Alma, of course.

There are many games I haven't played for a varying number of reasons.  Certain genres aren't my thing, a title might slip my mind, or I simply just don't have the resources at the moment to get a certain game and wind up settling on another some time down the road.  Happens to us all, really.  However, there is a specific genre I won't touch, that isn't limited only to games, but rather to the entirety of its available media: horror.  I stay away from horror books, generally walk away when even the cheesiest (with a few exceptions) slasher flick is on, don't go out of my way to watch horror anime, and last but not least, avoid most, if not all, horror games.  I scare easy and have the unfortunate habit of letting images just BURN themselves into my mind.  Not a good combination for a genre that sometimes calls for nerves of steel and hence why I tend to sway from getting to certain games, as much as I may want to play them.

That is until the recently passed Steam summer sale.  While browsing the games on sale and trying to make up my mind on what to buy, I saw F.E.A.R. bundled with its expansions  was one of the daily (or flash, can't recall) deals, and was available for about four or five dollars.  Despite my aversion to most things horror related, I had been wanting to man up and finally give some scarier titles a shot.  I was tired of my fears getting in the way of a potentially good time, and was seriously considering adding F.E.A.R. to my cart.  Problem was, there were other games that were top priority going into the sale, and as I considered what extra titles to try and squeeze in F.E.A.R. went back to its original cut price of six or seven dollars, out of my range for something extra, due to the deal timer ending.  Needless to say I was disappointed, slightly in myself for not acting quicker.

A portrait of me when I wasn't able to make my mind up on time.

After calling myself a coward on twitter, and talking about my hangups on the horror genre with fellow GIOer The Destroyer (@WillHeroX on twitter), much to my surprise I found he had gifted me the game, the reason simply because he wanted to see how I would react to it.  Well, having recently finished both F.E.A.R. and the Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate expansions, I thought I'd share my thoughts on what's been a different experience for me.

F.E.A.R. , developed by Monolith Productions and and Day 1 Studios, is of course up first.  I remember seeing a lot about the game in Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Informer (this was at a time where I was switching between the two) and on the various websites I would visit.  I don't recall my thoughts on the game back then, but I'd imagine the moment I came to the realization it was horror was when it became untouchable to me.  I won't deny there was an interest there though, as it's always a seemingly fun idea to test your limits in certain things.  Time passed however, and F.E.A.R. just became yet another horror title I thought I would never get around to.  That is until a few weeks ago, but you already know that story.  After goofing around with Game Dev Tycoon for about a week or so and getting somewhat frustrated with Knights of the Old Republic II (which I've since quit), I decided it was time to man up and conquer F.E.A.R.  and even felt excited at the prospect of doing so.  Fortunately, despite being a chicken through a good chunk of it, I had a blast playing it.

Point Man.

In the game you play the role of the nameless, faceless Point Man, an agent of First Encounter Assault Recon (or F.E.A.R.), a secret special operations group that investigates paranormal threats.  You and fellow agents Spen Jankowski and Jin Sun-Kwon are charged with eliminating Paxton Fettel, a man who has recently taken telepathic control over a battalion of cloned soldiers (called Replicas), and has seized control of Armacham Technology Corporation, killing most of the people in the building in the process.  All seems fairly straightforward at first, but early on the Point Man begins to experience paranormal hallucinations, almost all of which center around a little girl who we come to know as Alma.  Some of these are physically threatening to the player, but at the same time help to build the narrative of the game.

While it feels somewhat typical in the beginning, what with team introduction and all that jazz, I fell in love with both the story and atmosphere of F.E.A.R. almost from the get go.   The city setting of Auburn and the various places you'll go in it are admittedly generic, but the various uses of the lighting and audio bring an edge to the game.  Perhaps it's just because this was essentially the first horror focused title I've played, but numerous times I found myself crouch-walking everywhere, as well as saving almost every other minute at times.   The atmosphere is very much helped by its story and to a certain extent its characters.  While Point Man is essentially just an avatar for the player and the F.E.A.R. team is essentially the one dimensional crew you would expect, slowly learning the backstory behind villains Paxton Fettel and Alma is most definitely a highlight of the game.  The more you learn about Alma especially gives F.E.A.R. a somewhat tragic air once you get the facts, and I found myself feeling bad for her, despite the frights she gave me and the amount of times she puts you in harms way.  Fettel, while kind of taking a back seat at points, functions well as a villain, and managed to infuriate me enough that I almost found his fate underwhelming.  Mark of a good antagonist when they can get that reaction out of you. 

Paxton Fettel, in the middle of dinner.

It's well and good to have a gripping narrative, and I'm happy F.E.A.R.'s story managed to pull me in as much as it did.  However, gameplay is usually where it's at for me.  Luckily, F.E.A.R. delivered solidly on that front and is probably the bigger reason why I enjoyed playing it.  Really, it doesn't do much different than your average first person shooter.  W, A, S, D controls movement, mouse controls aim.  The standard stuff.   The controls did however feel very responsive and I adjusted to them quickly and with no issues.  One feature that separates F.E.A.R. from most other FPSs I've played is the slow down or reflex time (what the feature is called in the game).  Some might view any slow down function to be a little cheap, and truthfully, you can get through the game easy by just making sure your reflex time is saved for critical moments.  Never once though did I think of the feature as anything game breaking, with it honestly making it a little more fun in the process.  Hell, it even ties into the story in an interesting way.  The lean, mapped to Q and E for their respective sides, did feel unneeded, as honestly I never used either much at all.  It's a small issue however, and never took away anything from the controls.

I didn't know what to expect going into F.E.A.R.  I wasn't sure if I would be wowed or disappointed, or if I would see the title as middle of the road, not being bad but not doing anything spectacular.  What I got was a surprisingly excellent experience that managed to fuse all of its good elements together very well.  Great gameplay combined with an  excellent atmosphere and story to create a well rounded experience that I wish I could've given a chance years ago.  And yes it was scary, but not nearly so much as I thought it was going to be.  As a matter of fact, F.E.A.R. becomes a lot more intriguing than frightening the further you get into it.  Had me feeling brave for being able to get through the later parts of the campaign and eager to play the expansion packs.

Extraction Point, the first expansion pack, developed by TimeGate Studios and sadly not canon, took that bravery, smashed it over my head, wedgied me, and knocked me right on my a**.  Where my constant saving and taking my time in the first game was partially a result of F.E.A.R. being the first horror title I've played, eventually I got used to the scares and was just able to go with the flow.  Not so with Extraction Point, which from the start feels more sinister than the main title.  You start off directly after the ending of the first game, Alma having crashed Point Man and F.E.A.R. team's escape helicopter.  Fettel is also back, essentially wanting to pay Point Man back in full for the fate that befell him.  Without spoiling too much (besides the little I had to just now), Extraction Point expands upon  the story well.  The same solid gameplay is there, too.  What's ratcheted up significantly is the horror in the game.  As I said before, F.E.A.R. becomes a lot more intriguing the further you get.  Extraction Point did that, while at the same time scaring me to the point where I had to pause the game to try to calm myself down.  This is due in part to expanded enemy variety, good use of the new enemies, and the addition of levels to the game that seem par for the course in a horror title, but are still used to great effect.   Abandoned main city, a church and its crypt, a subway system that your enemies are trying to bring down over your head, and a hospital are a few of the places you'll visit.  Again, seems standard, but add in the various enemy encounters, plus the illusions and hallucinations Alma throws at you, and Extraction Point managed to get me to a point where I was beginning to feel physically exhausted playing it.  But coward even though I am, I could appreciate how the expansion ramped it up in terms of the fear factor.

How I felt during the majority of Extraction Point.

I can't much say the same for Perseus Mandate, the second and last expansion, give or take a few parts.  Instead, Perseus Mandate falls back on the intrigue that managed to make the first game what it was, giving you a new team, with the story detailing what this second F.E.A.R. team was doing while the events of F.E.A.R. and Extraction Point were transpiring.  Paxton Fettel shows up once again, though his role is more of a supporting one this time.  Alma shows up too, but doesn't have as much of a presence as she did in the first title and Extraction Point, besides the new apparitions she throws your way.  The main antagonists this time are a third faction called Nightcrawlers, their mission being to obtain a sample of Paxton Fettel's DNA for a mysterious man simply known as the Senator.  Helping them is Gavin Morrison, who early on functions as the go to annoying villain.  The Nightcrawlers are a rather dull bunch, what with their monotone voices and essentially being roided up versions of Fettel's Replicas.  Regardless, they brought a bit of welcome challenge to Perseus Mandate and a few of the encounters I had with the elite soldiers of the faction gave me fits.  While not quite as deep plot-wise and not as scary as F.E.A.R. and Extraction Point respectively, I did enjoy Perseus Mandate, it managing to be a nice little bow on my experience with the first entries of the F.E.A.R. series.

While I certainly won't make a habit out of playing them, the good times I had with F.E.A.R. and its two expansions has me interested in opening up to the horror genre a little more.  I was somewhat blindsided by the three, as I never expected the story to pull me in as much as it did, nor did I think the gameplay would be as sound as it was.  I could understand someone arguing that it feels dated, but that never bothered me once and I had one hell of a good time regardless.  I definitely want to play the rest of the series.

I'll welcome some horror recommendations if you have any, whatever type of game doesn't really matter to me.  Just remember, nothing too traumatizing.

Fire away those suggestions, and take care and thanks for reading!