I nonchalantly approached a yellow ladder and turned to descend it. Climbing down, a ghastly young girl stared at me from where I had been standing a moment ago. The only thing that kept me from spraying lead through her dissipating ashes was that my gun was holstered (ladders are easier to work with when both hands are free). When I reached the bottom and turned around, you would think I had learned something, but no. The second ghostly vision in less than five seconds appeared and my finger instinctively depressed the trigger while the ladder blocked my desperate attempts to backpedal.
This sequence reflects FEAR’s success in creating a genuinely creepy game. It is a first-person shooter whose shooting is done against armored, machine-gun-toting troops making it accessible to anyone who has played a Half-Life or a Quake. However, this game sets itself apart by presenting a cinematic experience packed with brutal combat and atmospheric suspense.
Before I get to that, though, some back story is in order. I enjoyed the game’s narrative, even though there are obvious similarities with other media—specifically the Japanese horror genre—and the general premise is pretty standard FPS fare. You are a new, special recruit to the First Encounter Assault Recon roster. This acronym pushes the envelope for believability and is also a mouthful to say. I would have preferred that they simply called the game “Fear,” and had a simpler, less absurd name for the elite squad. Your special self and your team are summoned when a cloned army of super-soldiers and their leader escape the control of the generic-sounding high-tech defense contractor, Armacham. It’s your job to find these cloned psychos, listen to their demands, and reach a reasonable settlement with their misunderstood commander. Ha. Just kidding, you must kill them all, of course. As you go about this task, the plot takes some surprising turns and more information about everything including you and that creepy girl from the cover is revealed through laptops and voice-mail messages that are placed in sensible locations and at decently paced intervals. The story noticeably rushes near the end, and I felt that the characters still had untapped narrative potential. Oh, did I already mention that you were special?