Terminator portals are a go.
First Encounter Assault Recon proved scares were still relevant in the expanding shooter market. Tactical, unmatched adversaries and lumbering mechs served as the least of Point Man's problems when facing a psychopathic brother and a vegetative mother transmitting haunting visions to his psyche. Much of the story resolved itself by credit's end despite one last jump scare starring Alma, and F.E.A.R. 2 left many more questions unanswered. What would become of Michael Becket? What role would the pregnant Alma play? What happened to Point Man? Those questions are answered in the sequel, yet F.E.A.R. 3 still raises just as many.
The narrative begins with Point Man being interrogated by a group of soldiers in an Armacham prison, with no explanation for how he got there. Smitten with a stroke of brotherly love, Paxton Fettel shows up to break his brother out of the asylum and reunite with their maniacal mother. The coming plot borders on convoluted and unexciting. Alma’s contractions threaten to alter the reality of time and space and replace it with her own, but instead of dealing with the pregnant Alma, the two brothers work together to locate Becket and confront the demon of their past, Harlan Wade. The conclusion is highly anticlimactic, but there are two different endings based upon the character the player is controlling. Suffice to say, the brothers' dialogue is brazenly awkward. Players finally get to see Point Man’s face, yet he refuses to utter a single word even when being questioned. Point Man just stands idly by as Fettel belittles him or his actions.
The original F.E.A.R. set the bar for intelligent AI and crippling hallucinations that would keep gamers awake at night. Strolling down a hallway that unexpectedly bursts into flames while a little girl in a torn red dress bathes in the inferno delivered exhilarating frights that still tease my subconscious. Sadly, the scare tactics that Monolith worked so hard to create have been thrown aside in favor of cheap jump scares. Like Resident Evil 4, F.E.A.R. 3 has abandoned the horror roots of its predecessors in exchange for a more action-oriented narrative. Alma makes the occasional appearance, and demons lurk in the shadows every now and again, but not once did I jump in surprise. With a name like F.E.A.R., I should be huddled in a ball ready to slip a blanket over my head at a moment's notice, not competing to see if I can beat my friend's high score on the leaderboards.
Alma is still the same unhinged monster from the previous games.
Cooperative play grants player one control of Point Man and player two control of Paxton Fettel. Both brothers working together to take down Armacham soldiers and cultists provides a shockingly fun experience atypical to the series Monolith built. Point Man retains his ability to slow down time, but Fettel’s phantom abilities keep the gameplay diverse. Fettel can offer a helping hand by firing psychic energy blasts, absorbing damage from Point Man, possessing soldiers, levitating victims, or popping enemies like giant meat balloons. Both players work to outdo the other in terms of points, and the player with most at the end of each level is awarded the title of “Favorite Son.” With only eight intervals (levels), the campaign left my teammate and I unsatisfied after our four-hour completion time.
With a new developer in charge of the project, F.E.A.R. 3’s environments are more varied than its predecessors. Gone are the stale treks through monotonous sewer tunnels, shoddy office buildings, and abandoned apartment complexes. Instead, Day 1 Studios threw a wrench into the mix. No two locales look the same, as players fight through the prison in the midst of its destruction, favelas that brought back memories of Modern Warfare 2, a supermarket redecorated by a community of cultists, and the military-occupied town of Fairport. Players will finally see the light of day, but even those environments come at a price. The foreboding atmosphere Monolith Productions established in previous F.E.A.R. entries no longer reeks of death and isolation, but is completely missing in action.
Cooperating with others provides a nice point incentive.
Like Brink (but better), players accrue points across single-player, multiplayer, and cooperative play to upgrade each brother and earn rewards. Meeting challenge requirements, such as killing enemies with select firearms or waiting behind cover for several seconds, also doles out a nice point bonus. Rank rewards include increases in health, slow-mo/possession time, and more ammo clips for your weapons. But at a maximum of 21 ranks, two story playthroughs provide more than enough experience to reach the level cap. Throughout the campaign, smoking bodies called Psychic Links litter the landscape. Players can establish a link to these bodies for easy points and either share or steal said points in co-op, but the game never explains the importance of these corpses.
Gamers that tire of the brief single-player have something to look forward to in terms of multiplayer. F.E.A.R. 3 abandons the traditional deathmatch and team deathmatch classics for modes like Soul King, which gives players control of a Spectre, a ghastly phantasm that can possess humans and jump from body to body like Fettel. Contestants are tasked with eliminating soldiers and cultists to collect the souls that drop from every dead body; the tougher the enemy, the more points earned from each soul. The competition is fierce; players can eliminate their fellow competitors to make them drop a majority of their souls upon death or work together to bring down the player with the most souls, called the King, as he or she is highlighted for everyone else to see.
Contractions is F.E.A.R.’s take on Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies. Players fend off a mixture of Armacham forces and cultists as each wave brings tougher enemies to the fight. At the end of a wave, barricades can be repaired and crates brought back to the base for new weapons and ammo. Alma occasionally makes an unwanted appearance. Come into contact with her as she wanders the battlefield and she’ll teleport you, blind you, or inhibit your movements.
You see that Wall of Death? Run!
Unfortunately, the two best modes, Soul Survivor and F**king Run, are locked unless you redeem the online pass or cough up $10. Soul Survivor is similar to Soul King, but one person begins as the Spectre, who must then possess soldiers to exterminate and turn the remaining players into kindred ghouls. F**king Run remains the star of the show, though. Players must cooperate to annihilate soldiers as they run from Alma’s Wall of Death, a bellowing cloud of dust and skulls not unlike a roaring twister. Knowing when to pick fights with the oblivious guards is the key to survival, and safe rooms offer the only protection. Stay in one area too long and you’ll soon hear the advancing storm breathing down your neck. Watch each others' backs, for if one should fall prey to the wall of terror, the game ends.
Despite F.E.A.R. 3’s flaws, the game is still a solid shooter, but fans will find the absence of narrative scares and daylight settings disagreeable. The co-op feature adds replay value to the brief campaign as Fettel’s powers easily overshadow Point Man’s. The assorted multiplayer offerings could be more memorable with the exception of an online pass negating access to the sole worthwhile mode. I enjoyed my time with F.E.A.R. 3 but, regrettably, not for the reasons that initially drew me into the series.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative), 2-4 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC