F.E.A.R. was a game that gave the player military hardware with one hand, and a sense of terror with the other. As effective as the horror element remains today – including a number of admittedly cheap jump scares – what remains truly impressive 15 years after release is a side-effect. Arguably, no FPS before or since has offered the player such a powerful, transporting sense of place.
Horror is perhaps the genre most difficult to master in any medium. It demands a thunderous emotional response in order to be classed as successful which, in turn, requires an unchallenged suspension of disbelief. That emotional response needs to leap from a stable baseline, one that is in sync with one’s day-to-day life. Here is a game that understood and, remarkably, even achieved that.
As you walk F.E.A.R.’s warehouses, stalk its streets, and creep along its corridors, you hear… almost nothing. It’s unnervingly beautiful. Music is used sparingly throughout the game. It’s ordinarily extremely subtle or – at the best moments – entirely absent. There are times that you’ll receive a brief message over the radio, or you’ll hear the telltale chatter of nearby enemies. Yet for much of the time – most in fact, or so it seems – it’s just you and the bumps in the dark, real or imagined.