It's actually pretty hard to believe that Monolith's mighty shooter F.E.A.R. is only a little over a year old. So many FPS' have come and gone in the thirteen months since F.E.A.R. was initially released on PC that seeing this faithful port running on Xbox 360 with the benefit of hindsight is quite the eye-opener. And you'll be left bemoaning one thing - the laziness of it all.
The laziness of the port stretches far beyond the dull, shapeless, shamelessly PC retro visuals that look out of place now we're approaching 2007. It's just that in many ways things seem to have moved on since F.E.A.R made your PC's diodes stand on end in October '05. While, as we explain later, certain allowances have to be made
for F.E.A.R.'s level design in order to keep the tension levels up, the aimless, messy layouts make it extremely easy to lose your bearings, and while in the horror FPS genre it's desirable to have a degree of uncertainty in where you're heading, there's nothing scary in meandering around the same four open plan office floors in a perpetual loop because you missed the Mini Babybel-sized switch that unlocks that mysterious next sector.
Technically, it's clumsy too. The famous 'bloody room' scene, for example, where a dreaded foe pops up as suddenly as any number of F.E.A.R.'s murderous decay-men, and elects just as much dread, is ruined by
a loading screen. In many ways F.E.A.R. was very much a product of its time, and it seems a shame, at points, that it wasn't left there - a game that was genre-defining such a short time ago now seems crudely exposed in comparison to the likes of Call of Duty 3 or even Monolith's own Condemned.
There's another point of view, though. That if you are left to bemoan the laziness of it all, it should be the laziness of rival developers, not Monolith; the same lazy developers who are still content to wheel out the same exhausted cliches and recycle the same boring setpieces time after time, despite F.E.A.R. already existing as a masterclass in atmospheric ambiance. F.E.A.R. might have initially earned its reputation as a bit of a looker on PC, but certainly those that rated F.E.A.R. so highly first time around didn't do so because they were bewitched by a skin-deep beauty - at its best F.E.A.R. is a deeply intelligent, innovative thriller, which is particularly clever in how each and every element of the game is expertly meshed together to ramp up the horror. The tight corridors create a sense of panic, but the level design flares open dramatically during times of battle, enabling fantastically frenetic firefights every bit the equal of Gears of War or Rainbow Six. And while the visuals aren't all that in a purely aesthetic sense, the way they're used throughout the game is actually extremely clever, to the extent that it's hard to imagine them being done any other way.
F.E.A.R. on PC took a bit of a battering from critics for its dull stylisation and the nondescript warehouse-a-like locations (and we're sure it will again this time round), but this is to entirely miss the point - the framing and the use of lighting in F.E.A.R. is little short of masterful. The glow from each disused monitor or lightbulb catches in your vision in just the right way, mimicking the glowing visors of your enemies, leaving you constantly on edge despite the fact you're on your lonesome for the vast majority of the time. And the sound is magnificently unsettling - the distorted speech and the ambiance ring hollowly around your ears as you delve deeper into the plot, whipping the player into a needless frenzy. It's Horror 101, true enough, but when it's done this well, in the final analysis, it doesn't matter a jot.