Coinciding with the release of a new Tom Clancy movie, The Sum of All
Fears is based on the theatrical release more than the fiction itself.
Like most film derivatives, Fears fleshes out the underlying story of
John Clark and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a much-acclaimed
domestic unit often praised by Clancy in his various works. The premise
is frighteningly plausible: A nuclear device smuggled into the United
States detonates in a major city in a bid to throw the two Cold War
giants into a full scale nuclear war with a secret society of
neo-fascists stepping in to fill the power vacuum. The movie focused on
the rise and exploits of Jack Ryan as a CIA analyst. Set in a time
before Rainbow Six and most of the popular novels and films like Clear
and Present Danger or Hunt for the Red October, we track Clark and Ryan,
the two principle characters, in their infant careers. Clark is still a
veteran CIA operative, doing most of the hands-on work himself. Ryan is
a budding CIA analyst, writing up the intelligence reports in the
briefing screens of Fears. The movie skipped over much of the actual
operations carried out by Clark to track down the neo-fascists and in
intercepting arms shipments, opting to follow Ryan instead. In the
game, you'll get to carry out operations under Clark through a variety
of locales spanning North America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Late last year, Red Storm Entertainment, the company that
single-handedly made Rainbow Six a household name for PC gamers,
bifurcated their premier franchise into two. Ghost Recon would
represent all their endeavors into military operations encapsulating the
exploits of the infantry unit while Rainbow Six will be continued in its
own right with the forthcoming Raven Shield title debuting later this
year. Fears represents a synthesis of both these worlds. Map design
and gameplay is focused solidly on close quarter battles but with the
engine that powered the award-winning Ghost Recon game. It makes a
smooth transition to a mostly indoors environment, one-upping the aged
Rogue Spear engine in many aspects. Rooms are more intricate and
smaller in design, making complete eradication of your enemy a tough
proposition. Environments can also be more cavernous in nature,
creating opportunities for the enemy to ambush you via height
differences. The closer draw distance makes the engine run faster on
slower computers but in general, the Ghost Recon engine is more than up
to the task. Gone are the undecorated and bland locales of the infantry
simulation. Typical of Rainbow Six, all the attention to decorative
furnishings is back, including a heavy dose of destructible glass.
In addition to the indoor locales, a few other things from Rainbow Six
have also made it into Fears. The dramatic music upon death, for
example, is one such thing that was curiously missing from Ghost Recon.
A guided pre-planned mission plan is also available. Opening a door in
Ghost Recon was a one shot deal. You couldn't stop opening a door if
you're suddenly under fire. This small issue is rectified in Fears.
Weapons-wise, the cast of guns reflects the close quarter nature of
Fears. By default, for example, you'll now be armed with the 9mm MP5.
Grenades and flashbangs are now a staple due to the HRT-centric
armament. Sidearms are also much more effective and numerous than Ghost
Recon. LAWs and RPGs are out, replaced with a plethora of weapons
including some with high rates of fire and those nominally considered as
terrorist or paramilitary arms. Bullet penetration physics work through
wood and doors but unfortunately, don't work everywhere; through a
cubicle or an object for example.
The excellent audio of all Red Storm titles continues to make its
presence here. Fears doesn't pilfer from the movie soundtrack but adds
a few new pieces to complement the developers' existing cache of music.
Clark continues his voiceovers as he has done since the first Rainbow
Six title. The guns and explosions are crisp although some guns, like
the M16, are taken from Ghost Recon. All Red Storm titles are about
detail and in Fears, this definitely shows itself. If you fire a weapon
over a metallic surface, you can hear the casings bounce off the floor;
a subtle but important feature.
Ghost Recon brought forth the threat indicator, a device surrounding the
compass to give you a general direction of what enemies are left on the
field. Rainbow Six brought you the heart beat sensor, a miraculous
device that lets you detect people through walls. Although both are
plausible near-future if not currently deployed pieces of technology,
they're also the ones that get the most mixed reactions from players.
Red Storm lets you toggle them on or off so use is ultimately up to you
but with both aids enabled, the game becomes a much simpler exercise.
Simplicity and accessibility is the order of the day with Fears though.
New to Red Storm's tactical first person shooters, you have a quick-help
box in between mission loads with timely tips and fun facts about the
game itself. Like all of its games, there's a comprehensive tutorial to
guide you through the basic mechanics but on easier settings, the game
is clearly geared towards people who have never played a tactical first
person shooter. Realistic physics are relaxed this time around.
Running speeds are perceivably faster, perhaps due to tweaking or
perhaps due to the fact that you don't have to run for long stretches of
time to find action. You can take a few hits that phase or stun you
before biting the big one. Grenades, so deadly in Ghost Recon, are
survivable even if you're in the same room. The first mission is
especially guided with pointers to assist you on how to open and breach
doors. Objectives, for the first time, are filled with voiceovers from
HQ to guide you through the game.
The briefing screens are also simplified even though they reflect a
synthesized Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon feel. Weapons are organized
like kits in Ghost Recon. However, weapons selection is minimized in
the single player game. Instead of customizing your own loadout weapon
by weapon (or even selecting bullet types), you choose from things like
Spec Ops Assault kit or the HRT Stealth kit. Additional kits with
heavier or more exotic weapons are unlocked as the game progresses but
you can choose any kit during the multiplayer portions of the game.
This sounds console-like and indeed, the single player campaign with its
emphasis on gaining medals (achieving bonus objectives like not dying)
reflects a more game-like nature. Planning before a mission,
characteristic of Rainbow Six, has been dropped in favor of on-the-fly
control of your three person HRT squad. The command map, not exactly
the easiest piece of interface in Ghost Recon, also disappears. With
only two people tagging behind you, you're now only able to issue simple
hold and move orders. Point at a door, for example, and you can click
on options like breach or breach with grenade. It's not as smooth and
fluid as the point-and-click interface found in Sierra's SWAT title but
Fears' relaxed physics and relative simplicity provides some lee-way.
For people playing on easier levels, it's almost unnecessary since the
friendly AI does a relatively competent job at keeping with the course
of the mission.
Make no mistake though: this isn't Counterstrike or Quake. A few good
shots can maim you and on harder settings, only one aimed shot is all
that is needed to kill you. Crouching and peeking around corners in a
slow methodological fashion is the safest way to clear areas. Your
missions will take you up against a wide range of enemies including
paramilitary groups, local militia, suited men in black, security guards
and terrorists. The most interesting feature introduced here is the
presence of FBI support teams in addition to the ones you control. In
multiplayer, potentially, there could be more than one dozen FBI
operatives at work on any particular mission. The support teams, which
cannot be controlled or ordered by you, walk paths in addition to the
ones that aid you, helping you force entry into hostage-held areas or
clearing chokepoints from alternate vantage points. We saw friendly AI
in action during Ghost Recon but these guys act less as cannon fodder
and more realistically resemble as support. This gives the game a more
realistic feel and is true to the deterrent policing tactics of the FBI.
If you storm a room with half a dozen people, your opponents are less
likely to put up a fight than if you storm a room with only two.
As the FBI wanders farther away from its jurisdiction, help from HQ is
less forthcoming and this lets the veterans practice their craft in the
eleven-mission campaign. In the beginning, you'll do some actual HRT
work like rescuing friendly agents or hostages. But as a lot of people
didn't like Rainbow Six because you had to babysit hostages, the
appearance of Clark and the HRT's missions under the CIA lifts these
nominal handcuffs. Fears follows our modern day attitude to terrorism:
if you aid, help or shield a terrorist, you are a terrorist. Be
prepared for a lot of dead bodies. HQ's plans also tend to get worse as
the campaign progresses, perhaps a subtle nudge to force you to find
alternative routes around chokepoints. Some of the most interesting
missions include a stealth mission to steal the manifesto off a dock.
If you're detected by some roving searchlights, the whole base is
alerted to your presence and a real firefight begins as you rush to
finish your objectives. Another fun one includes a bank where you have
to grab some neo-fascist intelligence material. Clark has an idea and
asks you to make it look like a bank heist, which places the HRT in the
humorous position of breaking the law to enforce the law.
There are some AI slipups in the game to debunk an otherwise fun
campaign. On the one hand, the enemy exhibits sterling intelligence.
They usually wait and abate you in easily omitted corners like in
between cubicles. If they see an overwhelming number of HRT agents,
some tend to run away or towards cover. In the aforementioned bank
mission, the security cordons off your extraction point and some of the
guards will relocate to get a better shot at you. Whether these are
thought up on the fly or scripted, I'm not quite sure. The doubt arises
because in other instances, the AI is pretty wooden. Cover fire won't
exactly scare anyone into relocating, although they tend to disrupt
patrol patterns. What if they don't have patrol patterns though?
Often, grenades or flashbangs are the only items that force people to
move. For example, in assassinating VIPs, the VIPs tend to stick around
their starting rooms even when fired upon, only moving when I toss a
grenade. Friendly AI also tends to get stuck in some of the more
complicated environs like the prison complex. It's especially annoying
when you're about to extract and you find one of your three operatives
is stuck way behind enemy lines. Curiously, the support teams always
make it out.
Multiplayer, as always, helps resolve AI deficiencies. Fears brings all
the multiplayer modes from Ghost Recon for all of its existing eleven
maps and seven additional multiplayer maps. The single player campaign
can be played out in co-operative fashion or used in firefight or recon
modes. New competitive games introduced in Ghost Recon, like Siege, can
be played with Fears. The multiplayer maps follow Ghost Recon's
tradition. They are short, enclosed arenas, suitable for firefights
against the AI or against humans. Some of the more interesting ones
include an underground parking complex and the actual offices of Red
Storm. The kill house from Rogue Spear is also converted and the
training complex is considered a level too so these two maps are not
There's a dedicated server and you can play on Ubi.com. Rogue Spear
players addicted to the Zone will be sad to hear that Ubi.com will, for
all intents and purposes, be the only gaming service now. As a server,
you have full control over what types of weapons will be included and
what kinds of aids (heartbeat sensor, etc.) can be enabled. This should
level out the playing field for most. Unfortunately, while co-operative
games feature a full four squads of three-people teams in addition to
support HRT operatives, you don't have control over the weapons layout
of your fellow comrades. There were many times where I died and was
placed in the hands of someone with a sniper rifle or a shotgun (both
rendered almost entirely useless in Fears); completely ill-equipped to
deal with the task at hand.
Fears is an intriguing title to Red Storm's pantheon of tactical first
person shooters. It's a hybrid of everything included in Ghost Recon
and Rainbow Six. Could it possibly be a replacement for the latter or
even an extension for the former? Not necessarily. It may not be
satisfying for everyone. The hit and miss AI and relaxed realism will
not appeal to hardcore veterans that are still playing Rogue Spear. Its
aids and features is an olive branch to the mass gaming audience not
hooked on tactical first person shooters. Key point supporting this:
the game features no blood and uses the 'puffs' effect in addition to
gruesome animations as an alternative. With Rainbow Six and surely,
another Ghost Recon title coming out later, Fears unfortunately
resembles more as an interim title. Raven Shield, the true successor to
Red Storm's close quarter battle game, will run on an Unreal engine so
the longevity of this close quarter game is in question, especially if
they are depending on this game to develop a vibrant community. Whether
Fears will develop into the next Rainbow Six in terms of fan popularity
will ultimately be based on whether the theatrical release will fetch
Fears enough attention. In spite of these shortcomings, Fears features
excellent production values. That really cannot be discounted on any
level; visually or aurally. It is a fun, if short trip to Clancy's
world of counter-terrorism and military operations. Based on a real
piece of Clancy fiction this time, the literary elements transform the
gaming experience into something all the more enjoyable.