F.E.A.R. actually stands for First Encounter Assault Recon and not necessarily what you're going to experience in this game. Although there are a few truly creepy moments with paranormal activity, the premise of this story relies more on suggestion and fearful anticipation. In reality, much of the gameplay is spent in finding your way around obstacles in order to reach your destination. Overall, FEAR is 90% a shooter with some horror elements thrown in and as a shooter it's pretty good.
The FEAR team's mission is to find an escaped convict named Paxton Fettel who has a rather nasty appetite for human flesh. He has amassed a team of Replica Forces, an army of clones he is able to control through telepathic means. They have infiltrated an aerospace complex for some unknown purpose and your team is sent in to contain the situation with the priority of finding Fettel. As a new recruit to the FEAR team, the only reason you are part of this mission is due to the extraordinary speed of your reflexes, which was noted in training. This ability is enabled ingame by a slow-mo function and it's been integrated very well into this game. It is, in fact, essential to your survival and is as much a part of successful combat as your weapon so bind it to a key you can reach easily. Picking up powerups along the way called reflex boosters will increase the length of time you can be in this mode. There are also boosters that permanently increase your health.
As point man on this mission, you are assigned certain tasks and during one of these you become separated and cut-off from your team. Your priority, however, remains to follow a signal of unknown origin that seems to be emanating from Fettel. This takes you deep into the complex where everywhere you find bloody evidence of a mysterious project gone wrong. In addition, you experience some paranormal phenomena that plays psychological games with your mind.
The visuals in this game are quite good and rather gory, which lends to its atmosphere of creepiness. However, if I have a complaint, it would be in its lack of variety in the maps. There comes a point where you're wondering if you will ever move to some new scenery. This is where getting to your goal has been stretched out for slightly too long. The second complaint would be the flashlight. Although its power regenerates very quickly, the length of time it can be on is very short so that at times it seems a pointless exercise to have to toggle it so often. I understand the intent of suddenly plunging you into darkness, but I don't think it really accomplishes its intended goal and was often more of a nuisance. The whole game consists of pockets of light and shadow and every corner is in darkness making the flashlight also a necessary part of your equipment. These are fairly minor issues though.
Combat is handled very well and a lot of trekking around is broken up by interaction with the enemy. The weapons actually feel and sound powerful and effective. You can carry three of these at a time and they can be changed out as you find others. You can also carry three types of grenades, which are useful as well. In addition, there are melee and kicking functions using a combination of keys and the one feature I really like is the ability to lean from around cover. The enemy AIs are also quite effective so that combat is usually quite challenging. Apparently, according to the director's commentary, the AIs are designed to actually respond in different ways according to how you engage them.
There are some physics involved and you will find yourself bumping into and kicking things with your heavy combat boots and equipment. The enemy can hear you and also see your flashlight, so caution is advised. Events can have some spectacular visual effects on the surroundings with things flying everywhere.
I would not say that the game has a particularly deep story. Although we learn more of its background through listening to phone messages and through the occasional access to computer data, there are long periods in between where our character is just moving through buildings and engaging the enemy. The story is not as rich as in some games such as Bioshock or Mass Effect, for instance.
The graphics are very good, but it's not a colorful game. Most of it is fairly gray and steeped in shadow. In fact, it was very difficult to get decent screenshots to render well in their still form. Everything had to be lightened and even still the pictures were shadowy. I would therefore not take them as truly indicative of the actual game experience. It plays better than it looks in the shots.
I played the Gold edition, which included the expansion pack Extraction Point. Since this is just more of the same and nothing much new, it doesn't warrant a separate review. The story picks up where FEAR left off with the helicopter crashing and concentrates on our character reaching a designated place for extraction. We do get to see a little more of Alma, some new weapons are introduced and the big mechs are a bit tougher to kill. However, the Replica soldiers don't seem quite as smart. Extraction also uses more horror elements than the original game so if you like that aspect you should play this expansion.