Theme parks tend to feature a number of rides that, save for a few different props, are essentially the same ride. There’s the pirates ride, the futuristic sci-fi ride and, of course, the haunted house ride. They all rely on sudden dips, disorientating twists, sharp turns and the odd mechanised prop pouncing out at you; all that makes one ride any different from any other, at the end of the day, is its imagery.
It’s a rather awful analogy (sorry), but F.E.A.R. 3 is kinda like the haunted-house ride of first-person shooters. At its most basic core, it’s a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare-style shooter, but with some forced and, frankly, poorly executed attempts at horror imagery as some kind of differentiator. By establishing such an action-packed mechanics as the platform for your ‘horror’ game, you’re rather ironically removing much of the ‘fear’ from it. Simply put, the staples of the horror genre are just not represented in F.E.A.R. 3; there’s no heightened importance on resource management (particularly
ammunition), it encourages a fast approach, and you never feel particularly underpowered against your enemies. In fact, you spend a great deal of time feeling decidedly overpowered thanks to your own supernatural abilities and the power-armour suits you’ll routinely run into. Perhaps it’s you who should be feared. Secondly, the very slogan brandished on much of the game’s promotional material – never face F.E.A.R. alone – highlights the second aspect that ensures that it’s never a terrifying experience. Together, you’re a force to be reckoned with.
So it’s not particularly scary. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on to the fact that F.E.A.R. 3 is actually a half-decent shooter in spite of itself. Borrowed almost wholesale from Call of Duty, the control scheme is instantly familiar (right down to the aim, sprint and melee commands), and it works a treat. The gunplay is rather satisfying, with a well-executed (if a little unnecessary) cover mechanic and a slow-mo bullet-time ability (when playing as Point Man, that is). The AI is actually better than that of most shooters; it’s not going to set the world on fire, but your enemy will, for example, employ diversionary tactics while their squad mates attempt to flank you from your cover. It’s no simple shooting gallery, which is worthy of some praise.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of F.E.A.R. 3, though, is its emphasis on a cooperative/competitive campaign, with the players assuming the roles of two vastly different characters. Both of the characters are the sons of the supernatural Alma, the creepy-looking girl (clearly influenced by Samara of horror film The Ring) who is central to the frankly ridiculous plot of the F.E.A.R. series. There’s Point Man, who is – for better or worse – your standard first-person-shooter archetype. He’s a soldier with supernaturally enhanced reflexes and the aforementioned bullet-time ability. And then there’s Fettel, his dark and twisted brother, who has the ability to possess and control many of the enemies you’ll encounter. Fettel seems underpowered at first as he can’t wield weaponry in his native form, but his true power comes from the tactical advantage he brings to the equation. For instance, assuming control of a soldier at the other end of the room (provided you have line of sight) allows Point Man and Fettel to clear a room with a devastating pincer movement. Together, Point Man and Fettel can make use of their abilities in interesting and sometimes complementary ways: with a helping hand, you can also make use of the aforementioned diversionary flanking tactic; Fettel can levitate an enemy from cover, presenting an ample opportunity for Point Man to dispatch him. You’ll work together, but ultimately you’re competing for points in a bid to be the ‘favourite son’ at the end of each level. You can aid yourself in this task by choosing to keep for yourself any collectibles found throughout the game (where the points can otherwise be shared equally) and also by ticking off various challenges in each level (such as achieving a certain number of kills by headshot, with a certain weapon and so on). At first, you’re forced to play as Point Man if you play through solo, but you’ll unlock the ability to select Fettel as you complete each level, so there are grounds for at least two playthroughs here, three if you can find a co-op partner.
But aside from this admittedly rather fun take on co-op, F.E.A.R. 3 is another fairly vanilla shooter when it comes to its core campaign. The weapons, enemies and firefights are fairly repetitive, only broken up by the occasional power-armour section. And the story is too convoluted and nonsensical to really draw you in.
It’s a good thing, then, that the game’s multiplayer component constitutes another area of genuine surprise. Boldly, there are no ‘team deathmatch’ frag-fests here. In fact, there are only two adversarial game types out of four on offer: ‘Soul King’ sees all players assume the role of ‘spectres’ who must possess AI soldiers littered around the map and use them to kill each other, while ‘Soul Survivor’ is much the same except that it tasks one player as the sole spectre. Finally, there are two co-operative game modes, which are arguably the highlights of the multiplayer package. ‘Contractions’ is a blatant but well-executed Call of Duty ‘zombies’ rip-off where four players hole up in a base area and defend against waves of increasingly more difficult enemies. In between waves, you must choose to either board up any entry points to your base (sound familiar?) or venture out into the open in a hunt for much-needed supplies. F.E.A.R. 3’s original offering, however, is a mode charmingly named ‘F**king Run’: up to four players must evade an approaching, all-consuming "wall of death” (a wave of smoke) through obstacles and hordes of enemies. If just one player is smothered by the fog, it’s game over. It’s a particularly hectic game mode and, quite possibly, F.E.A.R. 3’s crown jewel. Four multiplayer modes may not sound like much, but there’s just the right amount of variety on offer to keep it fairly interesting. However, there’s no real telling if this particular multiplayer community has legs in the long-term.
The biggest favour you can do yourself when playing F.E.A.R. 3, perhaps, is to accept that it’s no more a horror game than a Stephen King straight-to-television flick is a horror film. What it is, though, is a surprisingly playable military shooter with some tacked-on paranormal imagery. Perhaps the only real ‘fear’ represented in this product is the fear on the part of Day 1 Studios to deviate from the tried-and-true FPS formula. I maintain that a good FPS horror game is possible. This is merely a good FPS game.
Classification: R18 – Contains graphic violence and offensive language.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (tested)
Lasting appeal: 8/10
Overall score: 7.5/10