Despite glowing critical appraisal, Monolith's games have never really caught the imagination of buying punters. Its No One Lives Forever series served more wit and charisma than me after two babychams, but nary an eyelid was batted by Joe Public.

It looks as though Monolith went back to the drawing board to assess what draws pleasure from the crowds and kerchings from the cash register. F.E.A.R (first encounter assault recon) is the result and - bar the repetitive level design - it's a cavalcade of right notes. Your PC is not complete without F.E.A.R.

Using the iconography of Japanese horror to great effect, F.E.A.R. is first and foremost a tale of creeping terror. The foreboding seeps through every aspect of exploration in F.E.A.R. - this game has to be played at night with the lights off and surround sound on. Nearly all the chills happen out of the corner of your eye and the plot will hit you with disorientating hallucinations. Backup pants are mandatory.

What sets F.E.A.R. apart from the competition though, is the kinetic, slow-mo combat action - possibly the most beautifully realised action we've ever seen. Sure, it demonstrates the superior particle effects of this near perfect graphics engine and illustrates every gratifying move as the enemy buckles under your gunfire or kung fu chops, but it operates on a level beyond pure aesthetics.

Slow-mo becomes an integral part of gameplay because the artificial intelligence of the enemy is just that - intelligent. Play the hardest setting to truly appreciate the enemy as the boys here use increased coordinated tactics.

F.E.A.R.: Specs

  • 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • Windows 2000/XP
  • 512MB RAM
  • 5GB hard disk space
  • 18 years of age
  • 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • Windows 2000/XP
  • 512MB RAM
  • 5GB hard disk space
  • 18 years of age

OUR VERDICT

The audio, graphics, cinematic action that plays as good as it looks, enemy AI and creeping horror - even the slow-mo multi-player components - combine to make F.E.A.R. one of this year's best games.

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