F.E.A.R. is the best shooter on the planet. There. I said it. No more debate, let's all go home now.
Okay, really, let's talk about the story of F.E.A.R., a game filled with darkness in every corner, from its humor to its environments. One of the best parts of F.E.A.R. is its creepy and dark, anime-tinged story, which borders on film noir at points, being told primarily through audio logs from phone calls. Yes, you'll end up learning some things about the villains and the story no matter what, but the juicy story rewards that are nicely spread throughout the game make F.E.A.R.'s story come out ahead of the two sequels. And, yes, Project Origin fans, I'm calling you out there.
However, what really makes F.E.A.R. go from a good story to an extremely cool one is its villains, specifically its three primary factions, those being Paxton Fettel's Replica Forces, Alma Wade, and Armacham. I'll be focusing on all three.
Let's start with Paxton Fettel and the Replica Forces. The Replica Forces are your main enemy throughout the game, and they are some of the best enemies in shooter history. Designed specifically to operate in small squads and defeat the player, the Replica are actually fairly standard in terms of personality. They are a paramilitary faction of clones psychically controlled by Fettel.
What makes the Replica Forces so interesting is the fact that they have a certain tragic element to them. They are psychically controlled by Fettel, but they are also their own people. True, they're evil people who enjoy violence, but they communicate with one another. They talk. They fight. They help each other and they get scared, but the second Fettel dies, they're done. That's it for the Replica Forces, because they deactivate and become paralyzed cannon fodder, never able to move again.
The Replica don't, however, stop at badass military types. There is also Fettel's personal guard, the skull-masked Replica Elite, who have a more over-the-top design and wield guns that shoot explosions. The Elites are a unique enemy compared to the normal enemies, but they're still just advanced military troops.
Where the Replica bring an awesome exception is the Replica Assassins, anime-as-hell cloaking enemies that jump the player with dual blades, foreshadowed by shock and electricity. The Assassins are cool and distinctive, and most importantly, actually fun to fight. Unlike many melee-based enemies in shooters, the Assassins jump around enough and attack well enough to be enjoyable fights rather than a tedious, overpowered or underpowered affair. With a good shot and slow motion, the player can kill an Assassin
before it even strikes. Without, they could very well find themself doomed.
One of Project Origin's worst qualities was downgrading the Replica Forces and giving them a more confusing backstory of being controlled by Alma to kill the protagonist or something. They go from one of the most threatening enemy groups in gaming to simple, blue-colored cannon fodder. F.3.A.R. cuts them completely, which is one of its worst qualities.
On the other hand, F.3.A.R. also directly provides a genuine redeeming quality in the form of making F.E.A.R.'s main villain Paxton Fettel playable. Fettel is a very different sort of shooter villain. Instead of being a military badass, Fettel takes an evil sorcerer role, being a creepy, strangely-voiced cannibal who controls the Replica Forces.
Fettel not only has a cool design, (I'd pay good money for that jacket) he establishes an intimidating and distinctive presence throughout the game. You spend most of it fighting the more bluntly threatening Replica Forces, so when this creepy psychic shows up and they all stop at his command, and he delivers a fun little speech about how Armacham has it coming, you want to see more of him.
Unfortunately, Fettel's use is heavily minimalist. While he actually turns out to be somewhat sympathetic, he is vastly overshadowed in many ways. He is undeniably cool, though, and is an interesting foe that provides a good counterpoint to the player and to Armacham.
Armacham is the corporate enemy and driving force of the story. Armacham's soldiers rarely personally show up in the first game, and when they do, they are often defeated with similar ease by the Replica Forces, who are far more skilled in the art of combat due to being genetically engineered super soldiers.
However, Armacham's former leader Harlan Wade, who has turned somewhat sane and desires to atone for his actions, provides most of the story. The current leader wants to dig up ancient psychic superweapon Alma Wade, his daughter, and kill her. Harlan, despite his horrible treatment of her, decides the time is now to turn over a new leaf. Named after Harlan Ellison, Harlan Wade is arguably the real lead of F.E.A.R.'s story.
Harlan provides an explanation to the player of what is going on via the calls, which slowly reveals more details about the nightmare involved. Specifically, his daughter, after showing incredible psychic power, was used as as a lab experiment, impregnated with the DNA of Harlan himself (Harlan was, at the time, extremely narcissistic) and forced to bear children at a young age, children who Armacham then took from her.
Harlan eventually betrays Armacham, and some things happen. However, he is the villain the player spends the most time getting to know, both the monstrous qualities of him and the no less evil human side. Harlan is reprehensible, but to some extent understandable in his nightmarish greed and cruelty.
Okay, okay. If you've played F.E.A.R., we all know who you're waiting for. The Mother, the Child, Alma Wade. To quote one of the developers, "When a little girl kicks the ass of Delta Force, what do you do?" Indeed, Alma Wade is horror incarnate, and also easily the most sympathetic villain in video game history. (And, once again, I'm completely ignoring Project Origin's depiction of the character, which I find very bland.)
I'd have a better picture here, but unfortunately I'm on a filtered computer, and ironically, everything that has shown up due to the filter that wasn't this was highly inappropriate. Leave it to video game fans to sexualize a traumatized child. Huh.
Alma is a child with incredible psychic powers. She's also long dead, and I won't explain how exactly she's back because it's a creepy little secret all on its own. However, Alma is the true main villain of F.E.A.R. Inspired by Sadako Yamamura from J-Horror flick Ringu, Alma has the mentality of a child. She desires to protect her children, but also to claim vengeance on all who made her suffer.
The new Armacham CEO desires to wake Alma up and kill her. This is a horrible move, as Alma tracks the variables down and decides to kill her and Harlan. Fettel is planning to find Alma as well. (It's not clarified why in-game, although F.3.A.R. and supplementary materials indicate that he desires to kill her and steal her power.) This puts Alma as the mysterious objective in everyone's way, including the player's.
Alma is horrifying, plain and simple. Not just because she jumps the player every so often, but because as a concept she is a nightmare. She is a little girl with powers that border on warping reality itself at times. She has the mentality of a child, but the astounding power of a demon.
Alma is also extremely sympathetic. Not only was she forced to bear children to be psychic weapons, she then had them taken from her and was killed. Now that her ghost is back for vengeance, she's a threat to everyone... except maybe you.
I know that meandered a bit, but that was just a fun little retrospective on an older game I absolutely love. Few games juggle multiple main villains as well as F.E.A.R., and fewer manage to make all of them as interesting as it does. Although Alma is the highlight, it's hard to dismiss the other villains in F.E.A.R.'s repertoire as well.
Go play F.E.A.R., if not for the villains, for the excellent gameplay and AI. Trust me, you won't regret it. Maybe you'll even find the villains as interesting as I do.