Someone, Somewhere slams his slo-mo key and everything slides into Matrix territory. Out of habit and reverence for my Spaced DVD box-set, I mouth the word 'tits' in bass, lethargic tones as an enemy slowly lobs a grenade in my direction. Back-pedalling through treacle (and I swear this is true), I let off one burst of fire from my shotgun and it connects with the slowly arcing grenade - blasting all and sundry into bloody chunks. It becomes the sort of multiplayer moment you want to frame, put in your living room and use as a lively conversation piece in years to come.
F.E.A.R.'s slo-mo team deathmatch contingent works like this: both teams have a marker showing the location of the hyper-sensitivity power-up, which charges itself up before being unleashed by whoever possesses it (you if you're lucky). Everyone can see the location of the time commander too, so he can either be avoided or hunted down for flailing slo-mo shits and giggles. Just as the mode retains a steady rate of fire for whoever triggers it, it also makes for increased Max Payne-style accuracy for his prey - so in all honesty, it's hard to work out who benefits from the bullettime the best. But with frags like this and the odd stylised decapitation or limb removal, it's hard to care.
Life on the F.E.A.R. multiplayer beta isn't all smiles though. The insta-death nature of the weaponry can become infuriating, while it's clear that many of the bumpmaps and flashy particle effects we've played in the forthcoming single-player game have been sacrificed to the god of lag and the pursuit of smooth-running. A full server means that the exchange of life and death is overwhelmingly frequent. Spawning is well handled, always doing its best to have you appear close to the action and with friends (although occasionally in the presence of three burly enemy soldiers instead).
Hit Me Baby One More Time
In tone, we're talking the turnaround of Quake III mixed in with the strafing, leaning and ultra-violence of Soldier Of Fortune2-a somewhat heady mix that leaves the battleground absolutely strewn with the dead. The three maps available (an office block, some dockland warehouses and a building site) are all tight affairs designed with enough convenient windows, ledges and lines of sight to leave you permanently exposed in several directions to enemy fire. As chunks of masonry are blasted out of the walls around you, a lot of the challenge lies in working out where your assailant is situated before he caps you with the inevitable headshot.
Another F.E.A.R. calling card, meanwhile, is the flashy nature of the unarmed kill. Kung-fu slides designed to steal an opponent's feet from underneath him and gravity-defying scissor kicks are both easily launched through the right mouse button. It's fair to say, however, that in noob hands these stylish flicks aren't of huge use in the face of nailguns, rocket-launchers and (the fundamentally awesome) battle cannon. What they are is an excellent way to freeboat and show off your skills. There's nothing more satisfying (perhaps in the history of human existence) than sailing through the air and connecting boot with the back of skull in slow-motion, apart from taunting your victim with a vicious hahal' message afterwards. Unless, of course, it's nailing some guy's head to a wall who's just perpetrated the exact same crime on you.
Of course, there's oodles of work to be done in terms of balancing, and there's an obvious conflict between those attempting to play seriously and those quite content to use the slow-motion to watch the pretty patterns formed when you shoot out a pane of glass. If anything, the weapons (admirably weighty and a far cry from their somewhat floatier forebears in Half-Life 2) are pretty much all-powerful and it seems odd that firepower like the Plasma gun can be selected as a meaty starting weapon.
Don't come here expecting the physical glory we've seen in Sourcecode infused multiplayer either-pirouetting scenery here is kept to a minimum in favour of bullet-holes, ragdolls and the neat wave effects that surround bullets and grenade blasts.
The right word to use is kinetic', and the right glib phrase to use is 'it certainly packs a punch'. It won't change the world in the manner of Counter-Strike or UT, but it does enable you to decapitate a soldier in slow-motion -and sometimes, you can't ask for anything more than that.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
At This Year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, we managed to get another gander at the intro to Monolith's terrifying FPS F.E.A.R., as well as some hands-on time with a previously unseen level called Docks.
Rather than focus on the hollow-eyed child made famous by previous demonstrations, this level was centred on a sinister-looking man who we watched scythe his way through a squad of Special Forces soldiers during the intro, then feast on his victims' innards. A strange paranormal man surrounded by heavily armed evil soldiers? Clearly this was a job for the First Encounter Assault Recon team.
Playing through Docks proved every bit as unsettling. Unlike previous playtests where the action was very much confined to claustrophobic confines, this level mixed things up with a collection of large open-air locations and small indoor areas. We started off in a maze of dimly lit rooms. For a moment, the world slowed and something odd shambled towards us - but dissipated into a myriad of ash-like pieces before we could shoot. Things were getting a bit dicey.
Being outdoors proved every bit as intimidating as being inside, its expansiveness and eerie understated lighting making us feel utterly exposed. Three white mask-wearing soldiers patrolled the area, unaware of our presence. After picking off one with a neat shot to the head and a bout of machinegun strafing, sparks flying off armour, we left the grisly scene behind.
The mission was a brutal assault on the senses and the psyche, its slow/fast, claustrophobic/exposed pacing proving a real winner. Monolith reckons the game should be ready in August. After this experience, it could just feel like the longest wait of our lives.
If You Were lucky enough to nab a copy of last month's before they sold out (in approximately 23 minutes), you'll know everything you need to know about the shooter that combines Asian horror, close-quarters combat and Monolith know-how to create a game that's going to knock seven shades of shit out of you.
A trifle premature to be making such declarations? For any other magazine, possibly, but we're the only journalists who've been allowed in to play the game and we can say that it rocks such big bells we had to wear huge earmuffs to get through it unscathed.
The plot is still under wraps (and don't expect to get much more on it until the game ships - it's the big hook), but all you really need to know is that you play as a member of F.E.A.R., a paranormal Special Forces outfit sent to investigate the aftermath of a grisly massacre.
Cinematic pacing and narrative are Monolith's buzzwords and the game is set to juxtapose huge action sequences, where it's you against supremely intelligent squad-based Al, with frights aplenty. Not forgetting the small scary girl in a scary red dress. From the team that's already hit with AvP 2, NOLF 2 and Tron 2.0, expect big, big things.
F.E.A.R. Is Often criticised for its minimalist, monochrome environments, but in the face of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin's release, I decided to slide-kick my way through those old grey corridors once again.
While the graphics have aged somewhat, the visual style remains as effective as it ever was. The corridors don't confuse or disorientate, and the act of dashing around a corner to shoot one soldier and scissor-kick another is far simpler than physics might dictate. There's a clarity to the proceedings and a flow to the gameplay that I can't help but feel Monolith have lost in the sequel.
As for the creepy Alma bits, as I have confessed before, I never considered F.E.A.R to be scary. A creepy game to be sure, but never truly scary. To be told that you are a bullet-dodging face-kicking badass, and then to be expected to shit yourself at the sight of a little girl, always seemed a bit odd to me.
That being said, the game is still very disturbing, with its seamless integration of reality-warping nightmare sequences keeping you slightly off balance. Unfortunately, Norton Mapes is still a twat.
This game made me seriously question the nature of game narrative. Many developers, Monolith included, tend to take what I think of as a moving film stance, playing out the game story through a series of in engine cutscenes. Your character is the camera, and you watch all of the game action. FEAR plays out the same way, and while it does present a really good and satisfying horror story (with a few missteps near the end, granted), it reminded me of how most games fail to present good dramatic pacing. I loved FEAR's terrifying story, but a moment of pause, to build the tension, might made it even scarier. Pay attention to the beginning of the game, it has the meat of the truly frightening moments, including one classic moment on a ladder.
Gameplay, consider FEAR to be Max Payne's bigger, meaner brother. You'll get 'reflexes' that let you slow down time, and they give you a tremendous advantage in battle just like Max's bullet time. Once you get over how cool you are, however, you'll be daunted by a series of increasingly difficult enemy soldiers. They don't get that much tougher as you go through the game, they tend to be better armed and incredibly intelligent. It ends up being really fun to fight an opponent who is good at outthinking you.
My one complaint, unfortunately, was the weaponry. I'm a big fan of games that feature really aggressively visceral weapons, and I just didn't get that from FEAR. The weapons were effective, but all too often they felt similar, and perhaps too realistic in their effects. However, that is not to say that they didn't have character. My favorite weapon was the Penetrator, which could staple an enemy to a wall with a killing blow, an impressive feat.
Graphically, this game looks pretty good. It has really nice lighting effects, and the refraction through glass-like-surfaces looks really, really nice if you can get the game to run well with those effects. Plus, great graphics and supernatural psychic horror ends up being pretty freaky looking.
FEAR is an unqualified success in my opinion, as it creates a good, stressful, horrific environment that doesn't quite jump you out of your seat as creep you out. With only a few drawbacks, this is a great title.