Sierra F.E.A.R review

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With influences as diverse as Half-Life 2, The Matrix and Japanese horror films, First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R) could easily have been a horrible mix of styles and a complete mess.

Fortunately, the opposite is true of this game in which you must track down the malevolent spirit of a little girl intent on destroying everything, and the psychic leader of a dead-hard army.

The graphics are amazing. This is the first game we've seen to create lifelike shadows. Enemies' shadows loom large in the distance as they make their way down long corridors towards you. Your shadow flits around too, and there were plenty of times when we jumped and opened fire at it.

But it's the other effects that help bring you into the game. Most spectacular is the way walls explode with every gunshot impact. Fire too many stray shots into a wall, and you must squint through the dust to pick out targets. If you've seen the lobby scene in The Matrix, you'll know what to expect.

There's also a bullet-time option where you slow time down so you can pick enemies off. You can see every bullet swirl across the screen and hear each thudding impact as metal meets flesh.

This isn't just a gimmick, though. You'll need to use this ability carefully if you want to get through the game alive, because the enemy soldiers aren't like those in other games. In F.E.A.R, while one soldier pins you down, another will try to flank you. They'll leap through windows, crawl under desks and throw filing cabinets over for protection. It's the toughest shooter we've played in a long time.

It's also scary: one minute you're running down a corridor, the next the girl appears in front of you in true horror-film style. Add to that the ghosts that appear and disappear at will, and you've got a game you wouldn't catch us playing alone in a dark room.

There's the usual range of weapons including shotguns, machine guns, pistols, rocket launchers and a nail gun that nails opponents to the wall. The sound is excellent, and you get a real impression of lethal force every time you hear a shot.

If anything counts against the game, it's that the big chase for the psychic is over too soon and too easily. There's no big fight - just a corpse on the floor. From then on, fighting spirits in slow motion just isn't as interesting as pumping bullets into mercenaries. The level design can be formulaic, too, and obvious routes through levels are highlighted.

This is an original and beautiful game, but you will need a powerful PC to play it properly.

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