F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon (PC) Review

By Athanasios 25.08.2020

Review for F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon on PC

It's 2005. The genre of first-person shooters is filled with mediocre titles, which try to compete with a couple of heavy-hitters, like Half-Life 2, Doom 3, and Halo 2. Those who wanted to be part of the second group, needed to do something unique to draw attention to their creation. Monolith Productions, of Blood and No One Lives Forever fame, certainly knew a thing or two on how to make a good FPS with that special extra "something." Instead of a gory, occult-themed Duke Nukem, or a sexy, Austin Powers-like James Bond parody, however, this time the American developer sought to imbue its creation with the horror trends of early '00s, fusing together great gunfights, and The Ring-esque spookiness. Take a good trip to the past, and learn all about F.E.A.R..

You are the 'Point Man;' the faceless, nameless, silent protagonist of First Encounter Assault Recon; a US-based group that deals with paranormal threats, like, for instance, Paxton Fettel, who is a psionic general of sorts that can telepathically control an enormous army of clones called Replica Soldiers. Yes, it's one more typical "forbidden military experiments gone haywire" story - a good one, but nothing more than that. While trying to find and detain Fettel, however, the Point Man will begin hearing voices in his head, or getting visions that range from shadows appearing on the corner of his eyes, to painfully real nightmares - and it seems that tied to all that is a mysterious, frail girl.

Your guess is once more correct: this throws in the 'spooky girl' trope of Asian horror cinema as well, and doesn't really do much with it. In all honesty, F.E.A.R. is very simple in regards to the story it wants to tell. Thankfully, its focus was never on offering a deep, thought-provoking, and complex plot, but on its presentation. Monolith's creation oozes atmosphere from every pore, and while it's not the scariest of scary games, it's definitely a title that'll have you feel uneasy - and it achieves that, not so much with gore or jump scares, but mostly with how it flawlessly blends mundane, purposely realistic environments, with the right dose of supernatural.

Screenshot for F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon on PC

The formula is simple but effective: each spook happens after a few fights with the Replica Soldiers, which, while adrenaline-pumping, sort of lower you guard towards the occult. It masterfully manipulates your subconscious, immersing you into a world that looks as realistic as possible (you can even see your own body and shadow), right before breaking that "boring" veil, and start playing with your mind. F.E.A.R. manages to make those moments were you fight some pretty skilled troops feel relaxing, and even empowering... and all it takes to start feeling weak and helpless, is seeing a small kiddo appear in front of you for a brief second during an elevator ride.

The way the horror aspect gets enhanced by the extremely... ordinary environments, wouldn't work if the visuals weren't as stunning. Whether roaming through abandoned urban areas and warehouses, or office complexes and hi-tech installations, F.E.A.R. is hauntingly realistic - not so much because of the high quality of the textures, but mostly because of the dynamic lighting, which enhances the atmosphere by tenfold. It's hard to explain why, but the otherwise "simple" design of it all, has a unique vibe, as if it's a art style, if that makes any sense, whereas the sequel, while stunning and all, had a more generic, "just another shooter" look.

Screenshot for F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon on PC

The engine behind this beauty remains impressive even after all these years, and that becomes obvious during gunplay, were bullets create sparks, explosions briefly distort what you see, deep holes appear in concrete, dust fills the room, and objects fly all over the place through some very convincing physics - and yet the GPU still has leftover power to spare. By comparison, the sound feels like it's just "there," but in reality it's almost as good as the visuals, with each surface having its own unique effect when hit, and weapons sounding very realistic, although a bit too weak. The music is used sparingly, which is good, as it would ruin the mood of what is basically a horror title.

What about the gunfights, though? This is a pure shooter, after all, and not a survival horror one like Resident Evil VII. Take a look at the first couple of battles: the Point Man is on his own, and has to deal with six or so soldiers; some very skilled soldiers. The Replica army's AI is very impressive. Enemies react to flashlights and sound, are pretty effective at shooting their guns, as well as throwing their grenades, and tend to shoot behind corners. Even better, they move in a believable, tactical fashion, trying to surround and flank you, keeping you on your toes at all times, as it's not advisable to hide in a room and wait.

Screenshot for F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon on PC

This makes battles dynamic, challenging, and, ultimately, fun. There's a nifty slow-mo ability available, and it is indeed very helpful, and even unavoidable in a few occasions, but it never really feels like a cheap mechanic that turns you into a god, as one still needs to use that cleverly. With that said, while generally very enjoyable, gunfights aren't really F.E.A.R.'s biggest strength. Weaponry for example, lacks the sophistication of the arsenal found in a Doom, Half-Life, or Halo, with the normal rifles having little differences between them, and the big cannons or sci-fi guns either being overpowered, or useless. It's one of those shooters where you choose your favourite, and complete the whole thing with it.

Sadly, in the grand scheme of things, these are just small, insignificant nitpicks when compared to the biggest issue at hand; the repetition. Remember what has been said about fighting the Replica Soldiers? Well, awesome as these encounters are, there's nothing else to see here besides them. Monolith crafted some fine AI and thought that this was enough, but it really isn't, as the fun factor decreases very fast due to how you are literally fighting the same guys again, and again, and again. There are a few surprises along the way, with some additional foes to shoot down, but, as a whole, it feels as if the Replica army isn't just the main "bad guy," but the only one.

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Not only does this flaw make the campaign less enjoyable the closer one gets to the end, but it also lowers the replayability of it all. Simply put, don't expect to keep coming back to this upon completion. Sure, there's a multiplayer mode available, and it's a pretty decent one... but it's just that; decent. This brings the conversation back to the main part of the equation: the adventure part - or how good the plot is, and how scary the presentation can be. As mentioned before, the story isn't exactly a masterpiece, and the spook levels aren't really that high to help horror aficionados to get their fix. Strangely enough, this doesn't matter that much.

Yes, the battles are repetitive, and never really evolve. Yes, the story is just another tale where ethically questionable use of science creates a monster that turns on its creators, and it is mostly told through answering machine recordings. Yes, the scares are nice and all, but they get more predictable with each passing moment, as they mostly consist of sudden visions of a small girl appearing in front of you. It doesn't matter though. The key word here is 'immersion.' F.E.A.R. grabs you and never let's go, engrossing you into the role of its protagonist like only a few titles can. Not everyone plays video games for their atmosphere, but those who do, are in for a treat here.

Screenshot for F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

With its great gunfights, courtesy of its impressive AI, and some awesome frights offered as the side dish, F.E.A.R. could be perfect, but sadly it isn't. A bit too repetitive, and unwilling to go that extra mile in regards to its solid storyline and horror aspects, this feels like a missed opportunity to be something truly magnificent. What saves the day, is how deeply atmospheric and immersive Monolith's beautiful creation is. You don't play the role of the protagonist, you are him, and you can almost smell the floor cleaner on the mundane environments you'll traverse, as they'll slowly become real in your mind.

Developer

Monolith Productions

Publisher

Warner Bros. Games

Genre

First Person Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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