In the over-crowded FPS market, the FEAR franchise insists on making a name for itself. After numerous delays, FEAR 3 finally shows up to the fight with it’s unique brand of combat and horror. It’s signature slow-mo gunplay and paranormal elements are back again, but are they enough to truly separate FEAR 3 from the rest of the pack?
You’ll be playing as Point Man, the protagonist from the first FEAR title. You’re a scruffy-looking mute with the ability to heighten your reflexes at will. Your brother Paxton Fettel has rejoined you in the form of a psychic projection and offers insight into what is going on. Apparently, their mother Alma is giving birth to a new freak of nature and this is more than enough reason for Fettel and Point Man to check it out.
In the single-player campaign, players will initially play through as Point Man. His slow-mo abilities is the central gameplay pillar for which the FEAR franchise was built on. You’ll be running through levels, turning a corner, toggling slow-mo, and blasting away at anything in sight. It sounds fairly repetitive; which it is, but there is still some measure of satisfaction when you clear a room full of baddies with one clip. Everybody knows that stuff looks cooler in slow-mo. While the mechanic is somewhat dated, it still works pretty well here.
The control scheme is almost button-for-button with Call of Duty’s. The only difference is that the slow-mo button is relegated to a face button that normally switches weapons in other shooters. Switching weapons in FEAR 3 is now moved to a shoulder button. It’s a very minor tweak, but anyone who is familiar with other popular shooters out there will surely adjust in no time.
You’ll shoot your way through several Intervals (levels) that take you through surprisingly varied environments. You’ll start out in a prison that you have to escape from, creep through a dimly lit hardware store full of lunatics and kamikazes, and romp through a few urban environments in the daylight (yes, sun). Of course this wouldn’t be a FEAR title without a few excursions into another world. Previous games in the series had you sauntering through the same old office buildings and construction sites. The varied locales are a welcome plus in this latest entry.
At best, the graphics are decent. You can tell that the artists made a real attempt to mix up the feel and atmosphere of each level. Particles look great in slow motion, the rain makes everything look wet, and the sun casts down impressive looking “God-rays” through thick smoke. The engine is serviceable for what it needs to do, but FEAR 3’s graphical impact does not meet the one that was established by the first game. It looks great, but it’s pretty comparable to other first-person shooters in the market this year and the last.
A few new additions to the usual FEAR formula might rub veterans of the series the wrong way. There is a cover system that will allow players to duck behind objects and walls. It works surprisingly well at times when you need to seek refuge from bullets. However, there were a few instances where I simply wanted to crouch behind an object and found myself snapped into the piece of cover. This resulted in a few deaths when I tried to escape from a live grenade as I annoyingly negotiated with my controller. This is only a minor complaint and doesn’t really ruin the overall game, but it has certainly greeted me with a few loading screens.
Also, players use to be able to carry more than two weapons in the series. I assume this was done for the sake of creating a more approachable control scheme. Normally, toggling between two weapons in other shooters is okay. However, FEAR 3’s lack of a varied arsenal can make options limiting. There’s a sidearm, smg, dual-smgs, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper-rifle, rocket-launcher, and ray-gun (yes, ray gun). I mostly found myself sticking with the smg and assault rifle while the use of the other weapons were left completely to circumstances that warranted their use (aka shoot down the chopper with the launcher, use the sniper because you’re on high ground). It would’ve been nice to at least carry one other weapon as I often found myself making a bad switch, forcing me to lean on a weapon that already lacked ammo.
Gripes aside, the core game is certainly fun and has a few memorable moments. But those moments are spread too thin across the course of the game. While there is variety in the environments, there is none whatsoever in terms of what you’ll be doing. You’ll be funneled from firefight to firefight and only allowed to proceed when everyone is dead. Yes, I realize that this is a shooter and that’s what you’re suppose to do in shooters. But the problem is that the game throws heavily armed soldier after heavily armed soldier at you and doesn’t do much else. There’s a few occasions when you’ll find yourself in a mech but the experience isn’t any different. You’ll blow up everything in your path only to get out of the mech to do more of the same as Point Man. It’s easy to fall into gameplay fatigue from the waves of enemies.
Flat out, FEAR 3 is not scary at all. If you’re looking for a scary game, you won’t find it here. There’s maybe a few occasions where I was startled, but I was never on edge like I was with the first FEAR. There’s a couple of occasions where this monster will appear out of nowhere to shake you and then disappear. That’s not scary, that’s annoying. The developers tried to fit in a few creepy/scary moments between each firefight, but they fail to succeed because of the game’s overdose of combat. Fear 3 is not scary. At. All.
The campaign isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do anything differently than any other shooter. Even with the FEAR name attached, it’s not the kind of scary that was presented in the first game. While the story ties up some loose ends fans may have been waiting for, the plot is still two-dimensional. Characters come in and out of the story like a revolving door. For the first half of the game you’ll be tracking down a familiar face from the first game. Once you locate her, she get kidnapped. Later on, it felt like my rescue was completely accidental as she seemingly appeared out of nowhere to “help” me again. I completely forgot she even existed. She then tells you to look for the protagonist of the second game, Beckett; whom is ALSO kidnapped. *sigh* The twisted brotherhood between Point Man and Fettel overshadows the objective storytelling. Which is a good thing because their relationship is far more interesting than any other story FEAR 3 tries to tell. The campaign is a decent length clocking in at around 8 hours by yourself. But if you have intentions of playing this game cooperatively, two players can breeze through this game in roughly 6 hours of play time.
What probably kept me coming back was FEAR 3’s character progression system. By repeating certain tasks like collecting ammo, scoring a number of headshots, or killing during slow-mo; players are awarded experience points. These experience points level you up RPG-style resulting in improved stats such as health or slow-motion duration. What’s neat is that the character progression is carried across ALL modes. From single-player, to co-op, to online multiplayer; your rank and stats stay with you. Kudos to Day: 1 Studios for implementing this. It makes all the modes a bit more compelling, even if the main campaign is somewhat by-the-numbers.
Speaking of the co-op, I was so pleased it was in FEAR 3. The cooperative mode is supported in split-screen and online. There’s a morbid sense of joy as you and another player march through enemies. Player one is Point Man while the second player takes on the role of Paxton Fettel, who can levitate enemies, possess their bodies, or simply make them spontaneously combust. Playing through alone was one thing, but adding another player to the mix allows for some more chaotic fun. Taking out the opposition in slow-motion while watching your partner turn enemies into bloody geysers is pretty empowering. Also if you finish the campaign together, the game does something pretty cool towards the end to determine which ending you get. (I won’t spoil it for you)
There are 2 cooperative and 2 competitive modes. “Fucking Run” has you sprinting for dear life as a fog of death is hot on your team’s heels. You’ll need to eliminate any baddies along the way to the safe zone. Just do your best not to turn around to look at the fog; its never any further away and quite possibly the scariest element on the disk. “Contractions” sees a team of four surviving against wave after wave of enemy troops as they scavenge for weapons and ammo. It bares alot of similarities to Black Op’s zombie mode.
The competitive mode “Soul Survivor” has players defending against phantoms. Those who find themselves taken down by ghost will join the ranks of the undead and have to take down their former allies. “Soul King” will pit players against each other from the get-go. Players will play as ghosts and would have to possess one body after another in order to out-kill their opponents. The multiplayer modes may not be award-winning material, but the ideas behind them are unique enough to warrant some fun. It’s up to the community and DLC to truly give it some legs.
FEAR 3 does it’s best to appeal to the broad FPS audience by streamlining the controls and borrowing elements from other online shooters. It succeeds in providing a familiar progression system while maintaining it’s own identity in the multiplayer space. However, it’s brand of competitive multiplayer may not be enough to garner a heavy following. To some degree of success, FEAR 3 manages to tell a story that simultaneously brings new players up to speed and finishes what it started. While the selection of environments are wide, the variety of what you’ll be doing is very limited. It is an unrelenting marathon of activating slow-mo, shooting, reloading, and repeating. Because of that, the fear in FEAR 3 is never really felt. It no longer lives up to the franchise’s namesake and is nothing more than a horror-themed shooter. It’s just not scary and will definitely disappoint those looking for some good spooks. But for those looking for a decent cooperative experience or maybe something to pass the time until the onslaught of releases this Fall, FEAR 3 may be enough.
+ Cooperative campaign is bloody fun
+ Character progression is preserved across all modes
+ Varied environments
– Not scary at all
– No split-screen online
– Last boss fight was needlessly tedious
– Confusing ending