F.E.A.R. Review (PS3)

A full 2 years after the initial release, every gamer and his uncle will have played F.E.A.R at some point by now. Whether on the PC or the Xbox 360, the game has consistently garnered praise for being a straightforward and 'pure' shooter, rising above contrived gameplay mechanics to deliver set-piece after set-piece of adrenalized bullet-time action, with a consistently challenging AI model working to ensure no fire-fight ever feels the same. On a basic level, the PS3 version retains all of the qualities that make the title standout from it's competitors, and yet somehow manages to be the worst version of all.

Bullet-time... where would we be without it?
Everything is how you may remember it from previous versions

If you've never had the pleasure of becoming one of the 'First Encounter Assault Recon' squad members before, the game essentially plays out as a horror-shooter in a series of fairly bland office and industrial environments. You're a super-soldier with physical traits 'way above normal' (stop me if you've heard this one before...), with the ability to utilise short bullet-time bursts and generally survive ordeals that would put any truly mortal man to an early grave. Along the path you'll learn of some strange co-incidences with the genetically-altered army that act as your main enemy, and, well you can probably guess the rest. *Yawn*

So much for the plot then, but the horror aspect is scripted fairly well. I'm not sure who it was that decided little girls could be the creepiest things on earth, but you have to hand it to them, they're definitely onto something. F.E.A.R ratchets up that particular psychological mechanism for maximum effect, placing a small girl with supernatural abilities into the environment to generally mess with your head from time to time. Whilst the shock-value is overly contrived from time to time and somewhat forced, the atmosphere is definitely something to savour. You don't want to shoot a little girl now... do you?

Of course you do, especially when she's intent on throwing you through windows, setting the room on fire and beaming some pretty nasty imagery straight into your cranium. They should really have taught that stuff in school, it'd have been much more entertaining.

Texturing is uniformly bad in the PS3 iteration
Everything has a blurred, washed-out sort of look

As a sweeping generalisation of an entire genre, any decent shooter essentially boils down to the satisfaction factor of simply unloading your weapon and taking down a group of enemies, and this is where FEAR has always gained much praise and a whole lot of hype to boot. Essentially a very linear corridor-shooter, the developers constantly funnel the action to the nearest choke-point in which a group of guards or heavily armoured units inevitably await your presence. Combat revolves around choosing an approach, hitting the L1 button to enter bullet-time and dispatching as many of your foes as possible, before retreating behind cover to reload weaponry and catch your breath.

It's a very basic mechanic that worked previously due to two overriding factors; superb AI and an excellent flair for extremely visceral combat. Unfortunately for PS3 owners, both of these elements are a non-starter in this version.

Whilst it is true that no firefight in FEAR ever really plays out in the same manner; two years into the experience the AI routines are generally starting to show their age. Thats not to say they aren't amongst the better examples to be found, and if you've never played FEAR before or any other modern shooter, you'll be in for a treat. Enemies rush for cover, pin you down and generally use the environment to their advantage pretty well. Each encounter plays out in a completely contained manner, making the game ebb and flow to a fairly repetitive action beat, which is fortunately paced pretty decently.

The issue here is that as a shooter fan you probably will have played any number of modern titles released in the last year, and to be frank the F.E.A.R AI just doesn't stand out any longer, particularly in light of titles such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R on the PC (somebody should ban the full-stop from all titles this point forward). The goalposts have been shifted, and as a straight port this version unfortunately does nothing to improve on the old technology at its heart.

By far the biggest disappointment however are the visuals. Post-processing effects are layered on thickly, smoke particles and dense clouds of dust and debris fly into the air at every opportunity, but unfortunately all at a murky texture resolution that even a mid-range PC from 2005 would have been embarrassed by. Given the stellar graphical performance of the original and the 360 version, to see the game running at effectively minimum detail levels and with a choppy frame-rate to boot is somewhat of a shock considering the power on offer in the PS3 architecture. It all smacks of an extremely rushed and unoptimised effort, and completely undermines the experience as a result.

It's not all bad though. Audio effects are clean and precisely fed into an involving surround sound stage, and somewhat surprisingly for a PS3 title, all of the traditional Multiplayer modes make it through conversion largely unscathed, offering up the usual deathmatch and team-based options with the additional novelty value of the bullet-time power-up. Lag is minimal, although for obvious reasons its fairly hard to find a decent sized game at present. With the PS3's extremely small install base it's likely that wont be changing any time soon.

The fabled 'creepy' cutscenes are all intact

Yep, this is supposedly next-gen folks... Welcome to mid-level PC land 2 years ago

And that really is the crux of matters with this version. As a game that depends heavily on visual prowess to shift the experience, the PS3 iteration simply doesn't hold a candle to the previous titles and falls heavily short of the already-established next-generation shooters Call of Duty 3 and Resistance: Fall of Man. If your one of the few people yet to experience F.E.A.R, this may be worth picking up in a few months at a lower price, as the core run-and-gun gameplay is still intact and fairly involving. However, without the same level of graphical candy on offer to accentuate the kinetic battles, you'll blast through the meat of what's on offer here in a day's play and probably wont look back.

Top game moment:
Entering the familiar bullet-time mode and launching a grenade at a group of enemies.

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