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F.E.A.R. 3

Score: 78%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

F.E.A.R. 3 looks a lot like previous games in the franchise -- perhaps too much like them. Very few of the environments presented feel fresh, and most of them feel like retreads. Fortunately, the game does look good in action; enemies move with purpose and urgency, and the gunplay is fast and bloody. The hallucination and jump scare scenes don't fulfill their purposes very well, but they are executed with style. I never thought I'd ever write (or say) anything like this, but the game is at its most impressive when its primary antagonist suffers from uterine contractions. Waves of psychic energy crash over the town of Fairport, and you get the sense that the entire world is about to go to Hell in a handbasket. My favorite part of the game's visuals has to do with Paxton's ghostly form, which smolders with a sinister crimson aura. Overall, though, F.E.A.R. 3 fails to measure up to current visual standards.

F.E.A.R. 3 doesn't do a particularly good job of frightening or even unnerving the player, but the sound is the one element that comes closest to selling the scares. The ambience is impressive, and the music is very fitting for Point Man and Paxton Fettel's grisly adventure. The weapons don't sound nearly as vicious as they did in the first game; in fact, that part of the sound design is about the only part that has decreased in quality. Voice acting is decent, though most of it is delivered in extremely gruff tones. Paxton Fettel talks as if he knows exactly how messed up he is, and that's really saying something. Point Man remains mute, however; it would have been nice to have some back-and-forth between the two brothers, but instead, all the speech in F.E.A.R. 3 comes across like the dialogue in a Valve game like Half-Life 2 or Portal. Glenn Danzig's "Mother" plays during the credits. If that's not a fitting song, I don't know what is.


Gameplay:

I've never been able to get into the F.E.A.R. franchise's story. I played through both the first and second installments, and while I appreciated them for their gameplay strengths, the storytelling always let me down. F.E.A.R. 3 didn't change any of that for me, though the setup is intriguing. This concluding chapter features two protagonists, both of whom were major players in the first game. The first is Point Man, the silent protagonist of the first game. He's been captured by Armacham, the sinister technology corporation responsible for the psychic terror known as Alma Wade. The other major player is kind of a surprise: it's Paxton Fettel, Point Man's biological brother. Why is this a surprise? Well, F.E.A.R. ended with Point Man putting a bullet between Pax's eyes. Apparently, someone with as strong a psychic presence as Paxton's can live on as a somewhat corporeal ghost. His motivations are unknown, but he and his brother form an uneasy partnership and strike out to find their mother, Alma, who is now about to give birth.

I'm going to get this out of the way: F.E.A.R. 3 is not scary. As a horror game, it fails, and miserably at that. Gone are the days when games could get away with playing tricks on your perception of the world around you. Furthermore, cheap jump scares just don't cut it anymore. What's worse is that many of the scares aren't ever explained. For example, as the game progresses, new enemies show up that aren't exactly human. Why and how? We never find out, but hey, monsters are fun, right?

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's go into what does work in F.E.A.R. 3: the gunplay. Enemies think on their feet and are generally well aware of their surroundings and predicaments. However, Point Man and Fettel are the progeny of a walking freakshow, and are more than capable of crushing anyone (and anything) that Armacham throws their way. And let's not forget: this game was built from the ground up to support two-player co-op over Xbox Live.

F.E.A.R. 3's multiplayer is surprisingly uncompetitive. The modes offered are interesting and fit well within the fiction, but only one of them features objectives that the gaming populace has come to expect from modern first-person shooters. Contractions is the standard cooperative wave-based game that puts you and your friends in a fight for survival. Soul King puts up to four ghosts against each other. The objective is to possess a soldier, rack up the kills, and acquire the souls left behind. Soul Survivor encourages the F.E.A.R. squad to survive and escape the map while the ghosts do their best to take them out. Finally, F**cking Run! is pretty much what it sounds like. Everyone involved must run for their lives as the Wall of Death approaches from the rear. If one player dies, it's the end of the game. It's the antithesis of dog-eat-dog tactics, and it works quite well.


Difficulty:

On the default setting, F.E.A.R. 3 is a cakewalk until about the halfway point. Interval 05 contains the most difficult and frustrating part of the game. That would be fine if the scenario it presented wasn't so cheap and unforgiving. The final moments of Interval 05 have Point Man and Fettel going up again a giant mech. For some reason, the developers gave this mech a ridiculously large amount of health and decided to pull several fast ones on the player. Not only must you and your partner put up with the destructive power of the mech, but you must also (somehow) find a way to keep an eye open for regular grunts, who sneak in to raise havoc at the most inopportune moments. This sequence is painful and not fun at all.

Fortunately, the rest of F.E.A.R. 3 is a relative breeze to get through. It may not feature much in the way of genuine surprises, but it frequently encourages the player to use his/her character's abilities to overcome the odds.


Game Mechanics:

Playing through F.E.A.R. 3's campaign cooperatively with a friend is a joy, primarily because of how well Point Man and Fettel's abilities complement each other in gameplay. Point Man is the muscle; he's the guy who bursts into each room with guns blazing. He can sprint, vault, slide, and knife Armacham goons (and whatever else Fairport is currently playing host to) with ease. As in the first game, he can enter a kind of slow-motion trance, which can be activated with the touch of a button. Due to the psychic link between the brothers (or something like that), Paxton is also able to reap the full benefits of Point Man's enhanced reflexes. It's fun to play as Point Man, but it is a rather vanilla shooting experience. This is made worse by the comparatively uninteresting arsenal of weapons.

It's a given that F.E.A.R. 3 requires that you suspend your disbelief as you tear through its eight-or-so-hour campaign, but you might have to fundamentally change the way you think about ghosts. For starters, Paxton can be killed. This is kind of a headshaker, but I suppose this rule is in place to keep the game from being broken. Second, there are some perspective issues. All story sequences are seen through the eyes of Point Man for both players. Additionally, some story sequences imply that only Point Man can see Fettel, yet once he possesses a soldier, everyone else is instantly aware of it. Still, if your campaign includes Paxton Fettel as a playable character, F.E.A.R. 3 is much more interesting. This is because of how brutally empowering his abilities are. Fettel has a standard psychic bolt attack that doesn't do much damage on its own. His forte is possession; holding down a trigger has Fettel lift an enemy into the air. One press of the (Y) button, and bam! you are in complete possession of the poor guy. You can't stay in a body for too long, however; if you run out of psychic energy or take too many hits, the body will give up the ghost (har har). If you take some bad guys out while possessing an enemy, small amounts of psychic residue will be left behind, ripe for the taking. Of course, you can exit a possessed body whenever you want by "burning out" of it; this always results in a disgusting spray of blood and guts. Fettel's abilities complement Point Man's abilities nicely; he can suspend an enemy in the air while Point Man riddles him with bullets, and he can also project a psychic shield to help protect his vulnerable brother.

Remember, Point Man and Fettel aren't exactly a happy family; they're just cooperating for the time being. The cooperative campaign is indeed ripe with opportunities for competition. A ranking and challenge system scores both players as they progress through the story. Each interval will lay everything out clear as crystal where each character performs or underwhelms. Also worthy of note are the corpses littered around each level; many of them glow with residual psychic energy, and players can choose to share or steal that energy, which adds to their scores. The player with the highest score is dubbed the "Favorite Son" for that particular level. There are repercussions to having a high score (or a low one), but I will not reveal them here.

If you're looking for a cooperative shooting experience that offers something unique in the gameplay department, F.E.A.R. 3 will satisfy. Those who are looking for a scare-a-minute dark ride experience will be better served elsewhere. All in all, the F.E.A.R. franchise may not have ended on the strongest of notes, but it's been a good run nonetheless.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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