the explanation and applications vary, the effect generally consists of time being slowed down for the viewer, while the changes in air pressure caused by bullets and explosions become visible. In FEAR, the protagonist has 'heightened reflexes', allowing the player to slow down the game for a limited period in order to gain an advantage over the enemies. The effect is called SlowMo, and is also activated automatically in extreme circumstances at various points in the game.
In between the segments of action, the player is often forced to find their way alone through abandoned areas, some poorly-lit and some with many side passages and corners. The entire game takes place during night time, and the often failing electric lighting can throw all sorts of shadows across an already intimidating and claustrophobic landscape. The player is bombarded with inexplicable occurrences from the very start of the game, and various apparitions will often appear unexpectedly just to melt away into nothingness. Carefully placed glimpses and sudden appearances by the scary little girl can lead to the sorts of shocks found in suspense horror films, although the game doesn't quite tap into true fear.
However, the player can suddenly find themselves walking through a blood-spattered building of 20 years ago, with this waking dream appearing several times until the truth is finally revealed. At first the player learns to conserve their ammunition by not shooting at ghosts, but this lesson soon turns out to be false as the paranormal becomes real enough to cause damage.
FEAR readily makes use of so-called 'next generation' graphics, meaning that the game requires a 21st-Century computer to run it9. The game makes use of many particles, tiny fragments of blood, wall tiling and other objects in the game, which can bounce around and fly into the air when someone or something is shot or explodes. This adds a very realistic feeling to the game, and is especially effective when combined with the SlowMo effect. The game also makes use of volumetric lighting, a technique that makes light cast visible rays, and also makes use of fire and lightning in special effects.
The game makes extensive use of a range of eerie noises to supplement paranormal happenings, but, in the meantime, the player must make their way through deserted areas with nothing but the sound of humming machines and blinking lights to comfort them. However, the game does feature a variety of music during combat scenes and also during important events, and these tend to add to the movie-like nature of the game.
Although FEAR offers four levels of difficulty, the game is easily completed at any level by those with patience and experience. Although the game is quite linear10, it pays to inspect the surrounding area to discover boosters which will permanently increase the player's maximum health and SlowMo time. Combined with the patience required to not just charge out into suppressive fire, these confer the advantage the player needs to progress as the game becomes more difficult towards its climax.
The game also features a multiplayer option, which allows up to 16 players to compete online and includes Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes of play as well as featuring the SlowMo effect11 as seen in the single player game.
In October 2006, Monolith released an expansion pack12 for FEAR entitled Extraction Point. The expansion carries on from where the original game left off, with the helicopter sent to rescue the protagonist having crashed in the middle of Auburn. The city is now deserted and the cloud from the explosion of the underground base has covered the area in darkness. Surrounded by enemies, the player must fight their way to an extraction point on the roof of the local hospital, accompanied by Douglas Holiday and Jin Sun-Kwon, who also survived the helicopter crash. However, both Paxton Fettel13 and Ulma are still at large, and after a variety of twists and turns the game comes to a climax of sorts, though the ending does have its B-movie elements.
The expansion was produced by a separate developer to the original game, with TimeGate Studios providing their spin on what good horror should look like. The new levels feature much more darkness and atmospheric music, and some parts of the game are like an interactive movie, with the player being powerless to stop events from happening. The expansion includes some new weapons, namely the minigun and laser carbine, along with new enemies, both Replica and otherwise. However, the greatest innovations come in the form of the ability to kick open doors, thus allowing the player to storm a room, and the deployable turrets, which even the odds when the player is almost overwhelmed by enemy troops.
Although they were able to produce the Extraction Point expansion pack, Monolith do not own the rights to the use of the name FEAR, meaning that a planned sequel to the game will not have the same name. However, there are promises of a revival of the FEAR universe and characters at some time in the future.