Since the first game, and excluding the expansions which I’ve never played, I’ve been a big fan of the FEAR series. It’s blend of action, horror and tight gunplay brought much of what I love about video games (namely gore, flailing limbs, and slo-mo gunplay) and threw it all together in a neat little package. The first FEAR was a damn terrifying game; on the horror meter (that I made up just now) it wouldn’t rank at shit-out-your-spine terrifying, but it’d definitely score in at oops-I-think-I-just-peed-a-little.
The second game, FEAR 2: Project Origin, lost its way in the horror department, leaning more on the action part of action/horror, but there were still the creepy enemies, like the ghosts and those spine-chilling guys that controlled corpses, and plenty of eerie settings to feel terrified in. Project Origin also brought with it much improved gunplay and fixed the repetitive gameplay that plagued the original. So how does FEAR 3 stack up, and more importantly, how does it rank on my newly created Horror Meter? (patent pending)
The Baby Factor: If Alma violently raped Modern Warfare while it was lying helplessly in that weird psychic chamber from the end of Project Origin, FEAR 3 would be the result.
I say Modern Warfare not because you're asked to shoot up civilians in an airport or do all the crazy behind the scenes of war shit from that series - in fact, I could've said she raped any modern FPS game, because the result would be much of the same. You see, this game, even though it's really quite good, it almost completely devoid of scares. If it wasn't for the gore and immensely creepy environments, it would be impossible for me to label this a horror game when it's really just a great shooter with some scary tendencies.
Much of the game takes place in broad daylight where you're being pitted against waves of soldiers, and even a few soldiers that can spawn more soldiers. I never really understood that part, how are those phase soldiers able to fire arcs of lightning that teleport new soldiers? Despite it not making much sense (after all this is a game about a psychic chick who's tearing the world apart with her contractions while her two sons, one with a bullet wound embedded in his forehead and the other named Point Man, try to reach her to do, well, something), I still found it fun trying to focus on the glowing blue dude to stop him from spawning more enemies.
But it still makes no sense. Just sayin'.
The fantastic mech segments from the last game have returned in two parts - first you'll pop your cherry on a smaller mech, then you'll move on to what I affectionately refer to as Big Daddy to unleash five flavors of kickassery on any unsuspecting foes. These parts of the game are fun diversion from the two other things you'll be doing, and that's shooting things and exploring creepy places waiting to shoot the things you just know are waiting for you around a corner.
Unfortunately, none of the enemies you'll come across, with the exception of one seemingly unstoppable creature, are actually scary. In fact, you can break up the enemy types into three categories: soldiers, homeless folks, and fiery monkeys. Sure, you'll come across the occasional helicopter, mech or boss, but for the most part that's what you can expect. This ended up being my biggest disappointment, even more of a let down than the paltry 4-5 hours it takes to beat the game, because I've always liked the enemies in this series. Remember those guys I talked about earlier? The ghosts and that dude who reanimates corpses? Yeah, those were cool. Why'd you get rid of those?
Now, it might sound like I didn't like this game, so to assure you that I in fact did, let me toss a few positives at you. First, there are some genuinely unsettling places you'll be forced to explore. Even places I didn't think would be scary, like the lower part of a bridge high above the water, ended up being pretty tense for me. Then there are very creepy locales like a trek through a commercial meat freezer complete with far away sounds and distant moving shadows that I won't soon forget. Sadly, these areas don't make up much of the game but when you're cautiously walking through them you'll know you're playing a FEAR game.
For the uninitiated, FEAR 3 was built around playing through the game with a friend - a first for the series. I wasn't sure if this would ruin the scare factor for me but since we've already established that was thrown out the window, we can now focus on how well it was done. I'm very happy to say that playing as both Point Man and his recently deceased brother Paxton Fettel is incredibly fun. Point Man can slow down time and always has the ability to use whatever armaments you'll come across while Paxton can only use guns, grenades and mechs when he's possessing a foe.
This is where the real fun starts. The first time I played through the game it was alone, with the lights off, the sound up and with Enya cooing softly in the background (ok, not that last one, but the rest are true). You have to play through as Point Man until you unloc the option of playing through a chapter as Fettel once you've completed it. If you've played a FEAR game you know what to expect, and if you haven't, all you need to know is he can slow down time and has a few slick melee moves up his sleeve to unleash when he's low on ammo.
Playing as Paxton offers a completely different experience, and dare I say - a far more entertaining one. If you want to be a whiny baby face you can spend your time possessing enemies and using guns to plow your way through to each chapter. Or, you can have some fun and levitate foes (before exploding them), possessing them (before exploding them), or firing small bursts of psychic energy at them that, you guessed it, explode them (or parts of them anyway). I won't ruin anything for you but when you're playing through the game with a friend it's in your best interest to kick their ass in the score, because there's something in it for you in the end.
Speaking of the score (see what I did there?), you can grow yours by completing various challenges. Doing things like taking cover, getting headshots and performing melee moves all reward you with points that are than used to level you up. As you progress through the tiers of levels you'll increase your maximum health, be able to carry more grenades and ammo clips, and increase the number of times Paxton can use his psychic abilities and the amount of time Point Man can spend recreating scenes from The Matrix.
Unsurprisingly, I ended up liking the devilishly sarcastic Paxton more than Point Man, the silent protagonist. I'm not saying I'm terribly fond of cannibals, I just couldn't find any way to give a damn about the other dude. I understand the need to add an aura of mystery to some characters since that multiplies their badassitude by at least five, but in a horror game where I'm tasked with caring for the guy I'm controlling it's difficult to do so when he doesn't utter a word over the course of five hours. With that said, the 360 degree cover system is nice and something I'd really like to see implemented in Gears of War. How does that have anything to do with the two siblings? Oh, it doesn't, I just had to clear room for the last thing I'll be talking about before closing up this review: the multiplayer.
I'm not going to bury the lead - I fucking love this game's multiplayer, and that's saying something for someone, like me, who hasn't spent more than an hour playing the previous FEAR games online. What I love the most about FEAR 3's online offering is the modes you can play (Fucking Run, Soul Survivor, Soul King and Contractions) have been woven into the world of FEAR. There aren't any lame ass "Capture the Flag" or "Team Deathmatch" modes here, oh no sir, instead you'll be in gametypes like the Fucking Run mode, spending quality time working with your friends trying to outrun a mile high wall of unstoppable death.
The aforementioned mode is my favorite, but there's good fun to be had in the other three as well. Contractions plays much like Call of Duty: Black Ops' Zombies mode where you're tasked with barricading walls and collecting supplies so you and your allies can survive 20 waves of progressively more intimidating enemies. Then there's Soul Survivor, where four players fight each other with one player portraying the Spectre, who can possess their opponents and use them to kill the other players. The last mode, Soul King, is much like Soul Survivor only this time everyone's a Spectre and you all have to collect the souls of your fallen comrades.
The Final Word: FEAR 3 is the most exciting and addicting experience I've had so far with the FEAR games and it's the perfect entry point into the series if you haven't experienced them yet. The only drawback is the game has strayed even further from its horror roots.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of F.3.A.R., which was provided by the publisher.