F.3.A.R. In The Details

Part of what's really great about F.3.A.R. is that it uses details to good effect. I don't tend to be impressed by triple-A titles that have thousands of man-hours poured into the art assets, because usually such games look essentially convincing but the player has zero motivation to pay attention to 99% of those details and this fact isn't a feature of the design. In something like a Zelda game it actually is important to have a certain level of fidelity to make it possible to hide secrets while still having incongruities hinting at the secrets without those incongruities being blatantly obvious. In something like an FPS, high fidelity generally only serves to try to make the experience more viscerally believable in some sense... which isn't necessary if your fundamental game design is solid.

F.3.A.R., while broadly fitting into the triple-A mold, is actually surprisingly competent at telling a story through little details. My first time through the game, I missed or misunderstood a lot of information in the game: I spent a while under the impression the Creep was some arbitrary unique creature Alma was alternating between summoning to protect Point Man and sending after him for her own inscrutable purposes. (F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2's problems with keeping Alma coherent in her behavior had given me low expectations was part of the problem) Once I replayed through with Paxton though, I recognized that there's a recurring trend that Alma is made upset by the Creep's presence, and on a few occasions she actually switches from her adult form to her child form in response; the Creep -ie her father- reduces her to the mental state of a scared child, and since this is all psychic we get to see this in a fairly literal form.

There's tons of tidbits like this where cutscene details and environmental details add to the experience. Another bit I liked was how when you meet the zombie-cultist dudes, while Paxton theorizes that the explosion from the end of the original game 'fried their brains', you can see if you pay attention to the environment that their drawings and writings in blood tend to be about Alma: while it's never explicitly spelled out, it's pretty clear that Alma's psychic influence is what's led to their current state, which actually does a really good job of selling the idea that Alma's influence is A Bad Thing. And it's a bit of a reward for paying at least minimal attention to the purely aesthetic details instead of just taking Paxton's theory at face value.

One of my favorite zombie-cultist details is the 'torches' they have all over the place: standing lamps whose lampshade has been set on fire and they've been put up like they're torches. It's a detail I totally overlooked on my first two runs, but when I actually noticed it on my Fearless Point Man run the logic was obvious and fantastic. Clearly the zombie-cultists have some dim recollection that lamps produce light, and that you make torches for light by setting things of this general shape on fire, and put 2 and 2 together to get 5. I don't even care that realistically the lampshades shouldn't burn for all that long, it's just too great a detail!

There's the occasional kind of derp moment, such as how there's a sequence where you survive a big explosion but your ears are left ringing and you're half-deaf... even if you're playing Paxton, the psychic ghost-person. And there's plenty of details that are mechanically questionable, such as the legions of TVs in the first zombie-cultist sequence that are somehow getting power, which I'm willing to chalk that one up to Alma's psychic influence somehow causing it.

But overall there's just a ton of nice little details that reward bothering to look at your environment instead of ignoring it as wholly irrelevant like most triple-A titles.


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