F.E.A.R. 3 Review
From the start, the F.E.A.R. series has blended FPS and horror elements into an intoxicating concoction. The titles in question aren’t always technically superior and have often been criticized for being too short, but the dark, creepy storylines and mesmerizing atmospheres usually managed to carry the day. The third installment follows these guidelines but takes a few more steps in the right direction: this includes the added longevity thanks to co-op, another playable character for the campaign, and refreshing multiplayer modes. Furthermore, despite a few obvious drawbacks, the game is well worth playing from a solo perspective.
While it’s unfortunate that F.E.A.R. 3 utilizes a dated visual presentation, developer Day 1 Studios gets a surprising amount of mileage out of that engine. These days, shooters are more “voluptuous;” they are bigger, rounder, more intricately detailed, and more realistic. These graphics are flatter, thinner, and lack definition; i.e., they remind me of spruced-up Half-Life graphics. However, I don’t want to give the wrong impression: the devs do a hell of a lot with this style, as the level design is good, there’s a really impressive amount of effort involved with the special effects, and you’re always sucked into the environment. It’s just plain freaky.
In regards to the sound, the voice performances are solid throughout and although the effects don’t quite resonate the way they should, this game often puts stereos to the test. The ambient background effects are stellar and enhance the creepiness. The soundtrack is also fitting, but I do believe it insists upon itself a little too often; it demands to be a highlight – and it often is – but I think it overshoots at times. This all being said, when you combine the effective technical presentation, with some seriously wacked-out imagery, great design concepts, and audio that keeps you on the edge of your seat, F.E.A.R. 3 becomes difficult to put down.
Make no mistake: despite the horror themes, this game is a shooter first and foremost. But that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a really well-paced, appropriately frightening adventure that sports a few surprising bonuses. You play as Point Man (the protagonist from the original title in the franchise) and you and Fettel set off to discover your terrifying pasts, and stop the evil Alma from giving birth to a destructive abomination. Those familiar with this series know all about Alma and I won’t go into exhaustive detail concerning the plot; no spoilers here! Let’s just say the story, with the assistance of horror guru John Carpenter, is nicely implemented and often riveting during key sequences.
The game plays like most any other shooter, although along with the dated technical elements comes a slightly dated mechanic. I don’t want to pick on it too much, though, as the basic controls and physics are more than acceptable, and there’s a pleasant fluidity to the gameplay. The default button layout is just a tad strange but it isn’t difficult to adapt, although the difficulty itself might catch a few gamers off guard. The truth is, because the game is designed to be enjoyed by both a solo player and a two-player tandem, the single-player quest is a significant challenge. The good news is that such a challenge doesn’t feel cheap or irritating; it’s simply tough, and you have to rise to the challenge.
In order to spice up this essentially straightforward FPS, the team has instituted several features: the first is the atmosphere and artistic style, which really can’t be overstated in terms of importance. The second is a Challenge system that governs character advancement: completing various Challenges – getting so many kills with a certain weapon, staying in cover for a particular amount of time, achieving so many headshots, etc. – nets you points, and those points act as experience. When you have enough, you’ll Rank Up and reap the rewards; it could be an elongated slo-mo bar or bigger clip size; things like that.
And yes, that’s the third major feature, even if it’s not exactly fresh in this day and age- the slo-mo. By pressing the Triangle button, you enable this mode, which lets you easily target enemies and lay waste to small armies of gun-toting baddies. It’s not the innovative, crowd-pleasing mechanic it used to be, but it’s plenty functional and a good deal of fun. The fourth and last feature is the fact that, upon completing a level with Point Man, you can then play through again as Fettel. And no, it’s not the same experience; Fettel has possession abilities so things can go absolutely bonkers. Hence, those 8 stages sort of become 16. Sort of.
In addition to the satisfying campaign, which can also be played co-op locally or online, there’s the multiplayer. Normally, I don’t care much about it but F.E.A.R. 3 has a lot of surprises in store. There can be only four players but the distinctness and uniqueness of the modes makes up for that. Take F***ing Run, for instance: you and your team have to run from a ceaseless wave of enemies and smoke; it’s a frantic dash to safety. Then there’s Soul King, which is all about possessing people to gain the advantage, and Soul Survivor, where one player is secretly made into a ghost, and can possess other players. That one guy has to turn his three teammates undead before time runs out.
It’s really cool stuff and that’s saying something, coming from me. I’ve just become so bored with so much of the multiplayer in recent shooters, you know? Now, F.E.A.R. 3 certainly has its moments, as you might expect, but there are problems. First of all, that aforementioned challenge can get on one’s nerves after a while. Then there’s the crack-shot AI. Now, for the record, that AI in the campaign is surprisingly bright; they’ll flank and assault your position on a routine basis. This makes for a dynamic and difficult experience, but because they will always hit you even if you stick your nose around a corner; you have to be extremely cautious. And this detracts from the fun a little bit.
The camera could also get all crazy in certain situations, but only when lodged in a cramped space and that was rare. Tossing grenades is nowhere near accurate enough, either, and the frequent onslaught of enemies can grow tiresome. This repetitiveness hampers the freshness of the game’s style and attitude, too. Still, Day 1 breaks up the action and lets you breathe here and there and as I said before, the pacing – for both the gameplay and story – is really damn good. I suppose one could also complain more about the outdated graphical effort but personally, I’m not counting that deficiency as a critical error. The game succeeds in painting a certain picture.
And that picture is plain: fear. Er…F.E.A.R. This third entry has a lot going for it and fans of the series should be pleased. The extra longevity with Fettel as a playable character and those awesome multiplayer modes makes the $60 price tag more agreeable. The controls are tight and responsive, the story is well-written and intriguing, that continuous fear factor is a huge bonus, and the Challenge system for ranking up forces you to experiment. I’m not the biggest fan of forced experimentation but in this case, it works beautifully. The technical stuff is a little old-fashioned, the AI never misses a shot, and the difficulty and enemy waves can get exhausting.
Those latter shortcomings keep F.E.A.R. 3 from being an elite, top-tier production. But they’re certainly not enough to keep me from recommending it. Give it a try. Come on, there’s nothing really pressing for a while, right?
The Good: Effective, spine-tingling sound. Smooth, reliable controls. Decent storyline. Pacing is excellent. Atmosphere is very immersive. Extra longevity is very appreciated. Multiplayer is a definite plus.
The Bad: Dated technical foundation. Tossing grenades is iffy. AI never misses a shot. Difficulty and enemy onslaught can get tedious.
The Ugly: “Well, there’s a ton of ‘ugly,’ but that’s sorta the point.”
6/21/2011 Ben Dutka