Game Six – F.E.A.R.

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Earthbound Fangame post ended up being larger than I anticipated – still working on it, not sure when it’ll be done. There are a lot of Earthbound hacks and fan-games out there.  

Anyways, so as to get back on track, here is F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. IS…

A stupid acronym.  

First Encounter Assault Recon.  Why not just name the game Fear outright, and be done with it.

F.E.A.R. IS…

Supposed to be scary.

I’m a giant baby when it comes to horror – jump scares, or anything even remotely frightening.  I’m easily startled and will jump out of my seat if my dog barks unexpectedly.  I have an overactive imagination, and I don’t enjoy being scared.  I mention all this because I don’t want to be that guy, the one who comes cruising in out of nowhere to rain on people’s parades and belittle their statements while boosting themselves up – I generally am pant’s shittingly scared of horror.

But F.E.A.R. isn’t scary.  It’s not creepy.  It didn’t give me the chills, the willies, the jeepers.  It didn’t send a shiver up my spine, or cause my palms to sweat. My ass stayed firmly planted in my seat, except for a couple of times when my dog barked and scared the shit out of me – but that’s not related to the game.

From what I understand, F.E.A.R. take it’s horror cues from Japanese Horror films, most specifically The Ring.  Little girl with hair over her eyes, and corpse skin, popping out of nowhere – the similarities are obvious, and I haven’t even seen the movie.  Still, I’m willing to bet that if I did watch it, I’d end up plugging my ears and trying not to combo cry and scream.  That’s because games and movies are such different beasts, as noted before.  It’s also because the game play, enemy design, sound design, etc, all hold the game back from being creepy.

For a game to be really scary, it has to match its mechanics to its scares.

If you watch a horror movie, the characters being stalked and picked off by the boogeyman are in a position of powerlessness. Jamie Lee Curtis is a teenage girl, Michael Myers is an unstoppable killing machine.  Sigourney Weaver is a normal human woman, the Alien is a perfect predator. They aren’t equipped to take on the enemy with direct strength or violence, so they run, hide, and if they do fight back it is in desperation – they are cornered animals. If you give the  protagonist strength and agency to match the villain, the horror – beyond jump scares – seeps out.  Look at Aliens – the marines are not a match for the Aliens, and Sigourney Weaver may still be a normal human woman, but they still have strength, they fall on the fight divide of the fight or flight instinct.  Fighting isn’t scary (well, at least not in stories) fighting is courageous.  So Aliens a sequel to an acclaimed horror movie, jumps over to the action genre. It’s a great movie!  But it’s not scary.

No genre of games is more built around player power, agency and strength then the first person shooter.   There are games that take place in the first person perspective that don’t fall into this category, but FPS’ are built around a world where:

  • You have a lot of guns
  • It feels good to move around and shoot those guns
  • Your primary interaction with the world is shooting it in the face

F.E.A.R. is not the exception. It’s tough find a little girl with magical powers scary, when you have spent the entirety of the game shooting men until they  collapse into bleeding piles on the floor.  The game tries to compensate by removing your agency and power when Alma shows up, but it doesn’t make her scary – it’s just a divergence from the game-play that works, and it’s frustrating.

Because that’s the key factor of F.E.A.R. – though it’s not scary as intended, the game-play does work, that’s because:

F.E.A.R. is…

A great shooter.

The combat is great, the weapons have a satisfying level of feedback with punchy sound, and graphical kick.  There are cool mechanics in place, specifically a John Woo/Max Payne Esque bullet time – but above all the thing that really sets F.E.A.R. above many other shooters is the enemy AI.  The soldiers you fight throughout the game are crafty, they talk to each other, they flank you – they work as a team.  Every fight is a war, a bid to survive – in fact the AI is so good that I had to drop the difficulty down to Hard rather than Max – as the only way I could survive any encounter was by spamming my bullet time ability and copious quick saves.

It’s a shame that the developers chose to use such a great combat engine in service of such a terrible and lackluster “Horror” story – still games are more about the “play” then the story, and in this case the game-play is pretty damn great.

F.E.A.R. is…

A tough one to rate.  If I was rating simply based on the combat mechanics, it’d be a 10/10 – it’s that good.  Unfortunately Monolith dressed the rest of the  game in poor attempts at Japanese horror.  Too much of the game is spent tapping the button to get through these “scary” scenes, that it begins to suffer.

Still, the primary mechanic, is shooting the world in the face.  And it excels at that.

So… 9/10

General consensus on feedback to my “Should I play the expansions as part of the main game” question was, surprisingly, a no.  As a result, I’ll be moving on to the next game – and revisiting the expansions in the future (Though I intend to do both at one time)

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