Posted by: Ben | January 4, 2009

Silver Age: F.E.A.R.

(Videogame. PC. Monolith / Sierra. 2005)

“Don’t move! You’re surrounded by armed bastards!”

Hi. My name is Point Man. I’m a supersoldier with First Encounter Assault Recon, which is apparently American for Shoot First, Ask Questions Later. It’s a specialised US military force which deals with paranormal threats. It was founded in 2002, perhaps not coincidentally after the 9/11 attacks resulted in one side of the Pentagon being destroyed, thus freeing any supernatural entities which might have been trapped therein, and it’s top secret, because otherwise the American military would just look stupid. I’m a double hard bastard, and my special abilities include slowing down time, doing those kung fu bicycle kicks like Steven Chow and stopping the heart of a goat just by staring at it. I enjoy hunting, shooting and fishing, and dislike bureaucracy, blood and little girl ghosts. I haven’t told my superior officers yet, but (a) I’ve been experiencing some pretty disturbing flashbacks recently. Blood and hospitals. I suppose that’s how most people’s lives begin.

“We’re sending this guy in? But he’s only a week out of basic training. Also he is not as butch as me.”
Basic training? Don’t remember doing any of that. Let’s ask this cute Asian lady what she thinks.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. In fact, Jankowski, it wouldn’t surprise me if you get killed within the first hour.”
Thanks, cute Asian lady. What are you doing after this?
“Crashing a helicopter, probably. But you’ll have to play the expansion pack to find out.”
Like all video games, FEAR is great, at first. You meet interesting, intelligent people and shoot them. There is a weapon that makes their heads fly off, and another one that nails them to the wall. The people would rather not be shot, and take cover while attempting to shoot you first. Sometimes they are in corridors and sometimes in courtyards.

I paid £5 for FEAR bundled with its first expansion, and for about an hour and a half it was worth it. But like so many of the entertainments competing for our limited time, it just went on and on and bloody on. If it was a film, people would be walking out after two hours (add an extra half hour for the non-threatening introductory tutorial bit. There isn’t really any reason why the bloody thing has to go on for 20 hours, but since it did, I sort of felt obliged to play it, just in case I missed anything. And it was OK, but there was nothing that didn’t show up in that first two hours. The environments are tedious. The opponents only distinguish themselves by needing more bullets to kill. There are probably already enough first person shooters in the world now. The only question FEAR really asked of me was, why the heck do I play computer games if I hate them so much? That expansion: Right to the bottom of my play list, after Freedom Force and the Half-Life 2 episodes.

Of course in the olden days, before the quick save, nobody ever really finished anything. Games like Head Over Heels and Rainbow Islands were allowed to enter the realm of the classics on novelty value alone. Well, that’s not good enough. You wouldn’t judge an eight-hour film after walking out after the first half an hour, or at least not if you liked it. If directors choose to make epic games that take a month out of my free time, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to justify it.


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