FEAR: First Encounter Assault Recon

Tagged: Game

Videogame (2005). Monolith Productions (MP). Designed by Craig Hubbard. Platforms: Win (2005); XB360 (2006); PS3 (2007).

FEAR is a First Person Shooter which merges the psychological horror of the Japanese film Ring (1998) with the kinetic violence of John Woo's Hong Kong action film Hard Boiled (1992). The player character is a new recruit to FEAR, a secret US military unit tasked with responding to "paranormal" incidents. As in Half-Life (1998), the protagonist is silent; other characters speak to him but he never replies. The intention is to increase immersion (see Game Design) by emphasizing the player's direct identification with the character, as opposed to treating the protagonist as a role which the player should adopt. Such a level of identification might be disrupted by hearing the character speak in a voice which was not the player's own.

The player's first mission is to assist with the termination of a rogue military commander and his army of Telepathically controlled Clones. However, the operation soon begins to go horribly wrong, as the player is bombarded with hallucinatory images in a disturbingly decayed experimental facility. It is possible to assemble the scattered fragments of an embedded narrative (see Interactive Narrative) which establishes the renegade commander Fettel as the son of a powerfully Psionic woman, Alma, who has been used as an experimental subject. Alma was sealed in a concrete vault and left to die; it appears that she is now using Fettel to help her escape. Eventually it emerges that the player character is also a son of Alma, explaining the superhuman abilities he has displayed throughout the game. The player cannot prevent Alma's release, but they can sabotage the facility's reactor, possibly preventing her from taking her revenge on the outside world. FEAR's cinematic visuals and disturbing flashes of aberrant imagery make playing the game an intense, visceral experience. It is surprisingly effective at making its players afraid of the dark.

The sequel is FEAR 2: Project Origin (2009 MP, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by John Mulkey, in which FEAR's nameless protagonist is replaced by a new main character, a Delta Force operative sent to detain an executive of the company which experimented on Alma. In a manner reminiscent of the Metal Gear Solid series (see Metal Gear), events become increasingly complex and conspiratorial; the game ends with Alma, apparently pregnant with the player character's child, standing in the ruins of a devastated landscape. Ultimately, however, FEAR 2 may offer more in the way of repetition than of novelty. The third instalment, F3AR (2011 Day 1 Studios, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Frank Rooke, T J Wagner and scripted by Steve Niles, John Carpenter, allows players to adopt two roles: that of the first game's protagonist and that of the brother who was once an enemy but has now become an uneasy ally, the renegade soldier Fettel. Gameplay is similar to that of previous iterations of the series, but players who participate as Fettel can use his psychic powers to possess enemies or assault them Telekinetically. At the end of the game's essentially linear storyline, the brothers fight each other once again, with the winner taking possession of Alma's newborn child. The ominous atmosphere of the original work is largely absent here, however, replaced by the thrills and spills of a more typical First Person Shooter.

Related works: FEAR includes an online multiplayer option which allows for player versus player battles. The freely available FEAR Combat (2006 MP, Win) allows players without the original game to join in online play. FEAR: Extraction Point (2006 TimeGate Studios [TS], Win; 2007 XB360) is an expansion pack which largely reiterates FEAR's themes while continuing its story; it ends with the facility's surrounding city in flames. FEAR: Perseus Mandate (2007 TS, Win, XB360) is another expansion pack, focusing on a second FEAR unit dispatched on a related mission to that seen in the first work. The storylines of both of these expansions are contradicted by the events of FEAR 2, however, perhaps because they were created by other hands to those which made the original game; they are thus essentially irrelevant to the series' ongoing narrative. FEAR 2: Reborn (2009 MP, PS3, Win, XB360) is an expansion pack for FEAR 2 in which the player adopts the role of one of the Clones from the first game. Ultimately this character can become possessed by the spirit of Fettel, who is killed at the end of FEAR; Reborn thus serves as a prequel for F3AR. [NT]

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