Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
Genre: First Person Shooter
Horror, possibly more so than any other genre, requires a delicate balance between the real and the imagined. Creating a genuine scare is such a fine art because just one peek behind the production curtain can completely undermine the illusion, turning fear into farce. Day 1 Studios' third game in the F.E.A.R. franchise just about gets the balance right, interlacing solid first-person shooter gameplay with an overriding spooky atmosphere packed with psychological chills. Unfortunately, there are also some scares in the design choices, making the game somewhat rough around the edges in parts. The game's graphics are rather muddy and there a few irritations in the level design, but with a lengthy single player campaign focused on co-op action and a frantically enjoyable multiplayer, F.E.A.R. 3 still delivers a fun and fear-packed experience.
The F.E.A.R. 3 story, created with the help of horror legend John Carpenter and American comic book writer Steve Niles, focuses on brothers Point Man and Paxton Fettel, spawned from the all powerful Alma. Point Man, a genetically-enhanced super soldier, killed his brother at the end of the first game on the orders of First Encounter Assault Recon. But Fettel has returned for the third game as a ghost and the brothers must team up to fight a new evil coming into the world. Over the main campaign, the uneasy alliance between the spawn of Alma will form the central narrative thread of the story, with a pretty decent payoff at end. By the time the credits roll, the brothers will find out the truth behind their beginnings in Project Origin and understand their relationship with their mother. But will they work together or tear each other apart?
The focus on the brothers enables the entire campaign to be played in co-op ether via local split-screen, or online. Point Man bears all the usual functions of an FPS character, able to use shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and grenades to battle soldiers from the sinister Armacham military corporation, along with bloodthirsty mutated locals and a range of vicious monsters. The controls will feel instantly familiar to shooter fans. The cover system is fiddly but workable, and there is a good range of melee moves, such as an immensely satisfying slide kick. Point Man also has a bulletime mechanic, which slows down time for a period enabling maximum damage to be done. The bulletime mechanic has a cool down period, meaning it cannot just be used persistently during the frantic fire fights.
Fettell offers an entirely different playing experience. The character cannot pick up any weapons, but he has a psychic blast function and can splat people into bloody pieces. But the really interesting mechanic is possession, in which Fettell takes on the mantle of an enemy soldier and can then fire weapons as normal. The possession only lasts for a short time, but it can be continued by killing other enemies and collecting their essence. Fettell also provides the game's narrative voice in comparison to the mute Point Man, with his sinister charm working rather well.
Playing the game on your own merely brings the other character in at certain key storytelling points, but a really nice touch is being able to replay the campaign entirely as either Point Man or Fettell. There is a pleasingly different experience playing as either character that makes replaying through the same scenes on your own still feel fresh and interesting. Over the course of the main campaign, players can earn points for a variety of things, such as good kills, collecting items and performing psychic links with certain designated corpses. This system enables you to rank up and improve the core skills, which provides a pleasing incentive for exploration. The points system also brings a nice competitive twist at the end of the campaign when playing with a buddy.
Day 1 Studios has clearly taken inspiration from Valve's Half Life and Left 4 Dead franchises for F.E.A.R. 3, while the game also bears influences of Japanese horror, particularly Ring and Dark Water. However, the game lacks the visual flourish of its inspirations, as the graphics are all too often rather muddy and lacking sparkle. The lighting is pretty decent and the levels are reasonably well laid out, but the dinginess of the world is sometimes suffocating. There are also quite a few bugs in the game, such as enemies getting stuck in walls or just stood aimlessly for no reason. Thankfully, the game's creepy score fills in the gaps of the atmosphere, expertly covering the enclosed moments of spookiness and the bombastic action set pieces.
What F.E.A.R. 3 does well is portion out its scares so that there is a genuine sense of tension. The influence of Carpenter is evident, as there are some notable sections where there are no enemies to shoot but the sense of fear is so much more powerful. A good example is a sequence in a warehouse full of switched on TVs, as enemies flash about between the screens until your heart is pounding out of your chest. Good horror also requires a pay off and F.E.A.R. 3 certainly delivers some excellent set piece battles against a range of human and super natural threats, in which the player's skills are severely tested, particularly at higher difficulty levels. However, there are also times when the game throws pacing out of the window, as the player lurches from one frantic fight to the next until it just becomes a bit tiring. The constant fights against the big blue soldiers, for example, become particularly tedious after a while.
Aside the main campaign, F.E.A.R. 3 also has a suite of multiplayer modes which offer a pretty decent twist on the usual competitive staples. 'Contractions' is essentially a take on Gears Of War's 'Horde' mode, involving battles against ever increasing waves of enemies, requiring teams to run out between rounds to re-stock ammo supplies. Elsewhere, players become ghostly spectres tasked with possessing others to score points. 'Soul King' is essentially 'King of the Hill', a competitive mode involving the possession of AI-controlled solders, with the player who ends the round with the most souls being the winner. 'Soul Survivor' returns to co-op, as a four-person team must fend of wave after wave of Left 4 Dead-style zombies, but the twist is that one player is designated as the spectre by Alma with a mission to turn their teammates over to the dark side.
Possibly the standout mode, though, is 'F**king Run', a co-op challenge that is essentially an endurance race. Players must escape an advancing wall of death that has been unleashed by Alma, fighting enemies as they go. At periodic intervals there is the checkpoint to get a breather and restock on ammo. The trick is that all players must get to checkpoints and escape the cloud; if one person fails, the whole team fails. This means that it's essential to watch out for downed colleagues and be careful to ensure that everyone makes it to the checkpoint bunker before advancing. None of these multiplayer modes are all likely to blow Call of Duty out of the water, but they all offer hugely good fun and may well really click with some players.
In summary, F.E.A.R. 3 is certainly not without its flaws but it's also a genuinely enjoyable game in both single and multiplayer. The influence of horror legend John Carpenter has helped create a really spooky and often atmospheric world that may not look great, but it certainly delivers the goods. The relationship between Point Man and Paxton Fettell forms a strong central narrative thread, while also enabling one of the better FPS co-op experiences on the market. In addition, the suite of multiplayer modes offers enough of a supernatural twist to make the competitive game frantic fun. If you can forgive a few little irritations, there is plenty of reason to feel the fear with F.E.A.R. 3.
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