Remember FEAR? That action horror series for the last generation of consoles that petered off into obscurity when it decided dude-bro military antics and online multiplayer were the be-all and end-all of shooters?
Me neither, because I never played them.
In fact, I only just finished the first game plus Extraction Point. Working my way through Perseus Mandate as I speak.
But I wanted to highlight something about FEAR that really struck me. It's something I never liked about the game prior to playing it but loved after finishing it: how FEAR takes the mundane and makes it scary.
FEAR (which idiotically stands for First Encounter Assault Recon) is a horror (but not really) game where you play as the Pointman in a unit that counters paranormal activity.
A company named Armacham was developing an army that used a telepathic soldier to control an army of clones, but the soldier went rogue and you need to take him down and stop his army.
It feels routine until it suddenly isn't. While most games have explosive openers, FEAR is more content to build suspence in a way that doesn't feel cheap or take control away from the player.
The main locations you explore are shipping yards, industrial zones, water treatment plants and office buildings. Pretty banal places in real life and not exactly spectacularly sightly places for a shooter, right?
Well, not quite. While FEAR is mostly an action game, it has horror undertones. It's never explicitly spoopy. You'll have the occasional jump scare, but that's usually after several bombastic gun fights.
So what makes FEAR unique?
It subverts the expectations of its audience by making the boring more engaging.
Things about the combat that are neat.
1) The slo-mo. You have a meter that lets you slow down time to take more accurate shots or dodge bullets. While most shooters want to speed up the action, FEAR is content to slow it down. And it's a nice, crawling slo-mo too.
2) The environmental damage. For a game from 2007 there's a lot of environmental interaction during combat. Bullets and kicks will send objects off tables rattling to the floor. Bullets will gouge out holes in the walls. Explosions will destroy computers and electrical conduits and send sparks arcing along surfaces.
And that's it. But it's those two things that make the combat special. When things are fast they feel sluggish, but when things are slow you feel agile. Slowing down the combat gives a strategic element that, combined with the awesome effects that look great in slo-mo, makes for combat that feels weighty with a lot of visual spectical.
But going back to the settings, they are pretty mundane. But they're also grim and atmospheric. Abandoned apartments and empty office buildings have a sort of mysticism to them. It's as if you're not supposed to be there.
Then when soldiers come out and you're forced to fight, lighting up dark offices by gun fire it makes those places feel threatening.
I won't say FEAR is a totally scary game, because it isn't. It's an action game with dark rooms, essentially.
But it also does something more games should emulate: and that's by taking game mechanics, modern hardware (those physics were impressive for the time) and strokes from different genres to create something more memorable than the sum of its parts.
It turned empty offices and par-for-the-course gunfights into a terrific experience that, from its combat beats, made for something special back in 2007, and is still remembered very fondly now.