Poorly Thought Through Review: F.3.A.R.
F3AR, or FEAR 3 if you like, is the third game in the F.E.A.R. series which stands for something I have long since forgotten. As shown by perverting the initials with a 3, it’s not really important, it just spells out FEAR.
The original FEAR was a very interesting game that mixed First Person Shooting with horror gameplay, created by Monolith Productions, the same developer behind the excellent Condemned. Putting the player in the shoes of Point Man, a genetically enhanced soldier (hello bullet-time!) sent out with his squad to deal with Paxton Fettel, a nutcase responsible for a string of cannibalistic murders. Things quickly go from bad to worse, and you’re on your own and slowly realizing that there is more to this than you were led to believe.
Soon strange things begin happening, that are centred around a creepy little girl named Alma, an immensely powerful psychic who has completely lost it and is trying to kill everything. The story wasn’t super interesting, but I remember enjoying how you could track down phone messages and files that would shed more light on the story, who Alma is and what happened to her, who Fettel is, and even who you are. It’s a neat way of including more story for the player who might be interested, without beating everyone over the head with it if all they want to do is shoot stuff.
The original FEAR was also interesting in that it was an FPS that worked the best when there were no enemies around. The sequences where paranormal events were happening around you, strange noises, flickering lights, things moving for no reason, Alma appearing out of nowehere, were by far the best and most immersive parts of the game. I would catch myself sighing and thinking “aww not this again, let’s just get it over with” whenever enemies appeared.
After the release of FEAR, there was an interesting chain of events where two more FEAR games were released, Extraction and Perseus Mandate, but created by a different developer. Once Monolith got their IP back after Vivendi went belly up, they ret-conned those two games out of existence and created FEAR 2.
FEAR 2 took place before and during the events of the first game, and followed a new protagonist, Michael Beckett, sent in with his Delta Squad to retrieve a scientist who was ready to leak information about Armacham, the company behind the creation of Alma, Point Man, and Fettel. Needless to say, things go awry, and Beckett is soon in a world of shit. FEAR 2 was a pretty good game, but had that same thing where the combat were the boring parts and the paranormal activity was the entertaining part. It also elaborated on the story of Alma further, as the player learns she was just a little girl with psychic abilities, who Armacham abused and experimented on, even impregnated her in an effort to create super soldiers out of her children. FEAR 2 also ends with the main character, Beckett, getting psychically raped by Alma, which was… interesting.
FEAR 3 (now done by Day 1 Studios) picks up a few months after the events of the first game. You’re back in control of Point Man, the main character of FEAR 1. He’s been captured by Armacham as is being tortured for information on Alma. Suddenly, he gets a helping hand by a surprising ally, Paxton Fettel, his brother who he killed with his own hands in the first game. Sporting a bullethole in his forehead and all, Fettel appears to have left his physical form behind and is now basically a psychic spectre. I’m not sure if he’s real and is using his brother as a host, or if he’s a figment of Point Man’s imagination, it’s never really explained how Fettel has returned from the dead, or if it was, I missed it. Perhaps Point Man has some latent psychic powers himself, that are manifesting in the form of his dead brother, allowing him to embrace his dark homicidal impulses without really facing the consequences of his actions? Who knows, maybe I’m reading too much into things. Fettel is able to possess enemies and help out in combat though, and he just done broke your ass out of jail, so let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.
After the events of the second game, Alma is pregnant and is close to giving birth. Her contractions release powerful psychic blasts that wreak ever more havoc on the surroundings. Point Man wants to find Alma and put a stop to this, while Fettel wants to find his mother and share in the joy of the birth of their new sibling. What follows is a long slug through the prison, sewers (of course), towns and military complexes.
In-between levels you are treated to short sequences, showing video tape of Point Man and Fettel as children, held in a containment room doubling as their home. Sometimes a doctor comes in and takes one of the boys away for experimenting, more often than not, Fettel as it becomes clear that Fettel has psychic powers like their mother, while Point Man (Point Boy?) exhibits no signs of psychic ability. Occasionally, Alma will pop in and check on her boys in the form of a little girl. Only Fettel notices her, as Point Man is blind to her presence. As the levels pass, you can see little Fettel becoming more and more powerful, and more and more unhinged, both from the experiments on him and the influence of his mother. Although it’s only a minute or so clip between each level, I found it to be by far the most interesting and compelling part of the story of FEAR 3.
FEAR 3 plays pretty much exactly the same as the previous two levels. There’s a bit of a cover system, allowing you to pop your head out of cover and take a few pot shots if you have a lot of enemies zeroing in on you. The combat is pretty slow, but is remedied by the fact that Point Man is able to slow down time due to his superhuman reflexes, which allows you to basically think “what would Rambo do?”. It’s quite satisfying to be stuck behind a pillar with enemy fire all around you, only to slow down time and just come out spraying bullets all over the place.
The game does introduce enemies later on that require some more different tactics. Some enemies have shields, requiring you to shoot their feet, or wait for them to drop their shield momentarily to reload before you attack. Strangely they don’t seem to react at all to grenades thrown behind them. Then there are the bullet sponge wall-teleporting phase commanders that will take hundreds of bullets to kill. Usually I approve of mixing things up a little, but in FEAR 3 I genuinely just felt annoyed when faced with these enemies, as they broke the flow and forward momentum of my attack.
Then there are the psychic monsters, at several points in the game you’ll be faced with beasts created by Alma that appear out of the walls. They are by far the worst part of the game. They have no intelligence whatsoever and will just come straight at you, leaping and slashing with their claws. This usually leaves you running backwards while spraying bullets in their face. I suppose the intention was to mix things up a bit and force the player on his heels, but these enemies do not inspire any dread, just annoyance. There’s no entertainment value in fighting them at all, and I would just sigh whenever they appeared in the game.
Then there are the occasional sequence where you get to drive bipedal mechs for a short time, letting you just wander forward like an indestructible force of asskickery, blowing shit up as you go. These sections are short and few, but entertaining and breaks up the action nicely.
Much like the previous games, the best gameplay sequences are the ones without any enemies. When things quiet down, the lights start flickering and paranormal events start happening. Unfortunately, they’ve been done to death by the FEAR series in the past, and aren’t particularly inspired, so while still neat, these sequences are not nearly as compelling as they were in the original game.
There is an excellent level at the end of the game though, that consists mostly of one big paranormal sequence, as Point Man and Fettel revisits the facility they grew up in and have to come to terms with the atrocities they suffered at the hands of Armacham.
As an added bonus, you are able to play every level again as Paxton Fettel after you’ve beaten them once as Point Man, giving you a much different look at the action with Fettel’s psychic powers and ability to possess enemies.
If you’ve got a buddy handy, you can also play the entire game in co-op as Point Man and Fettel. The game definitely feels like it’s designed for co-op, with plenty of opportunities for flanking and such. If you’re like me and have no friends however, it’s kind of disappointing that single player runs removes Fettel entirely. It would have been nice to have an AI partner to at least serve as a distraction and bullet sponge.
Graphically, the game looks pretty dated. It’s not a bad looking game, but it looks like a 2008 game. Put alongside the AAA shooters of the last year, it doesn’t hold up at all. Plus Point Man looks really stupid, he looks like a cross between a cave man and Macho Man, only without the awesome macho madness.
There’s a selection of multiplayer modes as well, including something quite awesomely named “Fucking run!” but we don’t play that multiplayer shit ‘round here son, so I’m not going to comment on that.
FEAR 3 is a competent shooter, with a bit of a hook in the horror parts that sets it apart from the pack.
The story of FEAR has some interesting parts, most notably Alma and her sons and the combination of torture and frightening psychic powers. There are some really interesting psychological angles in the story that sadly and frustratingly goes unexplored. There is real potential there, and nothing is more frustrating than wasted potential.
Graphically, it looks dated and fails to impress, but it’s not bad either. Just perfectly middle of the road.
Ultimately, I think FEAR is a bit played out. The original game was new and interesting and compelling, and I enjoyed it a lot. By now though, in its fifth iteration (counting Extraction and Perseus Mandate) it’s still pretty much the same game and have made very little progress as a franchise. I hope that if they make more FEAR games, they take some chances with it and move the gameplay along, hopefully in a more horror, less action direction.
FEAR 3 is a decent game to kill a couple of days with if you have nothing else to play, but beyond that I can’t see myself recommending it over other FPS’ out there. In fact, I’d recommend FEAR 1 over FEAR 3.
However, if you liked the previous FEAR games and want some more of the same, FEAR 3 is for you. Me on the other hand, I wish they’d leave FEAR on the shelf for a bit and make another Condemned game.