What about the actual engine then? How do the graphics rank up?
Well, the visuals appear to be a mix of Doom 3 and Half Life 2, with the dark, brooding atmosphere of the first but with the slightly less spectacular look of the second. The engine doesn't have tremendous amounts of normal mapping, unlike the Doom 3 engine. However, what it does have, looks good.
The walls are bump mapped, and the texturing is pretty nice. Throughout the level, there are clearly some great graphical touches that keep this at the cutting edge of game engines. However, we can't help but feel that the polygon count is a little low, especially when it comes to the general layout of the level - the offices, structures, staircases and the like. It just looks a little square at times.
Ever jumped at your own shadow? You will here, since your character actually has one. Shadows in the game are key to the creepiness, and the engine renders them with gloriously soft edges. Characters also cast shadow on themselves, which is a lot of graphics work to render, but looks great.
We ran through an action-intense section of the demo multiple times to get average frame-rate readings for a range of cards, right the way from the bleeding edge to last generation. The game itself its amazingly demanding - the official spec suggests that nothing less than a 9600 will cut the mustard - and even then, it's not going to look great.
We fired up the game on an AMD FX-55 with 1GB of memory on an Nforce 4 board. Here's how the cards racked up.
The 7800 can clearly handle this kind of resolution with ease - it's better suited to running 1280x960 with 2xAA and 8xAF at maximum detail (perhaps minus the soft shadows). The 6800 can actually handle 1280 with no AA and no soft shadows, or possibly 1024 for extra smoothness - if you're using a 17" TFT, you'll want the former. The 6600 is right at home at 1024, and gave us a pretty decent game experience - but for really smooth gameplay, you will want to cut out some of the high detailing (especially the soft shadows, which really are a performance killer). The 6200 with TurboCache dies at this resolution, and with a card of this class, you'll be playing at 640x480 with all the details down to low - but, crucially, you will at least be playing (and for a card that costs less than £50, that's not bad...) If the 5900 XT is representative of the last generation, including the ATI 9800 series, you'll do ok here - you might be able to squeeze in at 800x600 with low details, or 640x480 with a little bit more eye candy.
What can we say? F.E.A.R. looks to be a top game, based on these initial impressions. The atmosphere is great, the action is exciting, and the engine looks pretty damn sweet. It's sure to become a steadfast benchmark for our graphics card tests, since it clearly has the ability to tax even the most expensive of cards - although we can't wait to get it running on a 7800 SLI setup!
This article is just our initial preview of the game, based on our demo experiences. There is clearly a lot to be said about the game engine and its performance characteristics, and we'll be investigating those over the coming months so that we have the full story by the game's official release. Our initial numbers do suggest that anyone on less than a current-generation mid-range card is going to be playing a game that really doesn't look too good, but at least you all have a couple of months to save some money to upgrade!
The demo itself is a 650MB download, which is pretty hefty, especially for such a short sequence of gameplay (you'll probably beat it within 20 minutes). However, it just goes to show how much technology and, more importantly, high-quality artwork goes into a top class game these days.
Have you played through the game yet? How does it run on your system? Let us know in this thread in our discussion forum.