F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon is a survival horror first-person shooter developed by Monolith Productions and published by Vivendi. It was released on October 17, 2005, for Windows, and ported by Day 1 Studios to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Timegate Studios has released two expansion packs, F.E.A.R. Extraction Point in October 2006, and F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate in November 2007. A direct sequel titled F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, which is unrelated to Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point since they were made without Monolith's approval, was announced by Monolith Productions.
The game's story revolves around a supernatural phenomenon, which F.E.A.R.—a fictional special forces team—is called to contain. The player assumes the role of F.E.A.R.'s Point Man, who possesses superhuman reflexes and combats an army of cloned soldiers, and at the same time uncovers the secrets of a paranormal menace in the form of a little girl.
F.E.A.R. was well-received by critics, scoring 89% on Game Rankings, and The New York Times calling it "as thrilling and involving as Half-Life." A "Director's Edition" DVD version of the game was also released. The DVD included a "Making of" documentary, a director's commentary, a short live-action prequel and the exclusive first episode of the promotional P.A.N.I.C.S. machinima. A related Dark Horse comic book was also packaged with the DVD. Along with the Director's Edition, F.E.A.R. Gold Edition was released. Gold Edition included the Director's Edition and Extraction Point. F.E.A.R. Platinum Edition features the original game and two expansion packs.
A prominent gameplay element is "reflex time," which slows down the game world while allowing the player to aim and react at normal speeds. This effect is used to simulate the character's superhuman reflexes. Reflex time is represented by stylized visual effects, such as bullets in flight that cause air distortion or interact with the game's particle effects. F.E.A.R. lead designer Craig Hubbard stated that Monolith Productions' primary goal was "to make combat as intense as the tea house shootout at the beginning of John Woo's Hard-Boiled." He continued on to say that "defeat[ing] ... enemies ... with style" was crucial to this goal and that reflex time plays a large role in "mak[ing] the player feel like they are an action movie hero."
The game contains weapons based on non-fictional firearms, such as pistols, assault rifles and submachine guns, as well as entirely fictional armaments like particle beam weapons. Each firearm differs in terms of ammunition type, accuracy, range, fire rate, damage and bulkiness. The latter characteristic is crucial, as more powerful/specialized weapons tend to be more cumbersome and slow the player's maneuvers. Unlike other games of the genre where lighter/smaller weapons tend to be useless, F.E.A.R. does not scale guns on a curve, so any firearm is potentially deadly in most situations. Monolith Productions stated that it aimed for "a balanced arsenal where each weapon serves a specific function," rather than "just going with a bunch of real-world submachine guns and assault rifles." F.E.A.R.'s heads-up display crosshair's size dynamically shows where shots will fall based on movement, aim and the weapon in use. The player may carry only three firearms at a time; thus, strategy is required when using and selecting weapons.
Compared to other shooters where mêlée is usually a last resort, F.E.A.R.'s mêlée is a viable instant-kill alternative for taking down enemies. The stocks of all firearms can be used in close combat. Lighter weapons, while being less powerful, allow the player to move around more quickly, increasing their chances of mêlée. Movement speed is maximized if a player holsters their weapon, which also allows them to engage in hand-to-hand attacks with maneuvers including punches, kicks, and slides.
F.E.A.R.'s artificial intelligence allows computer-controlled characters a large degree of action. Enemies can duck to travel under crawlspaces, jump through windows, vault over railings, climb ladders and push over large objects to create cover. Various opponents may act as a team, taking back routes to surprise the player, using suppressive fire or taking cover if under fire. The game's artificial intelligence is often cited as being highly advanced, and its efficiency helped the game win GameSpot's "2005 Best AI Award," and earn the #2 ranking on AIGameDev's "Most Influential AI Games."
On August 17, 2006, F.E.A.R.'s multiplayer component was retitled F.E.A.R. Combat and made available for free download. Downloaders of F.E.A.R. Combat and owners of F.E.A.R.'s retail edition may play together online.
The PC version of the game uses the PunkBuster program to prevent cheating. However, in December 2007, Even Balance discontinued PunkBuster support for F.E.A.R. in favor of the second expansion, F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate. While PunkBuster-enabled servers will still check for and protect against known cheats, the program will no longer automatically update. Because of this, many players with an outdated version of PunkBuster are unable to play in PunkBuster-enabled servers without being automatically kicked from the game. However, this can be fixed by disabling PunkBuster security with an in-game command, or by downloading the latest PunkBuster files from a third-party source.
The main source of the game's horror is Alma, a ghostly little girl. Craig Hubbard remarked that "a guy in a mask chasing co-eds with a meat cleaver can be scary, but on some level you're thinking to yourself you could probably kick his ass if you got the drop on him...but when a spooky little girl takes out an entire Delta Force squad, how are you supposed to deal with that?" While Alma has been compared to the character Samara from The Ring, Craig Hubbard stated that she "was born out of a tradition of eerie, faceless female ghosts" and not "as an answer to any specific movie character." Hubbard acknowledged that Alma "admittedly bears some visual resemblance to the ghosts in Dark Water or Séance," but "creepy little girls have been freaking [him] out since The Shining".
F.E.A.R.'s audio was designed in the style of Japanese horror films, with the sound engineers using inexpensive equipment to create sound effects, utilizing methods including dragging metal across different surfaces and recording pump sounds. Monolith Productions commented, "The sound designers had to be concerned with avoiding predictability," since "[l]isteners are smart ... they will recognize your formula quickly and then you won't be able to scare them anymore." Silence was also utilized in order to "allow players to fill in the space, which lets their imagination create their own personal horror".
Monolith Productions composed F.E.A.R.'s music in reaction to scenes, instead of "creating a formula that would consistently produce music throughout the game". The design team called F.E.A.R.'s music structure "more cerebral and tailored to each individual event", and continued that "sometimes the music is used to ratchet up the tension to toy with players ... [it] will build to a terrifying crescendo before cutting off without a corresponding event, only to later have the silence shattered by Alma, when players least expect it."
F.E.A.R.'s horror theme was praised by critics. Game Informer claimed that "... the frequent spooky head trips that Monolith has so skillfully woven together make an experience that demands to be played." IGN opined that "the environment has been so well-crafted to keep you edgy and watchful ... [that] playing the game for a few hours straight can get a little draining." GameSpot reacted similarly, calling F.E.A.R.'s horror "exceedingly effective," and agreeing that it "can leave you a bit emotionally exhausted after a while."
The manual briefly mentions the player character's recent induction as "point man" to F.E.A.R., a top-secret special forces group created by the U.S. government in 2002, which specializes in dealing with paranormal threats to national security. The point man's extraordinarily fast reflexes are compared to that of "a cat on an adrenaline rush," and although the reason for the point man's superhuman reflexes is at this point unknown, it is clear that the government is interested in his abilities.
In the game's opening scene, a genetically engineered psychic named Paxton Fettel suddenly takes command of a battalion of telepathically-controlled clone supersoldiers, after hearing voices in his head accompanied by visions of a young girl in a red dress. With the help of these "Replica" soldiers, Fettel seizes control of an Armacham Technology Corporation (ATC) facility, killing all of its occupants. Soon afterwards, Fettel is seen eating one of the building's employees, while his soldiers stand guard around him.
Now in control of the point man, the player attends a briefing held by Commissioner Betters, in the company of his F.E.A.R. teammates Jankowski and Jin Sun-Kwon. According to Betters, Paxton Fettel was the result of a top-secret Armacham project. He was genetically engineered by Armacham, and trained to be a military commander, capable of issuing telepathic orders to an army of cloned soldiers, thereby gaining firsthand knowledge of the battlefield without putting himself in danger. However, the plan apparently backfired, and the F.E.A.R. team has been called in to deal with the uprising, operating in conjunction with Delta Force. Betters speculates that, since Fettel will probably be giving orders to the soldiers from afar, it should be easy to capture and neutralize him without having to deal with the army of Replicas. If Fettel were to be eliminated, the soldiers would immediately deactivate.
Using a satellite tracking device that Armacham implanted in Fettel's head, the F.E.A.R. team traces his signal to an abandoned asylum in the Auburn industrial district. There, the point man and Jankowski find the body of Charles Habegger, an Armacham employee, who has been killed by Fettel. After attacking the point man by surprise, and knocking him unconscious, Fettel manages to elude the F.E.A.R. operatives and escape. By the time the point man regains consciousness, SFOD-D forces have located Fettel's soldiers at a harbor near the South River Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Two teams of Delta Force operatives accompany Jankowski and the point man to the harbor in pursuit of Fettel, but shortly after arriving, both Delta Force teams are inexplicably wiped out by some supernatural force, and Jankowski goes missing. The point man then begins to experience visions and hallucinations of what appears to be Jankowski's ghost, although Betters, who is monitoring Jankowski's life signs, insists that he is still alive. The point man continues to search for Fettel on his own. Meanwhile, Betters is informed that all SFOD-D reinforcements have all been redirected to Armacham headquarters, which is under attack by Replicas. SFOD-D also reports that one of their squads have gone missing, and request assistance, which Betters refuses until F.E.A.R. can neutralize Fettel. The point man then finds another Armacham employee named Bill Moody, who was recently interrogated by Fettel about the location of Alma. Moody dies shortly afterward, and Fettel flees the South River Wastewater Treatment Plant before the point man can catch up with him.
The point man, with a new team of Delta Force operatives, later infiltrates Armacham headquarters in search of Fettel and the missing SFOD-D squad, but only the point man survives the initial assault. After wandering deeper into Armacham, the point man finds what's left of the missing Delta Squad: the squad has been gruesomely killed similarly to the first Delta squad. Later, with the help of Delta Force operative Douglas Holiday, the point man frees and extracts a hostage, Armacham employee Aldus Bishop, who was being held for questioning regarding the location of "The Vault." The Delta Force team escorts Bishop to a waiting helicopter, but as it's taking off, an ATC security team assassinates Aldus Bishop and openly begin to fire upon F.E.A.R. and Delta Squad. The point man enters the ATC executive building in search of scientist Harlan Wade and locates another hostage, his daughter Alice. On the way to the roof, the two get separated and the helicopter expected to rendezvous with them is unexpectedly shot down. Alice flees on her own to the Auburn District, seeking her father Harlan, so the F.E.A.R. team follows her.
The player learns that Fettel was raised to become a telepathic military commander as part of ATC project Origin. He is the son of Alma, who is described as being a powerful psychic. The player also learns of the existence of another child of Alma, who was born before Fettel.
All clues lead F.E.A.R. to believe Fettel is under control of Alma, who was buried within the Origin facility when ATC closed down the project because of the danger posed by the woman. Now the villain is searching for that same facility to free his mother. At an abandoned industrial compound in the Auburn District, the Point Man discovers the hidden entrance to the facility, after fighting back both the clone soldiers and ATC, whose security agents have received orders to cover up the whole affair. When the protagonist finally comes face-to-face with Fettel, he is drawn into a hallucination where the player learns that the Point Man is Alma's first son. After this hallucination, the player is able to kill Fettel. Nonetheless, Alma is freed when her storage chamber is opened by an ATC researcher, Harlan Wade, who feels guilty about the company's treatment of her; eventually, it is revealed Alma shares Wade's name, implying that he is her father. The player is then called upon to sabotage the structure's reactor, to destroy the facility. In the aftermath of the detonation, a Delta Force UH-60 Black Hawk extracts the Point Man from the rubble. While the player and the survivors of the F.E.A.R team survey the results of the explosion from the helicopter, Alma makes one last appearance, preparing to pull herself up into the helicopter's cabin. The destruction of the Origin Facility has not stopped her quest for revenge.
After the game's credits, the player can listen to a phone call between a mysterious senator and ATC President Aristide, which offers some further explanation: The president considers the project under control and deems the first prototype (apparently the Point Man) a success.
During 2005, F.E.A.R. made playable appearances at Consumer Electronics Show, Game Developers Conference and E3, all of which were well-received. Its showing at E3 garnered it the Game Critics Award for "Best Action Game." After the release of a single-player demo, Vivendi allowed gaming journalists to play through the first four levels of the game, which received even more positive reaction than before. F.E.A.R. eventually released on October 18, 2005. Alongside the basic CD-ROM edition, a "Director's Cut" DVD version of F.E.A.R. was released with a number of extra features. A Dark Horse Entertainment comic book and a series of live action vignettes help clarify a number of plot elements depicted in the game, while the "Making of F.E.A.R." and "Developers' commentary" documentaries offer several insights and trivia into the game's development through interviews with employees of Monolith Productions and Vivendi. Also included is the exclusive first episode of the F.E.A.R. machinima, P.A.N.I.C.S., created by "Rooster Teeth Productions".
Over the course of the "Developer's roundtable commentary," producer Chris Hewitt reveals, "We had a whole level in the game where we had this car chase sequence [...] we spent about two months on that thing...." "[B]ut the car chase sequence didn't work the way we hoped it would," adds designer Craig Hubbard, commenting on the choice to remove that level from the game. Hewitt also comments that, "Actually we started off with two villains, and [Fettel] was one of them until we merged them together...." Craig Hubbard also remarks that "his jacket actually used to belong to another villain we had in the game named Conrad Krieg, whom we combined with Fettel pretty literally."
F.E.A.R. is the first game developed using the newest iteration of Monolith's Lithtech engine. Codenamed "Jupiter EX," the F.E.A.R. engine is driven by a DirectX 9 renderer and has seen major advancements from its direct precursor, "Jupiter." The new engine includes both Havok physics and the Havok "Vehicle Kit," which adds support for common vehicle behavior. This later feature goes mostly unused in F.E.A.R., as no vehicles appear outside of scripted sequences.
Graphically, F.E.A.R. utilizes normal mapping and parallax mapping to give textures a more realistic appearance; the later is used to give the appearance of depth to flat bullet hole sprites on walls. Volumetric lighting and lightmapping are included with the addition of a per-pixel lighting model, allowing complex lighting effects to be developed. Vertex, pixel and high-level shaders, including a host of additional special effects, are also featured in Jupiter EX.
IGN claimed that "Monolith forges new shooter territory with some truly freaky elements, challenge, fun, and beauty." GameSpy praised the game's plot, later awarding it their "Best Story" Game of the Year award. The New York Times thought differently, stating "I was never quite clear on what was going on in the game. I knew my goal — track down a psychic, escort a corporate executive's daughter out of danger—but I didn't ever care who these people were nor did I understand their motives." The game has also received criticism for its system requirements, which called for an extremely powerful PC for its time.
Maximum PC stated that "Monolith did a great job with both the in-game sounds and the soundtrack ... the spooky audio makes exploring deserted ruins creepy, and the positional sound works to great effect; sinister noises like breaking bottles and creaking metal come from your rear channels with just the right frequency to freak you out," but "after eight hours of battling the exact same opponents, in a perfectly linear environment, it’s tough to remain enthusiastic." GameSpot also found the game slightly repetitive, but still called it "quite easily one of the most intense and atmospheric games that you'll play," and later awarded it their "Shooter of the Year" prize.
The Xbox 360 port has also received positive reviews, almost as favorable as the PC version. The multiplayer and instant-action mode were praised for better gameplay, but the control scheme was negatively viewed. Reviews have also stated that it lacked bonus features, despite the new mission included in the game. GameSpot gave the game 8.6. while IGN rated it 9.1
The PlayStation 3 port received less favorable reviews than the other two versions, but still had positive reviews overall. It contained the bonus mission exclusive to the Xbox 360 port, but the chief complaints of the negative reviewers were downgraded graphics and long loading times. GameSpot has given the port a 7.1, making it the second lowest rating of the F.E.A.R. franchise in GameSpot.
Vivendi Universal published the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports of the original game, developed by Day 1 Studios.
An expansion pack titled F.E.A.R. Extraction Point was released by TimeGate Studios on October 24, 2006. The second expansion pack, F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate, also from TimeGate Studios, was released in November 2007. F.E.A.R. Files was released simultaneously for the Xbox 360, consisting of both Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate.