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F.E.A.R. 3 review

by Xav de Matos, Aug 01, 2011 3:15pm PDT

When Monolith first established the F.E.A.R. franchise in 2005, it was heralded for its challenging AI and terrifying atmosphere. Six years later, Alma and her sons have been adopted by developer Day 1 Studios for F.E.A.R. 3. But even in the hands of a new team, F.E.A.R. 3 manages to strike some of the core elements that made the original so exhilarating.

As before, the game's greatest strength comes in its moment-to-moment gun play. F.E.A.R. 3 puts players in intense matches against a varied set of educated computer opponents.

Some are better than others, though. The military-based enemies use strategy and numbers to flush players out of cover, making for some close-calls. This is where the combat shines. The more animalistic enemies--a zombie-like clan called Cultists--are less fun to deal with. Some, for example, have time bombs strapped to their chests and make suicide runs toward the player, bringing more frustration than challenge.

Combat is enhanced by a first-person cover mechanic that developer Day 1 Studios has adopted from other titles. As firefights can turn brutal against gun-toting adversaries, the cover system actually works well. Playing the game, I found more confidence in the sticky cover system than I had in other shooters, where cover typically means standing behind a piece of geometry and looking at wall textures until health is recovered. Instead, you'll be able to keep track of enemies whilst in cover, thanks to the ability to peek and shoot.

One element that F.E.A.R. has lost over time is its scares. F.E.A.R. 3, despite its name, is not even remotely startling. Alma returns in her numerous apparitions to spook the player, but the mystery shrouding the character is no longer there--the last visage of the young woman is more of a nuisance than a threat. She more resembles a little girl that has lost her puppy than one trying to murder me. This is especially disappointing because of the highly touted inclusion of cinematic scenes from legendary horror film director John Carpenter.

At the very least, Alma's appearance helps notify players they are going in the right direction. Given the level design in F.E.A.R. 3 crosses the line from confusing into inane, any kind of navigational help is much appreciated. In one department store level, for example, it took me far too long to find a ladder that was meant as my only passage to the next section. The levels themselves are seemingly a mish-mash of random areas with no logical link.

Much of the illogical design can be blamed on F.E.A.R. 3's equally inane story. The entire plot hinges on the sibling rivalry of Paxton Fettel and his brother, the absurdly named and silent "Point Man." Day 1 Studios manages to turn this sibling rivalry into a game mechanic, with players being awarded points for accomplishing tasks within the game's levels in co-op play. Whoever achieves the highest score is given favor as the dominant child by Alma at the end of the game, which triggers that son's specific ending. It's disappointing that more effort seems to have been put into the scoring mechanic (which I really enjoyed) than into the game's sense of horror.

The original game was scary for a number of reasons, but one of them was how intelligent and powerful the enemies were. F.E.A.R. 3, instead, offers challenge in numbers. In the original, I saved my slow-motion to pace myself against the AI and destroy them in style. In F.E.A.R. 3, I only ever really used the mechanic to thin the numbers. The enemies also have a tendency to telegraph their position with unintentionally hilarious one-liners that, I'm fairly certain, are not standard practice for trained security forces. Perhaps the Armacham military training program should encourage their soldiers not to proudly proclaim that they are the "last one left" when the rest of the squad gets murdered…just a friendly suggestion.

In spite of hiring a professional writer--30 Days of Night's Steve Niles--F.E.A.R. 3 cannot make sense of the franchise's scattershot mythology. The game attempts to rope fans in with nods to the previous games in the series, but it's ultimately a confusing mess whether or not you're a loyalist.

F.E.A.R. 3 features a number of multiplayer modes, many of them decent variants of the standard shooter fare. One in particular stands out: "Fucking Run." In this mode, a team of four players attempts to get from Point A to Point B, quickly downing enemies in their path as a giant wall of death follows them. It's so much fun that I hope its core concept will be adopted in other titles, much like Gears of War's Horde Mode was (a variant of which is also included in F.E.A.R. 3.).

Despite gripes on its proclivity for scores over scares, its muddled story, and confusing level design, I liked F.E.A.R. 3. It's obviously flawed; however, the combat is so much fun--thanks in large part to weapons that feel great, and satisfying mech gameplay--that it was difficult to put the game down. Co-op is the way to go, but for single-player fans, each of the brothers, Point Man and Fettel (whose levels unlock as they are completed in the campaign) offers an entirely different experience.

F.E.A.R. 3 might not pack the same frights as the original games in the series, but it does offer a great level of excitement. If you go in understanding the game will only scratch the primal 'combat itch,' F.E.A.R. 3 is worth checking out if you missed it in June.

[Ed's note: It's easy to let games slip by over the summer so Shacknews is checking out a few recent releases to let you know if you might be missing something special]


Disclosure: The F.E.A.R. 3 review is based on a retail version of the game for the Xbox 360, provided by Warner Bros Interactive.





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