I turn a corner, slap on the heightened senses and blast a surprised leather-clad drone in the kneecap. Thrown off his feet, he cartwheels through 360-degrees as the slow-motion prolongs his untimely demise - while, with either his last energies or unconscious twitch, he squeezes the trigger on his machine gun hile soulfully twirling through the air. Massive chunks of masonry are ripped out of the ceiling with every bullet, and he becomes some sort of unholy Catherine wheel tumbling through space.
There are a multitude of moments like this in F.E.A.R. Moments that go beyond the threshold of the 'very good' and swerve dangerously towards some of the most visceral and satisfying enjoyment that you can physically and emotionally have with the haunted box that is the modern PC. But, to answer your questions before the ritual waffling and prevaricating commences: a) yes the little girl shits you up good, b) yes this is an amazing game, and unfortunately c) no, the path to F.E.A.R. being awarded a top award has not been as crystal clear and carefree as I would have liked. Why so? Well, we don't do that bit yet - tradition dictates that we tackle the good stuff first. And thankfully there's rather a lot of it.
Satisfaction through combat is where F.E.A.R. excels - presenting you with many, many bloody and brutal skirmishes that are imbued with a sense of real weight, grit and reality. Although clearly I don't mean real reality, since by and large you're fighting in slow-motion against an army of leather-clad drones, psychically commanded by a disturbed gentleman called Paxton Fettel who regularly dines on the flesh of the innocent. It's hardly something you'd watch on Panorama.
So why is the combat so special? Monolith has followed up a trick once played in 1997 and barely touched upon since. Y'see, F.E.A.R.'s enemy AI is a much belated next step from Half-Life's marines - and a very welcome one at that. Do you remember that bit in Surface Tension when you were scurrying about in pipes below an area packed with marines and gullies, with multiple ways up into the action? The way you'd listen to the sound of footsteps, and the way that you never knew who was where, or where the next grenade was coming from? That's what F.E.A.R. does too, although if it was a level out of F.E.A.R. then they'd probably come down into the pipes and get you as well.
Of course, it's smoke and mirrors designed to give an illusion of sentience; the AI goes hand-in-glove with level design to give opportunities for the drones to sneak behind you or topple conveniently placed furniture. But my oh my, they're some cracking smoke and mirrors. Take, for example, the time that I was hiding behind a pillar ("He's behind the pillar!" they cried). I charged out into the lobby of an officeblock, nailed one bad man to a wall, slo-mo karate-kicked another in the head and severely wounded another who cried "Two down! Two down!" as he raced for the exit. With him gone I had a poke around for a while, inspecting the carnage and taking screenshots of limp bodies, before heading on after him. Unfortunately for me he hadn't gone that far, and had simply ducked down to the right having gone out of the exit. There he was, crouching with his shotgun at groin level, waiting for me to saunter past. Clever boys.
Essentially, whenever enemies move they have a purpose, or at least you can read a purpose, be they flanking, retreating or diving through a window towards you. Sometimes they run away from you and keep their gun aimed in your direction despite having turned tail; sometimes they cower behind a desk, hold their gun above their heads and fire bullets in what they assume is your vicinity. It's in the 'sometimes' you see: every battle ebbs and flows slightly differently, and it's in this that the F.E.A.R. cup doth overfloweth. The bastard hardness of the game, meanwhile, coupled with neat touches like shouts of "There's a flashlight!" or squad commanders ordering their AI drones around the map, make the cup overfloweth even more.