Level design in F.E.A.R. isn’t exactly imaginative, either. In fact, it’s the single most glaring drawback to the game. Many missions take place in factories and buildings that look a lot like factories, like apartment buildings and research facilities. There are loads of corridors, offices with desktop computers and lockers, warehouses strewn with crates and forklifts, narrow, rundown city streets, etc. Enemies are almost always Replica soldiers, or some similar type of soldier, although at about the midway point of the game you start running into combat robots.
This really takes away from the horror-movie atmosphere, as the levels look and play a lot like those from any run-of-the-mill shooter with aliens or Nazis. A little more innovation, and perhaps some surreal moments akin to what People Can Fly did with the much more disturbing (if goofier) Painkiller, would’ve done wonders for the fright factor.
Enemy placement is just as predictable. I always found foes exactly where I expected them to be—at crossroads or defending the first big room after a series of narrow corridors. It didn’t help that the clone commandos always broadcast their presence via a radio message to their buddies that I could pick up on my headset. Every time I was about to open a door leading to a battle, I’d hear something like “You see anything yet?” or “Do you need backup?”
This was kind of nifty at times, as enemies would occasionally spot me and say something like “Flashlight! Check it out!” But mostly these moments were deeply dumb, and reinforced the idea that I was just playing a game. It also made me wonder why commandos supposedly being led by a psychic commander needed to speak out loud. Why wouldn’t their boss read their minds and coordinate attacks and defenses? Anyhow, I felt like I’d played every single level of F.E.A.R. in a previous game. This added to my sense of déjà vu, but did nothing to send a shiver down my spine.
An end to mediocrity
Thankfully, that’s about it for the mediocre. Although F.E.A.R. is in many ways a stereotypical shooter with influences cobbled together from a bunch of different sources, it stands out as one of the more polished stereotypical shooters to come down the pike in some time. Monolith has made a fair number of good games over the years, including underrated gems like Tron 2.0 and the No One Lives Forever series, but it has never before released a game this modern and refined. If not for the derivative plot and level design, this would be one of the top shooters of all time.
Certain key aspects of the game, though, take a backseat to nobody. The AI, for example, has a spectacular sense of battle tactics, which in turns leads to some incredibly tense firefights. Enemy commandos coordinate attacks, shouting orders to each other on how to flush you out of hiding, and even warning their buddies when you try to flank their position. They’ll even smash out windows to get at you. What’s more, they’ve clearly done their homework and reconnoitered their surroundings. Most guarded sections have at least two access points, and the clones have no problems pulling flanking maneuvers of their own. Fail to take precautions against enemies coming up from behind and you’ll inevitably take three in the back of the head.