April 20, 2007 - The Shining pretty much ruined it for me -- little girls scare me. Wolfman, Frankenstein and Michael Jackson combined can't equal the sheer terror of a pale-faced child rocking a sundress, but competition for the title of "creepiest girly" has been in short supply as of late. Those twins from Nicholson's opus have been ruling the kingdom for years.
As a member of the First Encounter Assault Recon team, an elite government squad with its sights set on the supernatural, you're dropped into what appears to be a by the numbers assignment -- a deranged egghead who can control a group cloned troops with his mind has gone AWOL and you need to take him out -- but once you hit the ground and load you clip, everything goes to hell. This creepy, girly ghost in a red dress keeps popping up and eviscerating enemies, our flesh-eating psychopath keeps popping into your head, and it appears that there might be a connection between you, the ghostly girl and Hannibal Jr.
The game tosses you into 11 different chapters of bloody, bullet-blasting violence, and it's awesome thanks in large part to the controls of F.E.A.R. You can adjust the controller's sensitivity until its just right, the scheme is easy to pick up and the mix of stealth and run-and-gun is perfect. F.E.A.R.'s gameplay is great, and it's what keeps you coming back for more.
To be honest, after the first few chapters, the story got away from me. There's something in the water, I had to listen to a bunch of voicemails, and the city's taking notice of the massive body count I'm racking up in the process of hunting our crazy General Patton, but once I got the hang of running into packs of enemies, slowing down time via the Reflex Meter and letting the shells fly, I stopped caring about who or what I was hunting -- I just wanted to keep hunting. Weapons such as the Penetrator -- a spike shooting gun that'll impale enemies on the walls -- and the Type 7 Particle Weapon -- a one-hit kill weapon that reduces enemies to a pile of bones in a pool of blood -- keep you yearning for the next fight. Even standard FPS weapons such as the shotgun are taken to a new heights with the SlowMo mode -- pull the trigger on your boom stick and watch your enemies come apart at the seems.
Awesomeness aside, it's not all sunshine and skulls on the F.E.A.R. disc. Although they're by no means ugly, nothing about the game's visuals scream next-gen. The textures on walls and even your character's hands are muddy, the cutscenes are filled with bland, rigid characters and at times the office buildings your running through seem downright empty. Even the well-done rooms fail to impress. On the search for stray troopers and vicious machine gun-toting robots, you'll enter a dark, condemned apartment and throw on your flashlight, but as the circle of light passes over filthy armchairs and abandoned tables, new shadows aren't created. The flashlight isn't creating light; someone's just turning up the brightness in a circle on the screen.
Load times are also a little bit of ridiculous tossed into this over-the-top game. As you move between chapter sections, the game will recap your upcoming objectives and load the next part of the mission. In the beginning, you start to think the load times are a bit too long, but they only get worse and most rank somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute. Granted, you won't have to worry about a load until the next section of the game, but the creeping load bar is going to upset folks who remember playing and loading F.E.A.R. seamlessly on the PC and the Xbox 360.