Reviewed: July 15, 2011
Released: June 21, 2011
The F.E.A.R. franchise has been consistently flying in just under the radar when it comes to console gaming. With three prior console releases (F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin, and a standalone expansion pack titled F.E.A.R. Files), developers Monolith and Day 1 Studios have delivered a series of exceptionally solid shooters that have garnered an fervent following amongst PC gamers, but for one reason or another have had a hard time breaking through into the console market. |
Call them the underdogs, but the slower-paced, story-based, psycho-cerebral survival-horror gameplay of F.E.A.R. seems to have little luck turning heads away from the run-and-gun blast-fests of console FPS powerhouses like Halo, Modern Warfare, Left 4 Dead, and Call of Duty: Black Ops. But there is a certain population of couch-and-controller gamers who still search out solid single-player storylines in games like Bioshock, Condemned, and FarCry – and for those gamers the F.E.A.R. franchise has been a consistent ace in the hole.
With F.E.A.R. 3, Monolith and Day 1 Studios have attempted to maintain the excellent single-player experience of the predecessors, while simultaneously appealing to untapped competitive gamers with an all-new persistent points-based leveling system, a fantastic two-player co-op mode, and four of the most unique multiplayer modes yet seen in gaming. The result is an exhilarating FPS experience that stands as the best F.E.A.R. release to date.
F.E.A.R. veterans will agree that the backstory of F.E.A.R. is a little convoluted. In the original title, the main protagonist was a character named Point Man – a genetically enhanced “super-soldier” on the First Encounter Assault Recon team. Over the course of the original title, The Point Man is put in charge of hunting down a failed psi-ops experiment – the evil and psychotic Paxton Fettel. As the pieces of the story fall together, Point Man realizes that he and Paxton are actually genetically cloned brothers – both the sons of the psychic Alma Wade.
In the second release, a new protagonist – Beckett, also a genetically modified soldier – is tasked with finding and capturing the elusive Alma, only to wind up having the tables turned on him. He falls under Alma’s psychic power who sexually assaults him and the game ends with her pregnant with his child. F.E.A.R. 3 starts at the end of those events with Point Man lashed to a chair in an asylum being beaten and interrogated by two Armacham Technology Corporation security guards. Suddenly, the shape-shifting psychotic brother Paxton appears in the room, dispatching the two guards in a grisly manner. Paxton and Point Man team up to escape the asylum, then go on a search to find Beckett, who tells them of Alma’s plan, and the two go onto find Alma to stop her before giving birth to the uber-evil spawn.
The FPS gameplay is fairly straightforward, with the only unique features being Point Man and Paxton psychic abilities – Point Man can slow down time, and Paxton can possess bodies. Both characters are playable, although Point Man is the default character for the single player mode. Single-player gamers can play as Paxton in any of Point Man’s completed levels, and actually play within unique parallel pathways from the co-op game. Co-op players can play as Paxton right from the outset. And that’s precisely where F.E.A.R. 3 really shines; the drop-in, drop-out campaign-based co-op that takes an already enjoyable single-player experience and kicks it up a notch. Multiplayer is always good, but when friends can work cooperatively to achieve a common goal it really takes the cake.
That being said, even the competitive multiplayer achieves a feeling of uniqueness by blending elements of co-op gameplay into traditional multiplayer modes to come up with some really cool team vs. AI results. To start, F.E.A.R. 3 offers up two wave-style gamers vs. AI gameplay modes; Contractions and the Fucking Run. Contractions is a king-of-the-hill style game against waves of enemi...wait did I really just write “Fucking Run”? Yes, sadly I did because F.E.A.R. 3 actually has a mode that is actually called “Fucking Run”. And although those words have found their way into this review three times already, I must make it clear that I am not cool with throwing around that language in games or in my reviews. And I wouldn’t even mention it if the mode was not the absolute highlight of F.E.A.R. 3. So let me get off my soapbox and talk about how absolutely awesome this mode is.
OK, I want you to picture the frantic high-speed zombie swarming gameplay of Left 4 Dead. Got it? Good. Now, I want you to imagine that you have woken up in a dark subway tunnel and you hear the sounds of a train horn and see the headlights about 200 yards behind you. Now I want you to take those two images and blend them together – ahead, swarms of bloodthirsty enemies, behind a speeding train and nowhere to go except headfirst into the swarm. This is the epitome of run-and-gun, people, and F.E.A.R. 3 delivers it to perfection. In the case of Fucking Run, the enemies are not zombies, but rather Armacham Technologies Corporation (ATC) security forces – and the train, well that’s actually a giant billowing “cloud of death” rolling in from behind. Regardless, the sense of urgency is the same and up to four players can cooperatively attempt to blast their way to safety – everyone has to survive or its mission over.
In addition, there are a couple of player vs. player modes thrown in the mix; Soul King and Soul Survivor. Soul King is a deathmatch-style game in which gamers win by collecting the souls released by the enemies they kill. Soul Survivor is a cat-and-mouse style game, with one gamer attempting to hunt down and possess the other three. Definitely solid modes in their own right, but nothing like the white knuckle frenzy of Fucking Run.
In terms of presentation, F.E.A.R. 3 does much better in the audio department than it does in the visuals. Compared to the current generation of games, F.E.A.R. 3’s visual quality comes across as dated and overly dark. This is likely the result of the multiplatform aspect of the game – and while it is not a showcase title, it is by no means horrible. There is just a certain degree of polish that seems to be missing behind the softening filters and dark overlays that are used to mask the lack of detail.
While the visuals maybe a bit lackluster, on the audio front F.E.A.R. 3 definitely delivers in spades. F.E.A.R. 3 starts with some of the best voice acting in the business, and then amps it up with fantastic sound effects and background tracks. The ambiance of horror and F.E.A.R. generated by the audio alone is spot-on, and definitely sets a tone of vulnerability and intensity. Thankfully the sound does a good job of kicking up the anxiety factor, because the actual gameplay is surprisingly tame for a game whose name plays off the word FEAR. Sure the game cuts back and forth between disturbing imagery and startle-factor moments, but after having played games like Condemned, Manhunt, even the classic Max Payne games, the fear in F.E.A.R. 3 is just not all that fearsome. I guess that means that I can play the game after dark by myself (which I still can’t do with Condemned – laugh as you may) but I always find myself surprised at how un-scary the F.E.A.R. games are.
Scary or not, F.E.A.R. 3 is an excellent FPS that delivers on all fronts – an excellent single player experience, drop-in campaign-based co-op, multiplayer player vs. bot co-op, and even player vs. player competitive fun – and it does it all in a unique and refreshing manner. F.E.A.R. will never replace the blockbuster Modern Warfare or Halo franchises, but it is a great compliment to the genre and an experience that should be had by all.