I’ve talked a lot in the past about how I think videogames are a marvellous medium for Horror, they are more immersive than simply watching a film, and to an extent, I think they can be more immersive than books. In books you do not control the character’s, you’re effectively watching them, although in your head rather than on a screen. Videogames allow you to experience the story but still retain an element of control, which in turn makes you responsible for what happens. That little person on the screen is you and if you make a stupid decision and die then it’s your own fault.
Sadly, even though on the surface videogames seem like such a good tool for horror so many creators struggle with making this work. This is, in part, down to the fact that a lot of videogames are meant to be empowering, they make you very powerful or highly skilled and it’s hard to feel fear when you’re like that. Take Batman Arkham Asylum as an example, this is a creepy game on-premise, your sneaking around a mental institute, which for the large part is an old mansion with graveyards, secret labs etc. All the inmates have busted out and are roaming the grounds hoping to find and kill you. Creepy right? But one thing lets the creepy factor down, YOU ARE BATMAN. How scared can you be when your playing as Batman, Batman! The guy who took on Superman, the guy with a gazillion weapons, super skills and the ability to almost-fly (seriously the grapple is amazing, as is the glide function). How can you be afraid of some low skilled, mentally unwell thug when your frigging BATMAN.
F.E.A.R is generally known as a horror game and certainly has horror elements, but in my humble opinion suffers from a similar problem to Batman. That being that for a horror game to work you need to disempower the player. Take away their control, make them powerless in a world where there is a real element of danger. This goes against the nature of a lot of games (though this is slowly changing), including F.E.A.R
A good horror game should really not have much in the way of combat (in my opinion), but F.E.A.R not only arms you to the teeth but it also has a function called “reflex time” where you can literally slow down time so you can murder enemies. Hard to feel disempowered when your playable character has the power to control frigging time! That’s not to say the move isn’t bloody cool, it really is, it’s fun and neat and EMPOWERING which is why it both entertains me (gleeful laughing whenever I start the “reflex time”) and annoys me. The maker of the game even says that “defeating enemies with style” was part of the goal. Hard to be terrified when your stylishly dispatching baddies with ease.
PLOT here be spoilers
Plot-wise the game is far more action than horror, in my opinion, F.E.A.R even stands for First Encounter Assault Recon. In a nutshell, a chap has attacked and killed a lot of people, you and you military team are sent in to stop this person.
While you hunt the perpetrator you also witness lots of paranormal activity, including a child in a red dress. As you go on you learn the background of the perpetrator, how he was made to be a telepathic military leader. It is also revealed that he is the son of the girl in the red dress.
The girl in the red dress is telepathically linked with the perpetrator despite being in a coma. You also learn that there was another child born of the girl in the red dress. The perpetrator is trying to free the girl in the red dress. There’s a big showdown and you learn that you are the other child of the girl in the red dress.
The perpetrator is dead, the girl in the red dress is freed and everything gets blown up.
What I Liked
First of all I do not think this is a horror game, it is an action game with horror elements. For it to be a true horror game there has to be a feeling of vulnerability, a sense of disempowerment and this game does not provide that.
I know I’ve been rather critical towards this game, at least in tone if nothing else. But it really is a lot of fun to play. I very much enjoyed it. My only bugbear is when this is labelled as a horror game. Just because there’s an element of paranormal goings-on dos not make a game a horror game.
The game does not disempower the player, you do not feel afraid or vulnerable in this game, you are a bloody super spoiler that can control time and as the game goes on you learn that your also the son of a powerful telepath which makes you a super powerful telepath as well. It’s a lot of fun, it really is, but it’s not horror.
I would recommend this game, as I keep saying it is fun. But if you’re looking for a proper horror experience you won’t find it here. If you want something more creepy but where you can still shoot stuff and have super powers then go play Bioshock (the first one, oddly effective considering I can make fire come out of my hands) if your looking for a truly disempowering feeling then you could try Little Nightmares, Limbo, or Amnesia The Dark Descent.
If you want an action game with a paranormal twist then play F.E.A.R just don’t expect to be truly afraid.