Reviewed: July 21, 2011
Released: June 21, 2011
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) dazzled the PC community when it released in 2005 with graphics that pushed current systems to their limit and enemy A.I. that could easily be mistaken for real human reactions. I mean, where else could you toggle your flashlight to lure enemies to their demise? Day 1 Studios took over the franchise for its port to the console a few years later and now they are back with the third installment in the franchise, F.E.A.R. 3.|
While fans of the previous games will certainly have a bit more knowledge going into this game and be able to appreciate a few of the ongoing plot points, newcomers to the franchise won’t have any trouble jumping right in to one of the most eerie FPS games of the summer. All you really need to know is there is this creepy girl who is the embodiment of all evil. You get to play as either of her two sons, the genetically enhanced super-soldier, the Point Man, or the undead ghost of your dead brother Paxton Fettel, as you fight through all sorts of insane levels against hordes of enemy soldiers and demonic creatures in an attempt to reach your mother and prevent her from giving birth to an all-new evil entity.
When the game starts you are locked into playing the Point Man, but as you complete each level you will unlock the ability to replay as Fettel, basically giving you two complete campaigns in one; and yes, there are enough nuances in the gameplay to make it worth your while to do so. Even better, you can play the game cooperatively in the evolutionary Divergent Co-op mode; giving you distinct gameplay abilities that enhance your partners own style of play. The Point Man is able to slow down time, giving him a great advantage in combat, while Fettel is able to possess the enemy, and well...you can guess what happens next...
At its core, F.E.A.R. 3 is a competent FPS that features incredible enemy AI and a great cover system that allows you to snap to cover then either pop-up by squeezing LT or slowly peeking around cover with the analog stick. Since much of the cover is destructible the game really discourages against “camping”, especially when you factor in the enemy AI that will lay down suppressive fire while others will advance on your position or even worse, toss the occasional grendade to flush you out.
The game is fully playable with a mouse and keyboard and probably even a bit more accurate when you do, but I ultimately decided to play with a 360 controller – curse my console gaming addiction. One thing that totally pissed me off (so much that I’m using the phrase “pissed me off” in a review) is that the game doesn’t switch its prompts when you are using a gamepad, so the prompt is constantly saying to hit “E” to open a door or Psychic Link a body, when in reality it should be saying to hit the X button. Actually, I wish there was a way to just turn off the prompts entirely; at least after the first level. Even if they were correct, they were still way too invasive and kept reminding me I was playing a game.
Another issue with using the gamepad is apparently there are more commands in F.E.A.R. 3 than buttons on the controller. You can choose from Assault, Classic, Southpaw, Tactical, and Chief configurations, but there is no user-definable controller bindings and get this…if you don’t choose the Tactical mode you CANNOT use the game’s cover system. Sort of makes all those other modes pointless…I mean, this being a cover shooter and all.
While the arsenal in F.E.A.R. 3 isn’t massive, the weapons that are available are extremely fun and offer various strengths and weaknesses based on who you are fighting and where. Shotguns are brutal, but only at extreme close-up range, while the standard assault rifle works best and has the best chance of finding extra ammo clips lying around. Sniper rifles are great for certain situations – usually in the same area where you find one, while rocket launchers are great for taking down choppers or mobile suits of armor. There are even a few levels where you will get to climb inside these giant metal suits and create a little havoc of your own.
To make sure F.E.A.R. 3 was as scary as possible the designers brought in legendary film director John Carpenter and writer Steve Niles to keep gamers on the edge of their seats. Niles penned the story that explores interesting facets of the two opposing brothers and their unique relationship with their mother, Alma, while Carpenter helped to create the visionary cutscenes and overall look and feel of the game. Making things even scarier, Day 1 Studios used a new Generative System to randomize those infamous “FEAR” moments, so nothing ever happens in the same place or at the same time when you replay the game or even restart after an untimely death.
The presentation for F.E.A.R. 3 is film-worthy, I’m guessing thanks to Mr. Carpenter’s input. I was totally captivated from the opening movie to the post-credit clip – that’s right…stick around till the end of the credit scroll. The lighting and shadows really sell the experience and set the foreboding atmosphere. The creatures are hideous, Alma still scares the crap out of me whenever she appears, and all those candles and crazy graffiti painted in blood is just wrong. The guns look great; the special effects are awesome, even small stuff like the sheets of water on the airport skylights creating ripple shadows on the environments. Almost everything is destructible in some fashion including humans that can be dismembered limb from limb and torn in half to spill their intestines. I even got a kick out of the main menu screen that manages to work in the current time and date into the video surveillance monitor.
The audio really adds to the overall tension in F.E.A.R. 3 with some of the most sinister bone-chilling music and downright evil sounding effects of any recent FPS title I’ve played. The weapons sound fantastic and I really enjoyed the powerful sounds of climbing into one of those mobile armor suits and thumping my way down the highway. The voice work is also exceptional, especially Fettel who lurks inside the head of the Point Man providing all sorts of morally ambiguous motivation. There is also great radio chatter and plenty of casual conversation to be heard when you eavesdrop on the guards.
Completionists will certainly want to revisit the game multiple times thanks to a wonderful set of Steam achievements as well as the game’s own unique scoring and ranking system that integrates all sorts of cool skill and quest-based achievements that level your character in both single and multiplayer modes. Good luck finding all those hidden Alma dolls. There is also a comprehensive multiplayer section that features four modes; Contractions, Soul King, Soul Survivor, and Fucking Run. Each mode offers three venues for some innovative gameplay in both solo and team variations, and the host can setup parameters like number of players, skill level, time limits, and friendly fire. Plan on playing F.E.A.R. 3 for quite some time and loving every minute of it.
Of course the real question is, “just how scary is F.E.A.R. 3? Honestly, there were moments where I was genuinely scared, but most of the time I just had this underlying feeling of uneasiness, like something could happen at any minute. The first level of the game, where you are escaping a prison, just sucks plain and simple, but I challenge you all to suffer through so you can experience amazing levels like the backroom warehouse of a giant superstore, or one of the scariest abandoned airports I’ve ever been in, or weaving your way through a maze of wrecked commuter trains. Every level after the first just keeps getting better and better.
The “FEAR” moments are randomized and completely unpredictable, even on restarts or replays, so just because you saw Alma riding past you on that moving walkway in the airport one time doesn’t mean she’ll be there the next. Even the locations for the dead bodies of soldiers you can do your Psychic Link with are mixed up. There are a few in-your-face scares like steam hissing from a pipe or a soda machine spitting cans at you, but most of the scares are more subtle like a fleeting shadow on the wall, or an abandoned bloody stroller left in the hall, or a pile of dismembered bodies shoved into a men’s room stall.
F.E.A.R. 3 is a fantastic FPS game that blends exciting combat with plenty of scares and non-stop suspense. I loved the story and the way the brothers interacted, I loved the combat and the controls, and I loved all the great content that Day 1 Studios included to keep me coming back for more and more in both single and multiplayer. This is the best F.E.A.R. game since the first one and it may even be just a bit better. I’ll let you decide.