Genre: First Person Shooter Developer: Day 1 Studios Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 1st Oct 2010 Platforms:
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Ok, I spent enough time harping on about this in my F.E.A.R. 2 review, so I'll get it out of the way quickly here. F.E.A.R. 3 isn't scary. Despite the input of John Carpenter and Steve Niles - legends in their field when it comes to horror - there was very little hope that Day 1 Studios would be able to make FEAR 3 scary, due to the very nature of the game itself.
Thanks to the tropes of the genre, action focused games - First Person Shooters in this case - aren't usually scary. Those with a memory worth a damn and an education in awesome games will remember System Shock 2 as an intensely scary experience, but it was scary thanks to the way it differed from First Person Shooters.
Earlier this year Dead Space 2 managed to create a genuine survival horror experience out of an other wise pretty standard (though spectacularly executed) action game - but it did this by teaching the player how the rules of the game worked, and then dragging them outside of this ruleset in its final act.
FEAR 3 attempts to create a true horror experience while staying a 'proper' FPS - and this is why it can't live up to its namesake. The FPS these days follows a pretty specific path, with a weak protagonist slowly but surely becoming more and more powerful (whether its through gained abilities or increasingly devastating weapons) until it culminates in an epic, explosive ending.
It's hard to make people afraid when around the next corner they pick up a gun which not only makes people cook from the inside out, but it arcs to the next closest person as well. The addition of coop gameplay is both the game's greatest boon and the final nail in the coffin of it being scary.
FEAR 3's coop isn't a regular, run of the mill you and a mate play at the same time type affair. You're not both Master Chief clones, bouncing around doing identical things. FEAR 3 puts one of you in the shoes of the hilariously named Point Man (honestly, if DC can retcon it so Hal Jordan was possessed by Parallax, someone at WB could have given Point Man a real name) while the other embodies Paxton Fettel, Point Man's brother (who you shot in the head at the end of FEAR).
Paxton Fettel is a ghost now, which only serves to amplify his creepiness. While Point Man plays the typical shooter role, shooting things, Paxton ghosts it up by taking advantage of telekinesis, possessing people (and then exploding out of them) and shooting soul balls at people. If you choose to not explode out of your new human shell you can make it shoot its former cohorts.
The addition of Paxton Fettel does amazing things for the gameplay, but it's not until you play the game in single player until you realise exactly how crucial he is to the game's formula. With a decent player filling the shoes of your second player the game has a very reasonable learning curve. On your own it's a frustrating epic of trial and error as you struggle with enemy AI which specifically wants to kill you.
Yep, the AI is good enough that without a second person around to act as a distraction it's very easy for you to be overwhelmed until you learn the specific way you're supposed to beat any given set piece. When you're playing the game in Coop the fact that the default difficulty is 'hard' isn't an issue at all, because each situation has an element of dynamism to them. In SP it's purely trial and bloody error, and it's a beacon burning brightly, testifying to the idea that the game is meant to be played in coop first and foremost.
Actually the multiplayer focus is painted clearly across every aspect of the game. I finished the singleplayer campaign in around four and a half to five hours - I probably would have been quicker but for the trial and error aspect. There's replayability in the formula thanks to the ability to go back and play levels as Paxton Fettel, and the story - while short - has its moments, but the bulk of any time spent playing FEAR 3 will definitely be in online multiplayer.
There are four game modes in FEAR 3's multiplayer offering. The controversially titled 'F**king Run' combines the fast-paced action of Left 4 Dead with the perpetual motion of those levels in Super Mario where a wall keeps pushing you forward. It's a cool spin on introducing a sense of urgency to the horde style of gameplay.
Speaking of horde style gameplay - Contractions is exactly that. It seems influenced more by the Zombie modes of Treyarch's Call of Duty games than anything else, but it still does a great job of infusing tension into a four-player cooperative experience by getting Alma to roam around ruining your day as well.
The third is Soul Survivor, where one player starts out as a ghost and everyone else is a soldier. The level is littered with AI enemies as well, so the ghost winds up possessing people a little at random while they try to find the other humans. I was reminded of a deadlier version of the epic Half-Life 2 mod Suicide Survival - though obviously FEAR 3's implementation is nowhere near as hilarious.
The last is the extremely competitive Soul King. Everyone is a ghost here, and the challenge is to collect as many souls as possible. You collect souls by killing AI enemies - you can possess these enemies as well, allowing you to get your hands on a proper weapon.
The competition heats up when you realise that upon death you drop a crapload of souls, and as souls are points - your death means your score is lowered. You do the math very quickly and realise that your opponents death means their score drops - and it quickly becomes a free-for-all race to kill literally anything that moves.
The strategy ramps up when it becomes apparent that the souls that are dropped don't disappear - you can pick them up to add to your own score. Or you can leave the souls there as bait for a greedy little ghost - and then you get even more souls!
As much as I enjoyed playing coop with others it's easy to see the heart of FEAR 3 is in its multiplayer. By eschewing typical multiplayer modes in the stead of their own creative work Day 1 Studios has definitely created a quirky spin on competitive and cooperative multiplayer. No, F.E.A.R. 3 isn't scary - but considering the length of the singleplayer and the strength of the multiplayer, I don't think it really matters.