A quick glance around the corner and the coast is clear. Round you scoot, the radio chatter of nearby soldiers scratching at your ears like roaches. You've had a few engagements already, so you know what these bozos are like; very, very far from the by-the book, route-marching, brain farting automata common to most first-person shooters. Wing these bastards and they'll retreat to lick their wounds. So you give chase... and seconds later they counter attack en masse with a ferocity that'll reduce your level of joypad control to that of a newborn - all fingers, thumbs, and dumb-arse stabbing. Good luck, son - these guys know exactly where their triggers are. And aren't afraid to use 'em.
So, this is F.E.A.R., then. Countless lead-spewing engagements that meld into a mantra of violence, and one that goes on for hour after hour... after hour. As the name suggests, there's a darkness to this game that demands you play it with the lights off for full effect. As the new recruit in First Encounter Assault Recon, a paramilitary police force, you're thrown into a situations that are, shall we say, unusual. A genetically modified military officer, capable of psychically controlling the troops under him, has gone postal. The last anyone saw of him was a piece of CCTV footage which showed the aforementioned gimmer chowing down on the remains of a hapless flatfoot. The sucker needs dropping, and that's where you come in.
One of F.E.A.R.'s most compelling traits is its slo-mo combat. Think Max Payne, and you're nearly there - although to be fair, it's closer to The Matrix in visual effectiveness. F.E.A.R. was developed as a PC game first and foremost, so as you'd expect, the visual effects are nothing less than breathtaking; activate slo-mo, and bullets move sluggishly through the air, leaving spiralled distortion patterns in wake. As the slugs pound home, goons jerk, flail and roar like they've spent their lives in expensive slow-motion ballet training. It's a sight to see, and turns every engagement into a swirling dance in which you find yourself becoming the most anal of perfectionists. Soon enough, it's not enough just to kill; you'll want to turn every engagement into a piece of art, in which the minimum of ammo is expended for maximum effect, and the moment you slip back into real time, a pile of corpses falls to earth on cue.
The only flies in the ointment are that the PC version, while graphically breathtaking, needed high system specs to run at a decent speed. Given the demands on the hardware brought about by some extremely rich texture and bump-mapping work, which then gets an overlay of sheer eye-twisting insanity in slo-mo situations, you can probably expect some frame rate drops in particularly hairy scenes. In addition, the combat sequences very much were the heart of the game, as the scenery and enemies didn't undergo any dramatic advances as the story played out. Fingers crossed that the Xbox 360 version will readdress these issues to our benefit using its as-good-as-a-top of- the-range-graphics-card tech... but, as always, we'll wait and see for sure.
Generally though, we expect F.E.A.R. to knock our socks off. 360 is capable of pretty much anything a modern PC can do, and outputting at 720p on a hi-def TV, there'll be no better qualification of your expenditure. Just be aware that - if the PC version is anything to go by - you're in for a long-haul of corridors and laboratories, with endless combat sequences, not storyline, as the centrepiece. More soon...
Concentrating on focused FPS combat, sequences and mindblowing visual effects, almost to the exclusion of all else, in these matters, F.E.A.R.'s likely to be an unparalleled success. But while this may whet the whistle of the FPS purist, those seeking adventure and mind-expansion through pleasing vistas and storyline will be left wanting.