It’s easy to admire the F.E.A.R series; in a genre heaving under the weight of countless, military-themed heavy hitters and sci-fi space operas, it has managed to carve out a place very much of its own with a combination of refined gunplay, physiological horror and supernatural plot lines. While it might not have reached the lofty heights of the Call of Duty series in terms of sales (but then…who has?), it has consistently delivered engaging experiences that have earned it a place among the cream of the FPS crop. The most disappointing thing in this latest instalment, F.E.A.R. 3 (or, F.3.A.R) is that it’s not very scary, with its attempts to send a shiver down your spine largely falling flat; while this will be disappointing for fans of the series, it performs well enough in other areas to make this failing easily forgivable.
From a narrative perspective, your enjoyment of F.E.A.R 3 will likely be relative to how much experience you have with the previous games in the series, and how familiar you are with the tangled web they weaved around the supernatural goings on of the infamous Alma. The game making very few concessions for newcomers, who will struggle to grasp the broader events of the game and their implications to the overall series narrative ark. While this may prove frustrating for some, Day 1 Studios’ commitment to rounding the trilogy off in a consistent manner will make F.E.A.R 3 all the more rewarding for long term fans.
Fortunately, even if you have absolutely no idea what is going on, F.E.A.R. 3 is a lot of fun, primarily because the gun-play is so solid. It has long been accepted that a key element to the success of any first-person shooter is in how satisfying the guns are to use, and this is an area in which the F.E.A.R series has always excelled. This game is no different, with the squeezing of the trigger on even the smallest pistol proving to be hugely satisfying and all the weapons are similarly loud, punchy and gosh-darn violent. Marry this with impressively weighty rag doll physics and the series’ signature “Reflex Time” (aka bullet-time) that slows the game world down to a crawl and the result is more often than not a bullet-ballet among the finest out there. Aside from the odd low res texture the game’s graphics engine is also reasonably handsome–– making for a very polished looking game.
If our description of F.E.A.R. 3 thus far makes it sound very much like more of the same, then in many cases this is absolutely true – at its core, this is a F.E.A.R game through and through. However, Day 1 Studios has broadened the game’s scope with the addition of a second playable character, on-line co-op and a range of new multiplayer modes. In the single player mode, players are initially cast as personality-free beardy-face, Point Man who (aside from his Reflex Time abilities) is reliant on good, old fashioned firepower to take down his foes. Add a second player into the mix, and player two assumes the role of Point Man’s brother, Paxton Fettel. As Fettel is actually dead, he can prowl the levels in spirit form, possessing enemies and flexing a range of psychic powers in a manner not dissimilar to Geist on the Gamecube. This move towards an essentially bisected campaign mode could have gone seriously wrong had the balance between the characters differing abilities been wrong, but Day 1 Studies have pulled it off impressively well and as a result F.E.A.R. 3 feels fresh, interesting and, most importantly, unique. Completing missions as Point Man also unlocks Fettel for the single player campaign, meaning there is a lot of scope for repeated play-throughs without it getting stale.
Within the reasonably restrictive frame work of a corridor-focussed FPS, F.E.A.R. 3 manages to deliver a fair degree of variety, and does so in a satisfyingly balanced manner. Just when you’re starting to tire of shooting grunts, it drops a mech-suit in your path and suddenly the game feels a lot like MechWarrior. The core combat is also nicely varied, with corridors giving way to Smash TV-esque arenas and an interesting range of set pieces, from battling a chopper or facing off against a curiously egg-head, splayed-jawed skeletal demon. In fact, this last line actually summarises the charm of F.E.A.R. 3 quite nicely – its thematic breadth allows for a degree of eclecticism that simply isn’t present in other first person shooters, and although it is a shame that it doesn’t quite have the narrative polish to hold all the disparate elements together, it still makes for a very enjoyable ride.
F.E.A.R 3’s idiosyncrasies – and it’s penchant for genre-mashing – are carried over into the multiplayer. Forgoing the usual (and increasingly dull) team-death matches/capture the flag etc, what we get instead is a co-operative based blend of Counterstrike, Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies, Gears of War’s Horde mode and Valve Left 4 Dead; these influences are obvious, but the execution never feels derivative. In ‘Convulsions’, players are dumped in maps of varying sizes and tasked with the objective of defending a base against increasingly ferocious hordes of soldiers, demons and zombies. In a particularly nice touch, each round is punctuated by a mad rush out onto the battlefield to grab supply crates which provide new weapons and much needed ammo. It’s a very simple idea but one that works well. Other modes include ‘Soul King’ (where possession of the enemy is key), ‘Soul Survivor’ (possess your opponents) and ‘Fucking Run’ (yes…really), in which you flee Alma while battling enemies, all work well, further cementing F.E.A.R. 3’s standing as the place to go for FPS fans looking for something a little more alternative.
Taken as a whole, F.E.A.R. 3 isn’t perfect. It’s attempts to scare are disappointingly pedestrian, with rounding a corner to be confronted with the apparition of Alma being as likely to elicit a feeling of bumping into an old friend as it is to make you jump out of your seat; and it’s plot is slightly confused, confusing and ultimately quite throw away. Nevertheless, it remains a hugely enjoyable game – the combat is tense, punchy and satisfying; the enemy AI is believably aggressive; the visuals polished and the multiplayer a resounding success. Though it may have its faults, the vast majority of the content is a first-person shooter fan’s wet dream, even if it doesn’t deliver the kind of nightmares you may be hoping for.
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