Ten Years On: F.E.A.R
There are lots of reasons to observe the tenth anniversary of Monolith's brilliant shooter, but there's one very specific reason why I want to celebrate it, and that's the shotgun. F.E.A.R's shotgun is, in my opinion, the greatest gaming shotgun in existence. Better than Half Life's, better even than Doom II's super-shotgun. I'd go so far to argue that it's one of the best weapons in any game, although for me Unreal Tournament's Flak Cannon still takes pride of place on that list.
In any case, I feel that F.E.A.R's shotgun doesn't receive the acclaim it deserves. Perhaps that's because at first glance it doesn't look like much, a surprisingly small and nondescript black tube clutched by your character's grey-gloved hands at the bottom of your screen. When you click the fire button, however, that little dark box erupts like a sideways volcano, emitting a cacophonous roar and devastating whatever is unfortunate enough to stand in front of its flaming maw. It can blast a F.E.A.R soldier clone right across a room, slice them in two, even cause them to vanish entirely in a chunky red puff. It's unassuming yet ferocious, a power-fantasy condensed.
In a way, the shotgun embodies the game as a whole. Initially, F.E.A.R doesn't seem all that special, a rather flat and boxy sequence of grey and purple corridors that takes the Matrix and the Ring and slaps them together like a toddler messing around with play-dough. But whenever a trigger is pulled, it explodes into a transcendent action extravaganza that few shooters can rival even today.
Nevertheless, whenever I return to F.E.A.R, which I've done a few times since its release a decade ago, I'm always surprised by how underwhelming it is at first. F.E.A.R was released almost a year after Half Life 2, and yet in some ways it feels two or three years older than Valve's masterpiece. The environments are stupendously dull, run down apartment blocks, drab industrial complexes, and repetitive office towers. The character animations are stiff and the models surprisingly blocky, the story is told largely through information gleaned through the mechanical placement of laptops and answering machines, which spool out exposition that is difficult to keep track of even when you're not being shot at by a squad of tactically cunning clones.
On top of that, the horror aspect of the game has aged terribly. I didn't think F.E.A.R was especially scary at the time, although I remember a couple of sequences catching me out. Now though, having played games like Amnesia and even Monolith's own Condemned, which launched about a year after F.E.A.R, it's difficult to feel frightened with the arsenal that the unnamed Point Man has available to him.