If you find yourself sitting around bored out of your skull, there's rarely more fun to be had than giving someone a good fright.
But while leaping out from behind furniture and watching acquaintances tumble in fear and confusion can bring a hearty smile to anyone's face, it's a jape that soon wears thin - even for the most puerile prankster. If all the seasonal festivities have left you bored and listless, then what you need is an injection of sheer unadulterated terror.
F.E.A.R. sees you step into the action boots of an agent blessed with superhuman reflexes. As a member of a team called F.E.A.R., that stands for First Encounter Assault Recon, in case you were wondering, you get sent to investigate the violent massacre of a crack team of troops. Needless to say, there's something supernatural afoot and a scary looking little girl keeps appearing. Unluckily, it's been left to you to put your life and sanity on the line and find out what it all means.
F.E.A.R. is rated 18, and for good reason. The gorgeous looking opening sequence neatly sets the dark, horrific tone, and it's not long before you're on the trail of the strangely named Paxton Fettel. But all is not as it seems. You soon find yourself suffering from bizarre hallucinations and hearing strange voices. It's clear that something is very wrong, and you're walking slap-bang into the middle of it all.
Luckily, your lightning-quick trigger finger allows you to dispose of several enemies without breaking a sweat. Tapping the Ctrl key engages your superhuman reflexes, which tints the screen with a hazy red glow and gives you a few seconds to target and take out enemies. In this mode, the game looks even more stunning than usual. Just like in The Matrix, bullets are trailed by ripples, while grenades cause shock waves to flex across the screen. But far from being just a graphical novelty, careful use of the slow-mo mode is required to progress through the game. The gruesome enemies you encounter are mostly intelligent, armed to the teeth and in some cases, not even visible.
Another great feature is that you can only carry three weapons at a time. This forces players to make tactical decisions and to decide which weapons to carry and which to leave behind. It won't take long to find a combination of firearms to suit your style of playing. With some practice, firefights become calm, balletic moments as you drift in and out of slow-motion, slickly disposing of enemies before returning to the safety of cover.
F.E.A.R. is a superb game that blurs the line between horror and all-out action with effortless aplomb. The horror themes provide some genuine leap-out-of-your-seat scares and the stunning graphics, sound effects and superb score are carefully employed to contribute to the atmosphere. Not since Half-Life 2 have we been so impressed by a game's ability to entertain and engage. If you're feeling really brave then play it through with the lights off, but whatever you do don't let the kids play it - it might well give them nightmares too.