Sadly, the disappointments don’t end with dubious ‘extras’. The simple fact is that F.E.A.R. hasn’t dated particularly well on the visual front, and that this is the worst looking version yet released. Even when it came out the game was criticized for bland textures and boxy scenery, and what saved it was its atmospheric lighting and superb water and particle effects.
After Call of Duty 2, Prey, Ghost Recon and Gears of War, our standards have now risen much higher. We’re not willing to excuse drab, flat-looking scenery or a distant cityscape constructed from a handful of barely textured boxes. We want photo-realistic textures, natural lighting, detail, and plenty of debris. Basically, we want more than F.E.A.R. used to provide.
The bad news is that little if anything has moved on for the PS3 version. It’s not a total disaster. The lighting has dated a little – you can’t help wishing that your head-lamp had objects throwing dynamic shadows – but it still packs a punch, the water effects are excellent, while the particles are as strong as ever. In those classic slow-mo sequences, the sparks caused by ricocheting bullets or the blooming flame clouds of a huge explosion remain as impressive as they were when F.E.A.R. first appeared.
But in other respects the PS3 version actually fares worse than the PC original. Most seriously, the textures seem to have either taken a drop in resolution or are suffering from some weird blur effect, because up-close they’re a total mess. While even the Xbox 360 version looked sharp and clear, the PS3 version is F.E.A.R. through a pair of dirty spectacles, looking much as it would if you had played the PC version with the graphics options dialled down. The game also seems full of weird glitches, such as twitching corpses and chunks of broken scenery that refuse to settle on the ground. Hardly next-generation console stuff. If you wanted a game to show off your PS3 and make your 360 and PC owning mates grind their teeth in envy, then F.E.A.R. will only turn you into a laughing stock.
Luckily, another major part of the F.E.A.R. experience remains as powerful as ever: the sound. The music is a responsive mix of surging themes and creepy, ambient signatures, while the effects are an integral part of the action. Making sense of audible clues, like radio chatter or footsteps, is a vital element of the gameplay, and the slowed-down, bass-heavy boom and rumble of gunfire, thudding bodies and shattered glass is one of the real pleasures of your slow-mo powers.
What’s more, crackling static and sudden, scary noises play a major role in building the game’s atmosphere. If you are going to play F.E.A.R. you owe it to yourself to do so through a good pair of headphones or a proper 5.1 Dolby Digital sound system. It will help make up for some of the deficiencies of the graphics.
There’s no doubt that this is a slightly shoddy port of the much-loved PC game, and whether the fault lies with Day One or with the challenges set by the exotic PS3 hardware, it’s still hard to recommend a conversion that looks worse than a dated original. Hard, but not impossible, because what makes F.E.A.R. so compelling has still somehow made the transition intact. Once I’d got over the horrors of the graphics engine, I found myself completely drawn into the game, and while key sections still tested my patience more than my skills – I practically feel like I’ve worked at Armacham having spent so much time in its offices and research labs – that hasn’t stopped my enjoyment.
If you have a decent PC and you haven’t played F.E.A.R. yet, then that version is still the one to get, and it’s a disappointment that the PS3 version hasn’t exceeded or even matched it. It is not, by any yardstick, a true next-generation game. However, if you want action and entertainment – not a showcase – F.E.A.R.’s failings can be forgiven. Underneath the poor textures and rubbish console ‘exclusives’ F.E.A.R. is every bit as thrilling as it ever was, which is more than can be said for its PS3 FPS rivals.