Throwback Thursday: The history and legacy of F.E.A.R.

I still remember quite vividly the first time I was introduced to F.E.A.R.

This 2005 first-person shooter from Monolith Productions (the same developer that would eventually create Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its more recent sequel, Shadow of War) left quite an impression. It was shortly after the game was released, and a friend of mine happened to be playing it on his snazzy new gaming laptop.

I watched as he navigated the game’s opening moments with ease, acclimating to the controls as he wandered through an abandoned building, eventually reaching a boarded up doorway that, at first glance, seemed impassible. Then his playable avatar did something I had never seen in a first-person game before: he leapt into the air and executed a clean jumping kick, smashing the boards covering the doorway to splinters.

I knew then and there that whatever this game was, I had to play it.

Fighting your fears

For those who don’t know, F.E.A.R. stands for “First Encounter Assault Recon,” and within the lore, it refers to a secretive military organization that specializes in dealing with paranormal entities. Playing as an elite F.E.A.R. operative known only as “Point Man,” the player is initially dispatched to find and eliminate a telekinetic terrorist named Paxton Fettel. They soon encounter a much larger threat in Alma Wade, a powerful psychic entity who often takes the form of a little girl and who constantly assails the player with hallucinations and horrific imagery.

Along with a variety of different firearms, the player can tap into Point Man’s advanced physical capabilities to perform a series of different martial arts melee attacks (like the aforementioned jumping kick) to dispatch enemy soldiers. Using the game’s “reflex time” mechanic, players can also briefly slow down time (The Matrix was still popular), and thus gain a strong advantage over their enemies. As with Point Man’s health, reflex time is a very finite resource and must be used judiciously.

F.E.A.R.’s presentation as a sort of hybrid first-person horror/action game also made for a very formulaic approach to how it approached level designs and mission progression. Most missions had the player work through a linear sequence of encounters that would often switch back and forth between fighting a group of soldiers, and experiencing some sort of paranormal phenomenon (usually accompanied by an appearance from Alma and/or a jump scare.)

A fearful legacy

Since I was that weird kid who was obsessed with all things martial arts, it was F.E.A.R.’s use of a surprisingly in-depth martial arts melee system that initially drew me to the game. Once I played it, I was enraptured by its plot involving psychic terrorists, evil technology corporations, and one very creepy little girl.

Because of that, I stuck with the series through subsequent entries, including the original F.E.A.R.’s two expansion packs (Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate), 2009’s F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and 2011’s F.E.A.R. 3. I even spent way more time than I care to admit playing F.E.A.R. Combat, the free-to-play spinoff of the original F.E.A.R.’s multiplayer component (though that was mainly because it was one of the few games my dinky little broke-college-student laptop could run.)

Sadly, while the latter F.E.A.R. games helped to expand (and ultimately conclude, albeit in a very weird way) the series’ ongoing story, they failed to make any meaningful evolutions to the core gameplay mechanics, and as a result the series just sort of faded into obscurity after the release of F.E.A.R. 3. There wasn’t anything overtly bad about the later F.E.A.R. games, they were received favorably by both fans and formal critics, but they ultimately failed to make the lasting impact that publisher Warner Bros. was likely hoping for.

When F.E.A.R. 3 fell well behind its estimated sales figures following release, the developer, Day 1 Studios (which had taken over development duties while Monolith moved on to other projects), was forced to lay off a large portion of its staff. The layoffs were mainly caused by the loss of a publishing deal with Konami, but the combination of the lost publishing deal and F.E.A.R. 3’s poor sales performance ultimately spelled doom for the studio. Fortunately, Day 1 was eventually bought by World of Tanks developer Wargaming in 2013, and was reborn as Wargaming West.

Fear of the unknown

Ironically enough, 2013 was also the year that Warner Bros. decided to give the F.E.A.R. series one last shot by teaming up with Aeria Games for a free-to-play offshoot game called F.E.A.R. Online. Unlike the previous F.E.A.R. games and true to its name, F.E.A.R. Online focused heavily on online lobby-based multiplayer matches and a microtransactions-driven item shop. The game did provide some loose story elements in the form of playable PvE (player vs. environment) scenarios, but they mostly just retreaded plot points from F.E.A.R. 2.

After an extensive beta period, F.E.A.R Online officially launched in October of 2014. (). Given the game’s dated graphics, severely imbalanced PvE gameplay, and strong emphasis on microtransactions (the game would shamelessly offer you the opportunity to buy the gun of the person who killed you every time you died in a PvP match), my review was hardly favorable. It’s also probably not surprising to hear that, due to an overall lack of community interest, Aeria shut F.E.A.R Online down for good just a few months later, in May of 2015.

A small, but important impact

It’s a shame that the F.E.A.R series was given such an inglorious end, because I still consider the very first game in the series (and arguably all of the latter games, F.E.A.R Online excluded) to be bonafide horror game classics. The silver lining is that there’s still a lot of F.E.A.R. for modern gamers to enjoy. Since F.E.A.R. 2 also got a story-driven expansion pack of its own, that means there’s a total of six distinct F.E.A.R. experiences for new and old fans alike to dive into. Plus, there’s always the chance that Warner Bros. might revive the franchise at some point in the future, though hopefully with Monolith back at the helm and without any microtransactions or loot box junk tacked on.

The mark that the F.E.A.R. series made on the gaming industry may be a rather small one when compared to other iconic horror franchises like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but it’s still one that’s worth exploring by anyone who enjoys the horror gaming genre.