Nine months after the events of F.E.A.R., Point Man returns with his ghostly brother, Paxton Fettel, to find that their mother, Alma, is giving birth in the ruins of Fairport. Armacham soldiers are under orders by a mysterious commander to eliminate all evidence of Project Origin in the city, including Alma and her sons. Point Man and Fettel must fight their way through Armacham patrols and the products of Alma’s uncontrollable, psychic terrors to the center of the city to reunite with their mother and bring the family together. However, each brother has their own reason for reaching Alma and her baby and as they move closer to her, the tension between Fettel and Point Man becomes more and more troublesome.
F.E.A.R. 3′s strengths rely primarily in the area of gameplay. Between the enhanced cover system, the the slightly-more-than-respectable AI, and most certainly, its co-op play. The F.E.A.R. series has typically been known more so for its atmosphere than advancing the first person shooter mechanic, in that it doesn’t particularly have anything over other games in the genre other than its Slo-Mo feature (which is both fun and sometimes TOO much of an advantage in the campaign) and, in this installment, an improved/effective cover system that seems to be ripped straight from Killzone 3. However, what features it does include, it does well. The game’s AI may not be the smartest or even the most challenging in the world, but are certainly better than a large number of other shooters currently on the market. For instance, enemies have a tendency to be fairly strategic when trying to flush out the player out or push them into a corner. They have a good arm when it comes to tossing grenades, but more impressively they have a tendency to surround the player. With two or more AI firing at the player’s location while another runs behind to open fire on the player’s back, the game forces the player to keep an eye on their surroundings. Although, the AI often lack in the area of stealth seeing as the vast majority of the time I could hear an enemy barking snide comments at me or I actually see him running around on the other side of the map before he flanks me. Still, the fact that they even TRY to outwit the player is a wonderful change of pace.
The game also features a new mode, co-op. This game is most fun with a friend, no question. Between Point Man’s arsenal and slow-mo feature and Fettel’s psychic powers and ability to possess enemies offer each player a variety of ways to play the game from distracting enemies while your partner flanks them to having Fettel suspend them in mid air (while firing upon other enemies) and have Point Man finish them off. The fact that you can either work with your partner to progress through each interval or steal each other’s kills and work against each other offers some more variety. Although, it would be nice to have more options other than just stealing kills and “psychic links” (some sort of ‘enegry’ that you can pickup from the dead to enhance your psychic attributes) that are placed throughout the game. Still, playing with a friend makes for a wonderful gameplay experience and offers hours upon hours of entertainment.
Mech suits also make a wonderful return. The mech suit from F.E.A.R. 2 comes back as both an enemy and a usable vehicle that makes for a worthy mini-boss fight and oodles of gory fun. Bringing the mech suit fighting up a notch from the previous game is the fact that there are more than one usable/fight-able mech and more than one instance to use it. It may only be one tiny aspect of the game, but there aren’t a whole lot of games these days that offer the ability to walk around in a big ol’ mech suit and unload a barrage of bullets into an enemy and watch him explode in a cloud of blood, guts and bone while his teammates react to the gruesome demise of their fallen friend.
Yes, this game’s guilty pleasure is the gore. The previous games were gory, but this installment throws out dismembered limbs left and right with the more than occasional exploding torso. On a side note, the assault rifle from the first game makes a come-back as a three round burst weapon which may sound like a down grade, but after watching it tear an Armacham soldier’s head apart, it becomes one of the most satisfying weapons of the whole game. There seems to be a less variety of weapons in the game from the previous installment, but they’re fairly well balanced. The shotgun still causes enemies to explode and dismemberment but only at closer ranges than the previous titles. Plus, the pistol seems to be a combination of the first and second games’ iterations in that it is actually worth using every now and then (which is good since you are forced to start with it in the majority of the missions). And, the icing on the cake, dual wielding comes back but only for a set of machine pistols which are good for fighting back hordes of insane, homicidal civilians.
Unfortunately, you are limited to two weapons as opposed to the three weapons from the first game and the four from the second. Thankfully, there tends to be enough ammo to let you keep your favorite setup, but you will have to ditch it once a new interval starts since you often start out with a knife, a pistol, and/or and SMG every time you start a new interval which can get a little annoying.
The multiplayer sports some worthwhile game modes such as ‘Contractions,’ which is F.E.A.R. 3′s version of Gears of War’s ‘Horde’ mode or Call of Duty’s ‘Zombies,’ and ‘F**king Run!’, which is not only fun but pretty unique. The premise of ‘F**king Run!’ is to fight through enemy positions with your squad while a giant ‘wall of death’ is chasing you across the map. Honestly, it can get pretty hectic and is worth playing more than once, no questions asked. Though the other game modes, ‘Soul King’ and ‘Soul Survivor,’ can be fun but not very imaginative. Really, ‘Contractions’ may not be original, but the style is tried and true and is popular for a very understandable reason whereas ‘F**king Run’ balances uniqueness and intensity that really holds up the game’s multiplayer almost on its own.
This is the part of the review where I HAVE to talk about the game’s ending. I will not divulge any details of what happens or include any SPOILERS, but if you don’t want take any chances and want every aspect of what it takes to reach the ending be a surprise then feel free to skip on to the next paragraph. Ok, well the game has two possible endings. Once you beat an interval as Point Man, you can replay it as Paxton Fettel. Playing the game as Point Man will lead to one ending and playing as Fettel will lead to another. If you play the game cooperatively (as you should!), whoever performs the best will lead to their character’s ending. This in itself is actually interesting and gives even more reason to play through the game in co-op or at least play as each character (nice way to increase the replay value), what is “meh” about it is the endings themselves in that they are somewhat confusing and (the rest of this paragraph is really the part that may or may not be considered a mini-SPOILER, but no specific details are written) contradict the characters’ motives more or less. That aside, the Fettel ending seems to be the most developed and interesting whereas the Point Man ending seems to be the most confusing (mostly because he cannot speak).
There, that’s the end of the bit about the ending. On the topic of the story, there really isn’t much of one. The story is really that Point Man and Fettel need to get to Alma and each of them have their own reasons for reaching her and that’s about it. As well as the occasional flashback about Harlan Wade (the leader of Project Origin and Alma’s father) and his experiments involving Point Man and Fettel as kids. Really nothing new is divulged in the flashbacks except for the final one that takes place after the credits (it’s worth watching). The F.E.A.R. games have always struggled in the area of story in that the game usually revolves around trying to get from one place to another while the story really occurs in the last hour of the game. F.E.A.R. 3 isn’t much of an exception except that it’s story is sprinkled throughout a little more than its predecessor but isn’t very in depth, but isn’t terrible either.
Graphics, while attractive they can be (especially in games like Halo: Reach, Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3), ultimately shouldn’t have the biggest impact in deciding whether a game is worth buying or not, seeing as it has no real impact on the gameplay at all. But, that’s an entire conversation in itself. In the case of F.E.A.R. 3, it looks like Half Life 2 got a sub-HD coat of polish. It’s not awful at all, Deadly Premonition is the definition of that, though F.E.A.R. 3 doesn’t live up to the graphical quality of F.E.A.R. 2 in a lot of ways. The character models look very good, whereas the textures in the environment seem to have considerably less detail. As much as the game has been delayed over the past several months, it’s surprising that the game isn’t at least a little more polished in the visual department.
There aren’t really a wide variety of enemies in the game, especially in the area of paranormal monsters. Instead, most of the paranormal enemies got replaced by cannibalistic civilians that only appear a few times in the game. Alma, even makes less of an impact in the game and is more replaced by a mysterious creature known as “the Creeper” that isn’t of Alma’s creation (technically). Armacham soldiers have replaced the Replicas entirely which would be fine if there was a proper explanation of what happened to the Replicas from the first two games and if there is, it is mentioned way too briefly. The enemies that exist are nice but it’s mostly just slight variations of the same soldier.
Speaking of enemies, the massive boss fight at the end of the game is a bit of a downer (you’ll know it when you see it). It’s not very inventive, a little too easy, and kind of over the top and corny. I would have rather battled a few psychically enhanced soldiers (that appear throughout the campaign) and some mechs on my way to Alma than go through the entirety of the last interval which is both confusing and a little anti-climactic.
It doesn’t help that the game is way too short, even with the ability to play with two characters. The game is only eight quick intervals long, standing at around the same length as the most recent Medal of Honor in one play through. It would be mildly forgivable if the game felt like a F.E.A.R. game. Sure it has Point Man, Fettel, Alma, and slo-mo, but it lacks what makes the series so memorable: atmosphere. The earlier games may have seemed ultra-repetitive with corridor after overly familiar corridor, but it added to the claustrophobia and anxiety that made them at the very least freaky and for some, totally frightening. F.E.A.R. 3 has lost all of that from poor sound design to a new art style that fits in the area of a cliche, Hollywood horror flick.
The soundtrack to this game is entirely different from the other games. The music is actually pretty bad and plays way too often for a F.E.A.R. title where previous installments relied primarily on ambient noise to create a level of anxiety for the player which helped make the scares worth while. Also, I ask, why is the sound of a wooden door opening louder than every single gun in the game? My recommendation would be to turn the music levels down and the sound effect up if you get the game to help balance it out a bit.
Adding to the dramatic shift in the overall atmosphere is the exceedingly unimaginative level design. It’s understandable that the developer wanted to add a little variety to the game’s levels, but why ruin something that already works? Yes, I’d like to move to new locations every now and then when playing the first F.E.A.R. game, but, as stated before, the claustrophobia added to the experience. It seems more like the level designers sat around a table and said “Hey lets have a level that takes place in an airport, oh and a bridge like the end of Left 4 Dead 2 [I’ll admit, the bridge level in this game is fun though], and a prison!” There’s even an interval that feels vaguely similar to the Favela in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. That level (which is interval 2) and the first interval, which takes place in a prison, feel the least like a F.E.A.R. game and are probably the least fun intervals in the game (so I would have to say, play through interval 3 to get a better impression of the game seeing as the first two are quite different from the rest of the game). There’s no proper explanation as to why the player has to battle through most of the random locations and they’re pretty linear and overly crowded with boxes and concrete dividers for cover. Don’t get me wrong, they can be fun, but they’re are horribly unimaginative.
The biggest disappointment of the game is that it simply isn’t scary, not even freaky (maybe a little creepy at times). While I was playing it I couldn’t help but think of the South Park episode, “The Startling,” yes the one about the guinea pigs. The game tries to be scary with plenty of creepy creatures popping around every corner, but at the most they might startle the player…once. Alma appears too frequently in the game (during certain intervals) to give her any level of scariness and her appearances and the appearances of the other creepy creatures in the game are often accentuated by a loud, Hollywood horror movie orchestra playing a single, percussive note that is entirely too cliche. Since the game has little atmosphere and anxiety to keep the player on edge, the “scares” hold no weight and are more of annoyances than anything else.
A hardcore F.E.A.R. fan might be disappointed by this installment, but by itself it’s actually a fun game. The co-op, the fairly fun multiplayer, and the well paced (if overly linear) gameplay make this game a nice change of pace from a lot of other shooters currently on the market. Playing as Fettel is a wonderful treat after completing an interval and playing with a friend makes the game worth playing more than once. As a F.E.A.R. game, it’s a bit of a down grade from the rest of the series, but it offers enough interesting mechanics to help give some variety and incentive to play the game more than once or twice. I was really hoping F.E.A.R. 3 would take the atmosphere of the first game and some of the enhanced gameplay from the second game to create a long, worthy installment. However, it seems to have been an attempt to take the series in a new direction and didn’t deliver 100%. If there will ever be a F.E.A.R. 4, it could definitely take the co-op, cover system, and slightly faster gameplay from this game to expand on while retaining some of the other qualities of the first two games. Seeing as it’s only been two years since the last game came out, I would have gladly waited another year to let the developer have more time to test out the gameplay mechanics, but in a perfect world we wouldn’t have publishers who were more interested in attempting to annualize a franchise (even try to release a new installment every other year). The F.E.A.R. games have always had their flaws that leave each game with plenty of room to improve and F.E.A.R. 3 is no different; it’s fun and entertaining but lacks in scares and story. Ultimately, it’s a worthy buy if you’re into great co-op with plenty of gore but I wouldn’t blame you for a second if you wanted to wait for the game to be on sale or get it as a gift.