F.E.A.R. brought something new to the first-person shooter table by introducing a sense of John Woo’s stylish fire-fights and massively destructible environments, while effectively encompassing the player in a dark, creepy setting manipulated by an even creepier little girl. What it ended up being was definitely a hard act to follow. Can the third proper iteration match up or (egads) surpass the original, or is the franchise doomed to end up as a one-trick pony?
F.E.A.R. 3 continues the legacy of the main character of the first game – Point Man, while upping the ante by pitting him side by side with the brother that he ended up shooting in the head – Paxton Fettel. The latter, now a weird amalgamation of a zombie and a ghost, is back from the dead thanks to his psychic powers, and with a prominent bullet hole between the eyes to boot. F.E.A.R. 3’s story continues from the ending of the last game, where the creepy little demonic girl all grown up – Alma, is pregnant and the brothers must team up to stop her from giving birth to another abomination. This forms the entire shallow basis of the single-player, which albeit short at around five hours, can be played alone as either brother (Fettel being unlocked after a chapter is beaten playing as the Point Man) or with both of them cooperatively with a friend locally or over a network. The Point Man brings back his time-slowing hyper reflexes and Fettel surprises us with his unique psychic ability to possess the bodies of enemy soldiers and attack their own team mates.
The story, although contributed to heavily by veterans Steve Niles and John Carpenter, feels paper-thin. There are flashbacks of the brothers’ shared past, but in all, the chapter objectives are merely getting from point A to point B, and butchering just about anyone and anything along the way. Fortunately, F.E.A.R. 3 manages to bring back the fire-fights that made the original a cult favourite, albeit toning them down a notch. The ARMA foot-soldiers end up smarter than your regular FPS and attack in swarms and do everything from flanking you, taking cover effectively, lobbing grenades frequently enough and performing the Killzone-inspired dance of death on being brutally massacred. Some advanced ARMA troops have the ability to conjure other soldiers or phase in and out of walls, and along with the Mech units, are pretty darn dangerous in offense. However, it just wouldn’t be a F.E.A.R. game without the element of creepiness, for which the game also adds various types of zombies and hellish dog creatures, making the gameplay even more chaotic. However, the game still doesn’t manage to match the chills delivered by the first game, and having a psychopathic zombie/witch-doctor readily by your side tones it down even more.
The gameplay juggles between wielding guns and riot shields to controlling Mech units capable of extraordinary carnage. Playing as the undead Fettel is a completely different experience from controlling the Point Man, since Fettel assists solely by either levitating enemies for the Point Man to tearing apart or possessing an enemy to turn on his comrades. Point Man has a rechargeable meter for slowing down time, while Fettel has a psychic meter, which must be at least half full to possess an enemy soldier. It fills either with time when in his own spirit form or by collecting the spirits of killed enemies when possessing another body. This psychic meter keeps decreasing over time when in possession of another body, which explodes when the meter fully expires. This brings an element of strategy into Fettel’s gameplay, since the player must carefully time when to possess an enemy soldier and start his rampage and when to desert it to preserve the enemy meter, and more so because Fettel’s only other offensive tactic is shooting weak fireballs. Playing as Fettel, either alone or having him by your side in co-op, is great fun and is the redeeming factor that distinguishes F.E.A.R. 3 from other shooters.
Apart from the story mode, F.E.A.R. 3 also includes four multiplayer gameplay modes, each with their own bizarre twists. Contractions is similar to the Call of Duty Zombie modes, where players man an outpost and defend themselves from waves of enemies while picking up weapon drops and repairing barricades. F**king Run is another co-operative mode, where the players are being chased by a smokey wall of death and must keep moving forward to escape it while massacring whatever comes in their way. Soul Survivor, has one of the players playing as a spectre with Fettel’s powers with the objective to possess enemies and kill the other teammates to turn them into allies. In Soul King, all players play as spectres trying to top the scoreboards while possessing enemies and collecting soul points that are lost when killed. The multiplayer modes, like the story campaign, are not spectacular, but definitely fun to play. They add something different to the stagnant generic multiplayer modes that most FPSs offer.
The graphics are not much to write home about, but the environments are well designed and often ignite a strong sense of claustrophobia and pure creepiness. It’s still cool to see Alma pop-in out of nowhere and disintegrate just as quickly. However, the lack of destructible environments this time definitely goes against F.E.A.R. 3. The music effectively keeps swinging between horror-movie soundtracks during moments of suspense, to high tempo African beats during the fire-fights, and adds to the game’s atmosphere. Although the Point Man is more of the silent type, Fettel’s voice over does a pretty good job of imitating the sinister living dead. Also, fire-fights in action sound like pure bliss, especially in slow motion when the bullets pop out one by one.
F.E.A.R. 3 seems to take a more action-oriented path this time around instead of sticking to the chills the first game provided. It does a good job of standing out from the generic FPS crowd, thanks especially to Fettel being a rather interesting character. However, F.E.A.R. veterans expecting the magic of John Woo’s “no wall left standing” magic would be sorely disappointed in this rather intriguing outing.