As you might have guessed already, dynamic lighting and real-time shadows play a major role in F.E.A.R. There are plenty of times when you will need to grab your flashlight for some extra illumination, and thankfully you can use it simultaneously with a weapon. Your character casts a shadow onto nearby surfaces, depending on the light sources in the room, and it can take some getting used to - in the beginning, you are often quite literally jumping at your own shadow.
Level designers have taken advantage of the real-time lighting & shadowing to occasionally give the player a tactical advantage. Here is a scene where a bright office lamp gives you a clue that a nearby room contains a Replica soldier - his shadow is cast on the opposite wall. Simply creep in behind him and take him out.
The dynamic lighting can sometimes count against you as well: enemy soldiers will be alerted to your flashlight if they see it in a dark area. You are warned to use it sparingly, however, you can also use this trigger to your advantage - use your flashlight to signal your presence in a new area, and the enemy will come to you. Be careful - the advanced A.I. may well be one step ahead of you, and send some guys around the back to out flank you.
F.E.A.R. definitely does not suffer from being "too dark" like Doom 3 sometimes did. Monolith give you the option to disable Shadows if you wish, primarily for performance reasons, but as you can see from these screenshots, doing so utterly destroys any atmosphere whatsoever. The bottom line is that if you have to disable Shadows on performance grounds, you shouldn't even bother. Upgrade your PC before playing any further.
That's not a shadow - this is a shadow!
If you thought all shadows were the same, think again. F.E.A.R. has different levels of detail for Shadows, as well as the option of Soft Shadows. Some people are critical of the harshness of the regular shadow mode, conveniently forgetting the technical achievement of such detailed, real-time shadowing completely - it wasn't that long ago that in-game shadows were a black circle on the floor, or non-existent.
For these nay-sayers, there is the Soft Shadow option. It appears to simply draw the same hard shadow outline several times with an offset and using different levels of transparency, simulating a soft edge. The effect works better on objects than it does on your own shadow, and there is a performance hit from the extra calculations required. However, the biggest drawback is that, currently, you cannot run Soft Shadows and Anti-Aliasing at the same time. Given the difference the latter makes (see below) we recommend leaving the Soft Shadows off.
F.E.A.R. is pretty demanding overall in terms of hardware (more on that later) and as such, you're unlikely to be able to run Soft Shadows and compensate for the lack of Anti-Aliasing by simply running at 1600x1200.
Most people will be running the game at 1024x768, or 1280x960, and that those resolutions, Anti-Aliasing really is a must - without it, all straight edges will have jaggies that will seriously distract you and ruin the developer's attempts to suck you into the game universe with moody lighting and atmospheric shadows. This screenshot shows 1024x768 with zero AA - the railing is so jagged you could cut your steak dinner with it.
Here is 2x AA and 4x AA respectively; the game doesn't support any higher than 4x. Even at maximum, the GPU struggles to fully smooth out the inherently low resolution lines of 1024x768. We played the game at 1024x768 with 2xAA and it was acceptable. Given more power, we would choose 1280x960 with 2xAA over 1024x768 with 4xAA.