Author Topic: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts  (Read 2466 times)

Offline Fanghawk

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First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« on: November 03, 2010, 07:58:34 PM »
Since for the majority of my gaming life, I play on rigs and systems that are at least a generation behind, I always find myself playing catch-up when it comes to major gaming releases. I played Half-Life 2 when the Orange Box first came out, finished Doom 3 and Prey within the last two years, and just today, for the very first time beat the original F.E.A.R.

It's been a good long time since this one came out. I remember watching the E3 trailer way back when I was a naive young undergraduate in his second year, whittling the hours away on some gaming news and the like. I watched a highly trained military squad infiltrate a building after reports of a terrorist attack, only to come under attack from a much stranger paranormal assault. My initial thoughts were "someone made The Grudge into an action movie? Sounds awesome! It’ll be a surefire hit!"

Perhaps I would still feel that way had I been able to play it at the time. But much has changed since the heyday of 2004. The F.E.A.R franchise as a whole has released three expansions and one sequel to the original. Even the Grudge has had two sequels since then (for some reason) and the things that might have shocked, scared, and delighted me then have been tempered by what clearly must be my thick, world-weary,cynicism.

(Some spoilers ahead, and I'm unable to tag them right now. But I expect you've either already played the game or don't care to have played it by now, so read at your leisure! Or don't.)

The worst feeling is that the game doesn't seem to line up very well with its premise. You play as the Point Man of F.E.A.R, a military special ops group that specializes in dealing with the paranormal. At the time, it sounded like a great idea. It still does. In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing it put in a game. But they didn’t do it in F.E.A.R. Despite being told in the intro that your organization specializes in the paranormal, there is almost nothing in the gameplay or plot to suggest that your team has any kind of specialty in paranormal activity. In fact, most of the time your team seems outright clueless about anything supernatural, let alone military intelligence or procedure. The best you have is a technical officer working with the unit as a medic. In one scene they suggest she has some kind of psychic affinity when she walks into a room where with a lot of blood and corpses and states there was anger in the room. That’s it. She then proceeds to try and find perfectly ordinary explanations for the event while neglecting to pick up on any of the other crazy psychic s**t going on in this game. But apparently that’s top of the line compared to F.E.A.R’s usual recruitment drive. We are told that the point man was brought on because he had good “reflexes”. To be fair, these reflexes are enhanced to the degree of having permanent bullet time activation whenever the player feels like it. Still, that’s what we call “really good reflexes”. So why would they put this guy in, I don’t know, THE REGULAR ARMY. Or a counter-terrorist unit? Or some other team that specializes in shooting people in an ordinary, non-supernatural crisis?

Taking that a step further, why were these guys called in instead of any other perfectly capable anti-terrorist unit? The villains in this game are a telepathically-controlled battalion of soldiers, activated by their leader Paxton Fettel to aid him in a revenge scheme that takes shape over the course of the story. The thing is, other than the telepathic control thing, the enemy soldiers are pretty ordinary. They exhibit no special abilities, and every practical advantage they have over any other group of soldiers appears to be based primarily around technological superiority instead of metaphysical. Sure, there’s some freaky ghost stuff going on, but other than the main character no one else seems to notice that. So what advantage would calling in F.E.A.R have, instead of let’s say, the National Guard? Or the FBI? After all, this could be classified as, however bizarre, a case of domestic terrorism.

To be worth calling in, F.E.A.R would need to have expertise in the field and be capable at their jobs. Let’s start with expertise. I’ve already mentioned how F.E.A.R doesn’t seem to be “with it” in the paranormal game. In fact, F.E.A.R has one, and only one piece of useful intelligence that will assist them in stopping Fettel: if Fettel dies, all of his soldiers will deactivate. This isn’t like any previous armed conflict in history, where if an enemy leader dies, their army either keeps fighting or fractures into warring units attempting to fill the void. When Fettel dies, everything will go back to normal. Okay, that’s actually some pretty useful information. F.E.A.R intelligence gets a cookie. Now how about capability? How about a more powerful psychic that could jam his signal….. no? We’ve just got the psychic technical officer and Reflex Man on the supernatural front? Alright, at least F.E.A.R can send their highly trained and capable soldiers to kill Fettel, and be home in time for dinner. Or rather, they would, if they didn’t seem to fail at every single step. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game in the squad’s mission objectives were so different from the end results. In the very first mission, you have one objective: Kill Fettel. You fail, and the mission objective remains a priority for the entire game. In another mission, your squad is arriving by helicopter at a building under attack by Fettel’s soldiers. Everyone but you is killed before anyone can even set foot on the tarmac. Later on, a rescued hostage is being escorted to a helipad for extraction. He’s shot by the enemy while going through the door. A loading screen states that the team is being taken by helicopter to a Vault to complete three new objectives. That helicopter is shot down before it can reach the Vault, and those objectives have to wait while you make your way on foot. But the ultimate failure is when you have to rescue a company founder’s daughter and escort her to safety. Not only do you lose track of her, but she actually makes her way through an enemy infested building, from the rooftop entrance to a parking garage four floors underground, AND DRIVES AWAY. Screw the guy with the reflexes, F.E.A.R needs to hire this girl pronto!

The only possible solution to these problems I’ve mentioned is that F.E.A.R has the lowest budget of any part of the American military. The team is likely operating on a skeleton crew of five to seven staff members, and are giddy with excitement that the new recruit they’ve stumbled upon before anyone else did has enough reflexes to carry out their struggling combat operations single-handedly, albeit unsuccessfully. The only reason they were called when Fettel turned on his masters is that F.E.A.R could be trusted to be discreet about their findings (an factor I believe was mentioned in the Senator’s phone call near the beginning of the game). Too bad no one told F.E.A.R’s team leader that: in the final levels of the game he explicitly states that he wants evidence from the Vault that ties the organization behind Fettel’s soldiers to their psychic experimentation, presumably to expose the guilty parties who preferred the whole thing to be kept hush-hush, which is why they called F.E.A.R in the first place! By the way, how did that whole gathering-evidence-from-the-Vault thing go? Well, instead of F.E.A.R getting evidence, the Vault got a nuclear explosion, which was DETONATED BY A F.E.A.R EMPLOYEE.

I wonder if the sequel has to deal with the ramifications of an organization funded by tax dollars for expertise they don’t have, attempting to reveal a secret they were hired to keep hidden, that stumbled through one spectacular failure after another, eventually culminating in a mushroom cloud looming over American soil.

Although I suppose it could just be the case that FEAR is at its core an average shooter with horror elements tacked in to make it stand out, and suffers a lack of good writing. But all they would’ve needed to do to fix that was stick with the trailer’s depiction of an anti-terrorist squad going in to fight terrorists, and coming across a threat they never expected. That might’ve been good.

……… Maybe.

Alright, changing gears, I actually did like F.E.A.R quite a bit. It took a while to get into, and I was hoping that there would be some squad-based combat, but I was able to grit through and get to the ending, which was actually VERY well done in my opinion.  The closer we got to the Vault the better things seemed to flow. The combat repetitive, but could actually be entertaining, and I even got the creepy crawies a few times along the way, even screaming at one of Alma’s sudden appearances.

In fact, I’m a little confused about jumping into the expansion packs now, because I know that whatever happens in them is just going to get retconned in the sequel. Because I don’t want to lose out on a good experience. Not bad, given the previous rant, eh?
« Last Edit: November 03, 2010, 08:07:04 PM by Little Bugger »

Offline bobdog

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Re: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2010, 09:00:34 PM »
What threw me from the FEAR 1 bus was something a little more concrete -- the ridiculous design of all the offices that you have to traipse through. I mentioned here in my mini-reviews of the original game, its expansions and some add-ons, that whatever architect created the office complexes you navigate should have been fired, because the flow was just atrocious.

Honestly, I liked the expansions better than FEAR 1, and actually liked FEAR 2 best.

But good for you trying something new!! ... er, old....   :smoking:

Offline Starfox

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Re: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2010, 01:21:08 PM »
Quote
So why would they put this guy in, I don’t know, THE REGULAR ARMY. Or a counter-terrorist unit? Or some other team that specializes in shooting people in an ordinary, non-supernatural crisis?

Probably because he's Fettel's brother, one of the two children spawned from Alma, a guy that was originally genetically engineered with telepathic abilities to take control of the Replica forces (the way Fettel does). However the guy was a failure as a Replica commander (not the same kind of failure than is brother, but still...) and was put on hold so he could be used later if needed. He can still pick up all the paranormal activity going around because of his telepathic abilities and his special connection to his mother. So in the facts your character in the game is a government property created within the Origin project and now they use him to track Fettel and take him down because, being his brother, he also has a connection to Fettel.

That's really the only reason why he was integrated into the F.E.A.R. team and why he couldn't be integrated anywhere else. Of course, governmental secrecy obliged, none of the other F.E.A.R. agents know who this guy really is.

But I agree all of that is only really made clear in the second game, in the notes you find about Project Origin (when you care to piece together the notes of the second game and what you remember from the first).

But no matter the plot, F.E.A.R. is a game that aged poorly. If I had to review it again now, I wouldn't be so generous than I was. Having played F.E.A.R. 2, I may be biased though.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2010, 01:25:11 PM by Starfox »


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

Offline Fanghawk

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Re: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2010, 06:37:46 PM »
But I agree all of that is only really made clear in the second game, in the notes you find about Project Origin (when you care to piece together the notes of the second game and what you remember from the first).
   
I'm not too sure whether that should make me feel better about this game. What if the sequels and expansions never were greenlit? All we'd have was a very confusing plot and dedicated fan-sites churning out backstories and Alma-based erotic fiction. I have a similar reaction to TV shows and games that do cliffhangers: there are all kinds of reasons why development might come to a full stop right there (no renewed contracts, loss of actors), leaving the people who actually enjoyed what happened so far in the cold. In my opinion, a plot or story arc should be made as complete as it can be. Sometimes, there are good dramatic reasons for leaving something unexplained, but leaving loose ends SOLELY for the purpose of extending a franchise smacks of weak writing to me.

That said, I do find aspects of the story interesting, especially when looking at the horribly twisted family drama that occurs in the last intervals of the game (because can't we all relate to that time we shot our mother and brother in the face before being caught in a nuclear explosion?). It's just too bad that other parts of the game didn't line up the same way.

Anyway, I’m playing through the Extraction Point expansion now, and am finding it to be more balanced in terms of gameplay, and freakier to boot. Maybe part of the problem with the original was that it’s harder to stretch out the good stuff over a full game’s length, so it just ended up being focused closer to the end.

Another odd realization, anybody else notice that the Armachan is the more reasonable and thoughtful organization in the game? For a group that creates cloned soldiers and psychic infants they’re incredibly rational. Sure, they built their secret research station under an American city, but when everything went inevitably wrong, they shut down the project and locked the place up. And then, most importantly, they STOPPED MAKING THINGS WORSE. They didn’t pull an Umbrella and try making the most of an already stupid situation; they just shut it down and tried to get on with their lives. Even Aristide, who’s motivated by profits, didn’t open the vault to get to that lucrative project no one else saw the value of; she wants to torch the place. If I were in her shoes, I’d probably want to do the same thing since leaving something that awful under a populated area might one day come back to bite me in the ass, either in the form of a psychic attack or a really embarrassing shareholders meeting.

Offline Starfox

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Re: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2010, 06:06:20 AM »
Quote
What if the sequels and expansions never were greenlit?

They weren't. The expansions were the fact of Sierra, not Monolith. When they were released, it was still Sierra that hold the rights to the F.E.A.R. name (although Monolith retained the rights to the story, universe and characters) and they wanted to milk the cow as much as possible. Then they decided to drop the thing and resell the name rights back to Monolith for F.E.A.R. 2. As a matter of fact, none of the expansions are evoked in the second game.

Quote
Even Aristide, who’s motivated by profits, didn’t open the vault to get to that lucrative project no one else saw the value of; she wants to torch the place. If I were in her shoes, I’d probably want to do the same thing since leaving something that awful under a populated area might one day come back to bite me in the ass, either in the form of a psychic attack or a really embarrassing shareholders meeting.

That's about it. Aristide (who is the only important character -- well with Alma that is -- from the first game to make it back into the second) is the typical corporate executive who is only interested in having the shit not splashing her when the whole thing explodes. Her top priorities are to preserve her job and the company assets sacrificing anything or anyone (who's not her) in the process. If she just wants to torch the place in the first game it's because she doesn't see any other option. The second game is another matter though because an option is offered to her.

What changes about story telling in F.E.A.R. 2 is that they introduced two elements that were sorely lacking in the first game. First there are notes scattered through the game giving some essential background and second they introduced a guy from Armacham that is willing to betray Aristide because she's taking a route he doesn't approve of. This guy feeds you a good chunk of the whole story, not all at once but during the course of the events. On the whole those two elements allow the story flow to be more consistent than in the first game. No more running in the dark trying to guess what's going on.


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

Offline The Rogue Wolf

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Re: First-Time F.E.A.R Thoughts
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2010, 10:58:05 AM »
...running in the dark trying to guess what's going on.
When you think about it, that one sentence kinda sums up the entirety of the first FEAR and its expansions, doesn't it? :lol:
"Choice one: we flank them using what military men called tactics, and what religious men call divine inspiration. Or, we charge at them head on screaming various obscenities, in what military men call bravery and religious men also call divine inspiration."