We've always loved Monolith's games - notably AvP2 and NOLF 2 - so feel a little perplexed that its games have never scaled the heights of those from the stables of the two Mac Daddies, id and Epic. Still, if we went on sales figures alone, we'd be worshipping Will Young and the like, so it was with no little excitement that we were told this year's E3 show was set to be the launchpad of a brand-new title, F.E.A.R. (it stands for 'First Encounter Assault Recon' if you're interested, but we wouldn't let it put you off your breakfast).
Ready To Roll
Getting the very first appointment of the very first day of the show, we squeezed ourselves into the dank booth, donned a pair of oversized headphones and settled back for the ride. Billed as a cross between The Matrix and The Ring, we were promised an 'intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and an engaging storyline', and the first few minutes of the demo definitely delivered in spades. F.E.A.R. sports a brand-new DX9-native engine, incorporating Havok 2.0 physics, developed from scratch by Monolith and looking especially tasty. You won't get a brilliant handle from the static screenshots, but one of the most talked about new features is the Cinematic Special FX, which shower you with sparks, cover you with smoke and generally make you want to drop your mouse, duck your head and shout 'Easy!' while backing off from the PC. Intense, it certainly is.
Before the demo, Chris Hewett, director of development at Monolith, broke his silence to put a sliver of flesh on the bones of F.E.A.R. "In F.E.A.R., an unidentified paramilitary force infiltrates an aerospace compound. They're taking hostages but issuing no demands. The US military responds by sending in its best Delta Force team, only to have them literally torn apart. So, with the US military best in over their heads, they turn to you, F.E.A.R. Your speciality is to handle the stuff no-one else can, almost like an X-Files Special Forces team if you like. And with that said, this is your team going in..."
And the action starts with a helicopter drop onto a building. A massive firefight breaks out and in less than a minute your entire team's wiped out, leaving you to mop up the mess. Cue some pretty standard - albeit lush and frantic - FPS action, with the added distraction of some sublime bullet-time slow-mo effects, with you up against a crew of well-oiled paramilitaries. So far, so good, but as you get deeper into the complex, you start getting your first whiff of F.E.A.R.
Back On Now!
You come across the bodies of the Delta Force team. They've been mutilated, but the lack of bullet holes in the room is evidence that the crack team didn't get a single shot off before being pulled apart. And this is the government's finest. Suddenly, you're up against distinctly non-humanoid beings, but just when you think you're a dead man walking, reinforcements arrive. Then, what looks like a small girl appears behind a security fence. This is when events take a distinctly unsavoury turn. In Ring-style, the visuals start distorting and the girl starts walking towards your men. As she gets within a few metres, the bodies are mutilated by an invisible force, crushed, contorted and stripped of flesh, before being tossed into the air. Crikes. And then she starts walking towards you...
Thankfully the demo stopped there and we were tipped out into the bright lights of E3, something we've never been so relieved to see. F.E.A.R. looks frighteningly good, and although the team wasn't prepared to divulge any of the secrets of the story ("That's what's going to make the experience, so we want to keep that under wraps for now"), we saw enough to warrant a trip back to the hotel for a change of apparel before our next appointment.
We'll bring you a huge update as soon as we dare. In the meantime we'll be sleeping with the lights on.