Point Man, Alma Wade, Paxton Fettel, any of these names sound familiar? If you’re a gamer then they should. Dating back to 2005, the F.E.A.R. series has been a staple of gaming for years now. Originally a huge hit on the PC, once the next-gen consoles were released the horror based FPS started to make the jump to HD. After two official titles in the franchise and a couple of expansion packs, Day 1 Studios and Monolith Productions now bring us F.E.A.R. 3, a full fledged sequel to 2009′s F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.
Admittedly, the only games that I’ve played in the series were the original F.E.A.R. and its sequel, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. My last encounter with the franchise was in 2009 and I haven’t dallied in the thrilling adventures of Alma Wade and Armacham Technology Corporation for some time now.
Due to this, I was a bit rusty on the story, background and mythology surrounding the series. If you’re like me, and you’re feeling a bit out of the loop with the latest going ons of Point Man and his telepathic, cannibalistic brother Paxton Fettel, allow me to brief you on what’s going on here.
In F.E.A.R. 3 you take on the role of Point Man, a genetically enhanced super soldier and the protagonist from the original F.E.A.R. Things pick up pretty quickly after the horrifying and shocking events that took place during the conclusion of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. Alma has been impregnated by the protagonist in the last game, Michael Becket. For fear that Alma’s child will be even more powerful than her, Point Man sets out with the aid of Paxton to stop Alma from giving birth.
If you can’t already tell, this is a terrible time to jump into the series. If you’re using F.E.A.R. 3 as your first foray into this exciting and chilling world, you’re going to be lost. The story won’t answer any of your questions and you’re going to be utterly confused as you try to piece together questions like who is Alma, what happened with her, what Paxton’s deal etc. The story doesn’t do a whole lot to comfort those who are new to the series and it’s clearly aimed at those who know their F.E.A.R. mythology and backstory.
As is standard for most horror games, F.E.A.R. 3 has eerie music and chilling sound effects, truly suspenseful moments, unnerving settings and heart-pounding action. Distant screams, objects flying across the room, flashes of Alma, walls covered in blood and jump scares round off the horror elements and it makes for a pretty great atmosphere. This is a game that begs to be played alone, in the dark and with the sound turned up.
That being said, the game fails to truly scare. It’s tense and a bit creepy but there are never any real scares to be had here. Alma suddenly appearing on my screen may have scared me in 2005 but by now I’m practically expecting it. The mechanics here that are supposed to scare feel dated and don’t really do their job.
On a purely aesthetic level though, the game works and like I said, it is genuinely creepy, just don’t expect anything truly scary. It also doesn’t help that the enemies are fairly typical and don’t really help to up the horror factor. You’ll face, soldiers, mechs, cannibals etc but none of them really stand out as frightening.
Truth be told, this is a serious problem since F.E.A.R. 3 is really no different than any other shooter on the market. I was relying on its horror elements to distinguish it from the pack but seeing as they don’t do their job, F.E.A.R. 3 turns into just another recycled shooter, providing gameplay that we’ve seen and played through hundreds of times already.
Admittedly, it is satisfying and by no means is this a poorly made game, it’s just not terribly unique. Level design is quite good and detail is often impressive. One level in particular that takes place in a department store is absolutely excellent and aside from a few lazy design choices that lead to some head scratching in regards to where you should go next, gamers can expect solid levels to in which they can carry out their death dealing.
Tight controls, well balanced weapons, satisfying combat and a fluid cover system do make for an enjoyable single player campaign but it’s just a shame that there’s nothing new here. The game doesn’t break any new ground or stand out in any way. What’s here is good and what it does do it does well but this is all stuff that has been done so many times before.
Sure, we get the slow motion gimmick but once again, it may have been cool in 2005 but at this point it’s been done to death. It does make the already awesome blood/gore effects look even cooler but still, slow motion is nothing new and won’t impress anyone anymore.
Dated visuals and an awfully short campaign (5-7 hours and even quicker in co-op) are just two more additions to the list of things wrong with the game and overall, the single player portion of F.E.A.R. 3 feels very average. It’s not necessarily bad and it’s far from unenjoyable, it just feels very “been there, done that” and in a world where the FPS market is over-cluttered, the game really needs to provide something that will make it stand above the rest.
Now, there are two features here that I would be remiss not to mention. The first is the ability to play as Paxton, you can do this one of two ways. Every time you beat a level you unlock Paxton as a playable character for that stage. You can go back through and play as him in your single player campaign, or you can give the game’s co-op mode a spin and hope that your friend lets you choose Paxton.
You see, playing as Point Man is pretty standard stuff. Shoot, take cover, use Slo-Mo etc. Playing as Paxton though, well that’s a whole different beast. He can possess soldiers and use other neat paranormal techniques that enable him to cause mass havoc, which makes for a much more exciting character. The two play styles (Paxton and Point Man) compliment each other well and they make for a thoroughly satisfying co-op experience. Whether it’s in single player or co-op, make sure you give Paxton a spin, he’s so different that it almost makes for a whole new game.
Another neat feature is the scoring system, which works in both single player, co-op and multiplayer. As you play, you score points for doing various thing. Whether it’s killing x number of enemies from cover or killing x number of enemies with a certain weapon, you’ll get points. Eventually you’ll rank up and gain perks which will make you more powerful both online and off. You’ll be able to stay in slow motion for longer, increase your health etc. It’s not totally original but it’s a welcome addition and may provide for some replayability.
One more thing that I should probably mention about the single player is that it features some fantastic AI that provides a fair challenge and never feels cheap or irritating. It’s challenging in a good way and it actually made the game a lot more enjoyable. They’ll flank you, take proper cover, use smart tactics etc. It was actually nice to see smart AI and while F.E.A.R. 3, even on the normal setting, is more difficult than most of the games out there, I didn’t mind it. It’s never unfair and it always feels balanced.
Aside from the single player and co-op, we do get four unique multiplayer modes (which allow for up to four players each) that steer away from the typical shooter fare. Included here are Contractions, F**king Run!, Soul Survivor, and Soul King. It should be noted though that to fully experience the online play, you have to buy the game brand new and get one of those stupid online passes that a lot of games are including nowadays.
Anyways, as for the multiplayer, here’s what we have. Contractions is Horde meets Nazi Zombies, the formula works and it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours. F**king Run, which is probably the most fun, puts you in a squad of four and has you dispatching enemies while a giant cloud of death chases behind you. You have to be quick and efficient or you risk being swallowed up by the quickly approaching cloud. Co-operative play is a must here since one person’s death means game over. It’s intense, enjoyable and easily the highlight out of the online modes.
Rounding things out are Soul Survivor and Soul King which take on a more supernatural element, giving you the ability to possess other players. Soul King is kind of free for all while Soul King has one player starting off possessed and their goal is to corrupt the other three players. The non-possessed people have to try and survive as long as possible and fend off their possessed teammates. Trust me, it’s not as fun as it sounds.
While the multiplayer is unique, it feels like more of a novelty. It’s fun at first but I really don’t see much longevity here. The two Soul modes are just confusing, too frantic and not really worth spending time in and Contractions is fine but Nazi Zombies and Horde do the same thing and they do it better. Like I said, the highlight is F**king Run and while it’s great at first and truly exciting, how many times can you actually play it before growing tired of it?
As much as people complain about the same old multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag, there’s a reason that they’ve been around for so long, and that’s because they work. While I appreciate the attempt to give us something different, at least include the option of playing classic multiplayer modes for those of us who like to stick with what we know.
Anyways, that just about does it for F.E.A.R. 3. It’s not the worst game in the world and it certainly has a few things working in its favor. The combat is satisfying, the AI is great and the game boasts some well done level design and a very creepy atmosphere. The thing is, there just isn’t anything here that stands out for me. Nothing here justifies the $69.99 price tag. That’s a lot of money to pay for a game that I feel like I’ve payed 1000 times before. And with so many other options out there, F.E.A.R. 3 just isn’t worth your time or money. Unless you’re a big fan of the series, I’d skip it.