F.E.A.R. 3 First Look Preview

Given the winding road it took to

Given the winding road it took to reunite the F.E.A.R. name with its original developer, Monolith, for the sequel, it strikes me as odd that just as quickly a new developer has been given the reins for a third game.

Day 1 Studios, who takes over for F.E.A.R. 3, has worked closely Monolith and developed the 360 and PS3 versions of the original F.E.A.R. Even so, it inherits a complicated story that proved tough for its creators to keep serious, of a massive military experiment to create psychic super-soldiers gone horribly wrong. To that end, '30 Days of Night' writer Steve Niles has been brought in to help pen the story and horror film director Jon Carpenter is consulting on the cinematic scenes.

This next chapter in that story sets up nine months after the events in F.E.A.R. 2--and not by coincidence. Alma, the super-psychic girl at the center of the experiments to harness paranormal power, is about to give birth. Her contractions are throwing off massive waves of psychic energy that threaten to tear the world apart. This brings her first two sons together in an unlikely alliance to stop her. It's an uneasy arrangement that goes deeper than sibling rivalry. One of the two, the "Point Man", the playable character in the original game, killed the other, Paxton Fettel, who was the focus of the psychic-soldiers gone awry in that game.

Beside continuing the tale of this dysfunctional family, Day 1 uses this relationship as the basis for designing the story mode of the game to be played by two people cooperatively. It's a bold move for a game that has played so much on the dramatic tension of confronting the unknown alone. The design team knows this and once they decided they wanted to make a co-op experience, immediately got down to figuring out how to keep it as intense as the previous games.

Their answer is what they term "divergent" co-op.

On the one hand there's the Point Man who plays much as he did in the first game. A highly-trained commando, he wields any firearm he can get his hands on, packs a lethal set of melee moves, and uses his signature slow-mo ability to dilate time. His dead brother Fettel, though, as a ghost brings a whole new set of skills to the game. In spectral form he can stun enemies with a mental blast or suspend them in midair, making them sitting ducks for the Point Man. But his most interesting trick allows him to temporarily possess any human enemy he comes across.

Watching F.E.A.R. 3 demoed for the first time the potential for dynamic play between the two came across well. Fettel adds an interesting twist whether stunning enemies to make them easier targets or possessing a well-armed soldier in the midst of a firefight and causing complete chaos by turning on his comrades. At the same time, though the firefights were as frenetic as ever, having a partner to work with gave the impression that there was always someone there to bail the other out, and that's just in combat.

Different or not, having a partner will alter the feel of the game and could undermine the F.E.A.R.-ness of it. Also, as it currently stands--they said they'd like to work on this if time allows--while the game can be played solo as well, only the Point Man is playable and Fettel's role is reduced to appearing in story cutscenes but not fighting alongside.

On the other hand, mech combat is back as well and tromping around with a buddy in heavily armed power suits, laying waste to everything, looked pretty fun. They also showed off some interesting ways Fettel can be used to support the Point Man in a mech by swapping to different specialist enemies, like a rocket-equipped soldier.

It's going to tough to get a read on F.E.A.R. 3 short of the full game but in the meantime I should get to play it soon and at least see how the combat feels. That could go a long way because for the moment, I'm not quite sure what to make of F.E.A.R. 3.

F.E.A.R. 3 is scheduled for release on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this fall.

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