Review

F.E.A.R. 3 Review (PS3)

For a game with its remit literally spelled out within its title, the original F.E.A.R was unsurprisingly hailed as one of the most chilling and atmospheric videogames of its generation (despite a notoriously repetitive industrial-office setting). Monolith’s focus on brutally strong teams of AI soldiers was countered with an incredibly satisfying arsenal of weaponry, whilst an aesthetically-pleasing bullet-time mode allowed for mid-air grenade detonation and pinpoint headshots. Ultimately though it was the story of genetically-modified soldier Point Man, his brother Paxton Fettel, and psychic child Alma that provided the inertia for the developer to spin those compellingly tense firefights into an 8 hour campaign, and it’s the return of all three of those characters that enables F.E.A.R 3 to attempt the same.

Making the most of the shocking conclusion to F.E.A.R 2 (and general apathy at the direction of that game), Day 1 Studios returns to the story of Point Man as he struggles to make his way out of Armachan control and into the epicenter of paranormal activity unleashed with that rather seismic conception. The recently-deceased Paxton pops up to get him out of a spot of bother early on, and an uneasy partnership forms between the two as they battle towards an inevitable conclusion that takes in their previous rivalry as well as their hosts. Conveniently, the inclusion of the brothers also provides a neat hook for a full co-op campaign, with soloists afforded the ability to play in Paxton’s unique style once each stage is complete.

It’s not like he needed it anyway

Rather crucially for devotees, although Monolith may have left the series for more interesting pastures, F.E.A.R 3 feels - and for the most part plays - exactly as fans will have hoped. It’s a comprehensive return to the action mechanics that graced the original, and for the most part all the better for it.

The arsenal of weaponry has been given a familiar sense of speedy heft, with a feedback loop and finely-tuned autoaim system (PS3 version tested) that marks it out as one of the more satisfying shooter engines to grace this console generation. Firefights are supremely tense thanks to a squad dynamic that refuses to adhere to the cover-and-hold routine touted by the competition, and if your entrails end up splayed on the floor it’s almost routinely going to be your own fault. Indeed, unless you’re a fan of the original, F.E.A.R. 3 may have pulled off a trick by being quite unlike anything else on the PS3 or 360; even on regular difficulty firefights can be brutally difficult until you appreciate the new set of rules laid before you, and the learning curve will be steep for those unaccustomed to the speed of thought necessary to outwit an enemy squad that correctly works as a team.

To counter that spike, the difficulty level is massaged neatly by your enemies shouting out exactly what they will be doing whenever they make an AI decision, and - further than that - the inclusion of a co-op partner absolutely levels the playing field. You get the feeling that much of F.E.A.R 3 was designed with this mode of play squarely in mind, and Paxton Fettel’s ability to soul-jack enemies introduces an element of chaos that can be used to disrupt squad tactics and toy with the AI. It’s an entertaining addition, and it makes the most of a campaign that - despite the dynamism of those firefights - eventually becomes relatively routine.

As for the plot; despite the best attentions of some celebrity scribes, in essence it all boils bullets and grenades being the definitive answer to some fairly light horror scenarios. The delivery mechanics are also poorly implemented, with diverse and colourful environments brought down to earth by a lack of decent in-engine storytelling and cutscenes that fall almost completely flat. It’s rare that you’ll know exactly what’s happening or why you’re in a specific location, and even rarer that the action musters up anything close to a genuine fright. The atmosphere has been firmly shifted from the tight-corridor industrial oppression that characterised the first, but the diversity of setting is never really used as a lot more than window dressing. There are a few shocks that will raise the pulse along the way, but anybody expecting psychological horror to the extent of a Dead Space will be bitterly disappointed.

An apparition too far

But then there’s multiplayer to save the day, and although limited to four modes with four players per game, it’s a surprisingly compelling suite.

Soul King involves playing as an apparition and possessing enemies, then murdering other soldiers and players for a cumulative points total that can be lost whenever you fall foul of gunfire. Lose your head at the end and it’s frustrating, pick up a last-gasp victory and it’s preictably brilliant. Soul Survivor is another wacky mode, casting one player as an apparition against three human opponents, with the end-goal of turning them all into an ethereal being before the clock counts down to zero. If you’re into the zombie mode in Halo or custom Mike Myers game types, you’ll feel naturally at home here

Rounding them out are Contractions and F**king Run, both of which are spawned from the same idea factory that sprang up in the wake of Left 4 Dead. Contractions is a wave-based defend-the-stronghold game type, with players scurrying to haul supplies in-between bouts in order to replenish weaponry or repair defences, whilst F**king Run is a supremely entertaining zombie assault-course of ever-increasing difficulty. It tasks you with constantly battling forwards as a team or getting lost in the chasing cloud of death. Leave no man behind if you can.

That’s the spirit

As good as they are though, it’s difficult to see a huge audience settling on F.E.A.R 3 multiplayer for a decent length of time, and despite a points system ranking everything you do, there is little in the way to draw people back in. What’s here is a fantastic diversion and certainly well worth spending an evening or two in the company of, but be aware that it might be a fling and not the new life partner that some hardcore gamers will be seeking.

Much of F.E.A.R 3 is commendable then, but ultimately a lack of polish and genuine investment in the campaign sees it fall a distance short of full potential. It’s the flipside of most modern console shooters in that it’s a supremely capable and entertaining engine in search of narrative content to hang off its threadbare frame, and a lack of interesting set pieces ultimately does it harm in a manner that can’t be ignored. If you’re the type of person that never pays attention to cutscenes or dialogue and just wants to shoot things however, mechanically there is little better out there for your PS3 or 360 at the moment. For everybody else though, be aware that F.E.A.R 3 will ultimately be a solid footnote in a year of fantastic marquee shooter releases.

Best Game Moment: Last-gasp slow-motion precision headshots.

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