First-person shooters have always been among the first games to take advantage of fancy new hardware, and it's always interesting to see how different platforms approach the genre. For the longest time, the PC was the one and only; the premiere FPS gaming platform. It was so far superior to any console that to play FPSs on the N64 or PS1 was considered a joke (despite some fantastic FPSs on those consoles), and only recently has the console technology started to rival that of the PC. In fact, with the power of the PS3 and 360, it seems inevitable that they'll be able to produce some of the finest FPS experiences in gaming. The only question that remains is- which platform will reign supreme for the popular genre in the new generation?
Well, we'll get our first look at a multiplatform FPS with F.E.A.R. when it's released for the PS3 on March 13. It's a creepy, intense title featuring one of those freaky little girls that are so typically found in entertainment these days. You assume the role of...okay, so he doesn't have a name, but he's the "point man" in an elite squad of military experts, dubbed the First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R, get it?) team. The setting is Auburn, a fictitious U.S. city, where death is the mysterious name of the game, thanks to one super-villain named Paxton Fettel. For whatever reason, he enjoys capturing and eating people, and of course, that's the kind of thing that poses a problem to any flourishing city. Everybody, from the police to the military, has failed to take this guy down, and that's where you come in. It's almost like Resident Evil crossed with fast-action firefights the likes of which we might see in Half-Life. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
During your dark quest, you're gonna run into all kinds of resistance, and the entire atmosphere is virtually glowing with a paranormal aura, which means you'll want to play this one with all the lights off. You'll be going in with the typical assortment of heavy weaponry, from pistols to fully automatic weapons, and like most recent FPSs, you'll be able to dual wield some of them. You'll have a melee attack as well - presumably only to be used as a last resort - and one nifty and now-common feature of "bullet time." First patented in Max Payne, it seems like just about every game these days wants a version of bullet time, and your super-human reflexes in F.E.A.R. will allow for just that. Slow things down, crash the party, and take out multiple baddies in record time.
Now, about that whole paranormal thing: for those of you unfamiliar with the game from either the PC or 360, there are some ridiculously weird goings-on in this game. Sometimes, you'll be moving through a level and you're suddenly on the set of Poltergeist, with objects rattling on counters and stuff falling off walls. You'll also come across that little girl (can you say, "The Ring"?) more than once; who she is or what she represents is a secret we certainly won't spoil, but be prepared for some inexplicable events early on in F.E.A.R.. Let's just say she's good at burning people to a crisp, and be done with it. As you progress, you'll collect several vital clues, though, so pay attention to your environment and be sure you scour each and every area...this ain't your typical FPS, remember.
And speaking of the areas, there's a whole lot of environmental interaction, here. Bullets will shatter glass, debris will result in bits of stone and dust clouds, and outrageous battles will result in permanently altered backdrops. Your opponents aren't stupid, either, as the AI in the game is supposed to be excellent. However, the first FPS for the PS3, the fantastic Resistance: Fall of Man, had some of the best AI ever seen in games. Therefore, there's a new high watermark for AI on the PS3, so it'll be interesting to see if F.E.A.R. can reach that mark; from our experience with the 360 version, we don't think it will. After all, the PS3 version should be almost identical to the 360 version, so the AI should be identical as well. And it ain't quite to the level of Resistance.
Those of you who played the very atmospheric Doom III will remember how often you used the flashlight, so you shouldn't be surprised to see that handy-dandy tool in this FPS, either. Everything is often very dark, so it's going to be a necessary addition to your inventory, but if the 360 version is any indication, there is going to be a small problem. The battery life of your flashlight in Doom III was apparently infinite, but it's just the opposite in F.E.A.R.; flashlights will run out of energy in only half a minute or so. Why, we have no idea. We assumed that, being in a quasi-futuristic setting and considering they have the ability to give you superhero reflexes, they'd at least be able to create some decent batteries. Hell, a couple generic, cheap double-As would've been fine.
The game will take you about 8-12 hours, but there is a solid online multiplayer feature that should be a big draw, especially with the free play offered by the PlayStation Network in contrast to Live. The standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag is there, but so are six other multiplayer modes and the option for 16 players at once, so there are plenty of reasons to log on with F.E.A.R.. In terms of visuals, we're just going to have to wait and see, but early glimpses at screenshots are showing a game every bit as pretty as the 360 and PC versions. Another important aspect will revolve around the gameplay itself, and we're hoping for the same silky smooth frame rate we find in the existing versions. All in all, the PS3 version should be at least up to par with the 360 and PC versions, and perhaps we can even hope for an extra or two...?
To sum up, we just can't wait to see how this new version compares, and for those of you considering a purchase, here's our recommendation- if you've already played the game on one of the other platforms, we don't see any reason for you to spend another $60. This seems to be the same game; we haven't seen much in the way of bonuses or extras for the PS3 version (we're just hoping for some). However, if you've never had the pleasure, we think you should seriously think about picking this one up come March 13. F.E.A.R. is destined to deliver.
2/26/2007 Ben Dutka