E3 2007: First impressions of the sequel to F.E.A.R.

Just this morning I had a sit down and private gameplay demo with Monolith and game producer Troy Skinner concerning the developer’s upcoming sequel to the critical and commercial hit first-person shooter/survival horror hybrid F.E.A.R.

And, yes, it is still just being called “the sequel to F.E.A.R.” for now. Monolith held a contest a while back to see who could come up with the best name for this follow-up game and, although the field has been narrowed down to three finalists, a winner has not yet been selected (my suggestion, Z.O.I.N.K.S., was sadly denied).

The game is not being released until 2008 and is only about 50% complete, but the demo shown was from a fully playable sequence that seems very close to being finished.

Hit the jump for my full impressions of this highly anticipated game.

The original F.E.A.R. kind of came out of nowhere when it was released a couple of years ago. Not being the biggest fan of first-person shooters, I filed it away in my mind as another generic FPS and gave it no further thought.

Once the game was released, however, I discovered a very deep, surprisingly visceral experience.

Besides being genuinely scary, maybe most significantly, F.E.A.R. really set a new standard for AI in a videogame. Each enemy really reacted to how you played, offering a new experience every time and never resorting to boring, predictable patterns of movement.

Going into this presentation for F.E.A.R.’s sequel, I had pretty high expectations, but, honestly, was prepared to be disappointed. Truly original first-person shooters do not come along very often and I was almost certain the success of the original would not feel as fresh or affecting when duplicated in a sequel.

Even though only one short sequence was presented, I was pleased to see that the sequel to F.E.A.R. is just as impressive (if not more so) than its predecessor.

Troy Skinner took control of the entire demo, which creatively starts in a mysterious doctor’s office as you, the main character, are waking up in a hospital bed. First impressions dictate that this is a cut-scene, but once the nurse and supposed surgeon leave the room, your character sits up, puts on a pair of virtually-enhanced glasses (creating your HUD) and the game starts. The whole opening sequence is shot from the first-person and seamlessly blends into the actual gameplay.

Although the whole first level takes place in a hospital (looking very much like the setting of the original F.E.A.R.), the producer promised that there would be a huge variety of environments in the final product, as that was the chief complaint from the first game.

Besides the very impressive visuals (seriously, the lighting effects and atmosphere are superbly realized) one thing that struck me about this F.E.A.R. sequel was how you had the power to affect any physical thing in the level.

As you are running and gunning through the stage and shooting everything in sight (more on combat later) your bullets cause damage to, literally, everything. Not only are the walls damaged with individual bullet holes, but even the large, flat fluorescent light fixtures in the ceiling can be shot out, some even falling down and hanging from a wire. Even all the items on tables or in cabinets can be realistically destroyed.

On top of all this, your character can actually push or flip over anything in your way. Say a hallway is clogged with a bookcase or hospital bed. Just hit a button (I am not sure which one) and your character’s arm flies out, knocking the object out of the way. And just like the first game, the physics on all the objects is exemplary. This may be a sick comparison, but the interaction and movement of all the items on screen reminded me of a twisted version of Elebits (sans the carpal tunnel).

In addition to just being able to move any item in the game, one new feature that was not present in the original F.E.A.R. is the ability to use any of these objects as cover from enemy fire. Being attacked by a huge horde of troops in a small room with nowhere to run? Just knock over a vending machine and hide behind it. Seeing this feature in motion (in real-time) is nothing short of awesome.

As far as the story goes, not much was revealed and the representatives are remaining pretty hush-hush. This much I know: the game is effed up. During the gameplay demo there were about a hundred gruesome deaths, a surgery gone bad, a ridiculously creepy, ridiculously fast man-eating creature, a giant portal into hell, and a lot of uses of the word f*ck (seriously, a lot). Oh, and that creepy little girl from the first game is back. And when she showed up I actually gasped.

Out of all the surprisingly solid stuff in the game, it was the little details that really sold me. Of course the AI is as good as ever, but what takes it over the edge is how realistic it really is. One weapon you collect early in the game allows you to set your enemies on fire. Once ablaze, the poor souls will actually run for any nearby body of water to put themselves out. Even cooler, if you ever panic your enemy (by sneaking up on them, threatening them, etc.) sometimes they will perform a “glory death” where they will freak out and kill themselves by jumping off of a roof or running in front of a moving vehicle. A really sweet addition that perfectly works in the gameplay.

All in all, the sequel to F.E.A.R. is shaping up to be an awesome successor to the original. Unfortunately, Monolith is being very secretive about everything and wouldn’t even release any images, video, or assets of any kind for me to use in this post. But if everything turns out like the short demo I saw, this is going to be one creepy, intelligent, polished, original, detailed, pretty much rad game.

Chad Concelmo