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'F.E.A.R.' – As If Little Girls Weren't Creepy Enough

Second Chances #19

Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I give another shot to the maligned and forgotten, and I'm emptying a full clip into this one.

When I put together my No-Zombies Playlist last year, I left out a series that definitely would've fit the bill.  That series goes by the acronym F.E.A.R., and it was one of the few times that successfully combined tense first-person shooting with the kind of creepy atmosphere and chilling mind-raping that one would get from movies like The Ring and Candyman.  The series has, unfortunately, been dormant since 2011... I mean, the ACTUAL series.  I'm not counting F.E.A.R. Online here for three reasons:

  1. It wasn't made by Monolith or Day 1, the companies behind the proper games.
  2. It royally sucked both as an entry in the F.E.A.R. series and as a multiplayer shooter in general.
  3. As of May 13, 2015, the servers are offline, so it can't be played anyway.

No, here I'm celebrating the proper trilogy and its expansions, the Xbox 360 versions of which were part of my Halloween gaming marathon this year.

The series is a lot like the most recent entries in the Far Cry series in that the player-controlled protagonist is NOT the focus of the story.  No, in this series, the focus is on Alma Wade, the scariest little girl since Samara in The Ring.  Alma is a psychic with powers that range from producing hallucinations that would make Frank Black from Millennium crap his pants to flaying the flesh off someone's bones from miles away.  Unfortunately, the company Armacham decided to experiment on her to find a way to use her power to augment soldiers.

The story goes all over the place when you play through the whole series.  It actually kind of reminds me of the trilogy of films that starred Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal LecterI especially got that feeling playing the first game.  Just as how, in The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter was in the background while Buffalo Bill was the main adversary, the first F.E.A.R. had the cannibal killer Paxton Fettel as the main foe until near the end when Alma gets loose.  Also, in the follow-up films Hannibal and Red Dragon, Lecter became a greater threat but was so charismatic that the viewer almost didn't want to see Clarice Starling or Will Graham beat him.  In the second and third F.E.A.R. games, Alma became the main antagonist and was a clear threat, but details about her life come to light to make her more sympathetic.  The story is told in brilliant fashion, mostly during gameplay as with the Half-Life games.  There are very few cutscenes, and the excellent voicework makes the frequent radio messages chill to the bone.

The minute-to-minute gameplay stays largely the same throughout the proper series.  Most of the weapons are genre-staples like pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, etc.  Fortunately, they're all useful; none of them feel like throwaways.  The fantasy weapons like particle rifles are fun to use, too.  Of course, the best weapon the player has is bullet time.  Time can be slowed down for the rest of the world at the push of a button, and it saved my bacon numerous times.  While the level design is primarily linear corridors, there is a bit of room for exploration to find extra armor and health pick-ups.  There are even pick-ups that permanently increase the player's health and bullet-time.  The enemies are no joke.  Even on the easiest difficulty setting, they will punish anyone who tries to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando.  Tactical thinking is crucial, and when you find the best way to get through without a scratch, it's oh so sweet.  Though critics complained about the third game adding co-op to the story, I didn't mind at all.

Even though the games range from seven to thirteen years old now, they still look and sound great.  The games make great use of lighting to heighten the mood in the levels, and the visual noise when there's a psychic flash always gave me shivers.  Just ignore the occasional jaggy polygon in the first game.  The sound design is top-tier.  Play these with a good set of headphones, and the immersion is amazing.

It's a shame that WB Games had pretty much given up on the F.E.A.R. series after the financial disappointment of the third game.  We can definitely use more of this and less carbon-copy shooters and Battle Royale clones.  This series showed that creepy atmosphere can still be masterfully provided even when armed to the teeth.  All of the games and expansions are available on PC and Xbox 360 (the first game's expansions never made it to the Playstation 3).  Check 'em out!

What do you think?  Any other horror games deserve a second chance?  Let me know, and, though it's late, Happy Halloween!

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