Review: F.E.A.R. 3
My initial opinion of F.E.A.R. 3 was that it was an astoundingly generic, cover based FPS, but as time passed and I progressed further into the game I came to realize that F.E.A.R. 3 was actually a type of divine punishment for some unspecified sin I must have committed in my life. As a work of art, F.E.A.R. 3 evoked a number of intense emotions within me, but sadly neither joy nor (ironically) fear was among them. A rather disappointing turn of events given that as a horror game its two main goals were to be fun and to scare players. What raises F.E.A.R. 3 up from merely bland to utterly disappointing is the realization of what could have been; the tragedy that despite its many flaws, F.E.A.R. 3 does have a brilliant game within it.
The original F.E.A.R. was a game that placed a member of a SWAT team in an office building filled with enemy soldiers and creepy supernatural phenomena. Beyond that though, F.E.A.R. was really little more than a horror/SWAT knock-off of Max Payne, a game that used the bullet time mechanic far more effectively than F.E.A.R. ever would. Throughout the game it was revealed that Paxton Fettel, the evil psychic general responsible for the whole mess, was both the son of the strange Japanese ghost girl Alma, and the main character’s little brother. That revelation generally meant nothing to players as absolutely zero effort was put into developing the main character, Point Man. It also doesn’t stop the Point Man from putting a bullet in the blood drinking bastard’s head. Long lost brother or not, Fettel did spend the entire frigging game trying to kill you. In a trick to bring co-op gameplay into the series and bring new life into an already stale franchise, F.E.A.R. 3 sees the return of Point Man after being absent from F.E.A.R. 2 (which replaced him with Alma’s baby daddy). Now haunted by the ghost of his brother Fettel, the pair search for Point Man’s missing commander while trying to stop the birth of Alma’s next child. Point Man and the ghost (which sounds like the title of an awesome sitcom) fight their way back into the city of Fairport which has gone all Silent Hill following Alma’s escape at the end of F.E.A.R..
Fettel is a ghost who can pop people like balloons and possess the living. So why the hell does he need the help of a bearded mute?
While normally I abhor games that try to force a co-op mechanic on players, or skimp on the single player campaign in favor of multiplayer gameplay, the concept behind F.E.A.R. 3 actually had me somewhat interested. In order to give Fettel a use beyond being the ugliest Cortana knock off ever, co-op gameplay places one player in control of Point Man and the other in control of Fettel’s ectoplasmic ass. While Point Man’s primary power is the ability to enter into bullet time for short bursts, it pales in comparison to Fettel’s ability to possess enemies, lift them into the air, fill them with an endless stream of energy bolts, or pop them like a watermelon. While I normally hate it, F.E.A.R. 3’s co-op gameplay was actually rather fun. Fettel can lift enemies into the air while Point Man fills them with lead. The down side to this is that co-op mode completely kills any and all suspense or horror in the game. Conceptually, it’s a fantastic idea for a game. However when you start playing it on your own you’ll soon realize that the game kinda sucks. In single player mode you have to progress through the game as Point Man while your ghostly sibling does jack shit aside from mutter dark and angsty lines into your ear. Rather than having certain levels be ghost only, Fettel is only playable after completing a level. That is if you don’t mind replaying it just for kicks. The big issues with Fettel’s gameplay are that 1) despite the cutscenes showing that no one but Point Man can see him, enemies in-game are able to spot Fettel just fine, and 2) Ghosts can apparently be shot and killed with bullets, knives, fire and falling boxes. Aside from a few fun offensive powers, absolutely nothing was done to make being a ghost interesting or unique in any way. F.E.A.R. 3 should have been a wonderful blend of Geist and Half-Life. Instead it’s just another generic FPS.
Fun Fact: Everything becomes instantly hilarious when you start playing the Benny Hill theme in the background.
I mentioned before that F.E.A.R. 3 was utterly generic, a state of affairs that would not be so bad had earlier F.E.A.R. games been the same way. While F.E.A.R. was a mix of Half-Life 2 and Max Payne, F.E.A.R. 3 is little more than another bad Gears of War clone. The fluid movement and suspenseful firefights of F.E.A.R. have been replaced by cover mechanics, screen filling iron sights, regenerating health bars, and a limit of only 2 guns at a time. The levels are bland and uninspired. There’s a generic prison level, a South American slum level, a residential housing district level and a city streets filled with chest high concrete barriers level to name a few. To add insult to injury the horror elements of the franchise have been sloppily crammed into F.E.A.R. 3 without any real apparent forethought. In F.E.A.R., an atmosphere of quite terror was slowly built up as you explored an abandoned office building. F.E.A.R. 3 tries to duplicate this by grabbing your head and rubbing your face in its horror elements as it screams “hey, look at that ghost, isn’t it scary!?!” Fun fact: seeing bodies everywhere isn’t scary when you’ve been seeing them throughout the entire damned game, nor are ghosts and other supernatural monsters once you realize that they pose no threat whatsoever. Across the entirety of F.E.A.R. 3 there are only 2 really creepy areas: a giant, Sam’s Club style store that has been colonized by insane cultists, and a dark, bloody housing development which ripped off Dead Space 2 so hard that I’m surprised no one’s been sued for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, due to poor planning, neither of these levels transcend mere creepiness into full on terror. The mega store is filled with pale, bloody Evanescence concert goers, who strap beeping bombs to their chests which provide enough warning of their approach that all suspense is lost, and the housing development lacks the creepy audio and terrifying surprise attacks that made it work in Dead Space 2. While all of this makes F.E.A.R. 3 a tragically generic FPS, none of it actually makes it a bad game. Uninspired, but not actually a bad game. No, what kills F.E.A.R. 3 is a combination of visual and audio effects that strangle the game like an electronic Kudzu vine.
It’s like this, only in your head.
Generic and uninspired game design and gameplay aside, what ruins F.E.A.R. 3 are its audio and visual effects. Simply put, the music of F.E.A.R. 3 is utterly awful. It’s as though someone decided that the entire score should be performed by a team up of Daft Punk’s non-union South American counterparts and the drunken janitorial crew of the Broadway group Stomp. Halfway through the single player campaign I had to mute my TV and take some Tylenol to kill my headache. While the audio issues were easily resolved by my TV remote’s mute button, there was no escaping the game’s graphical issues. F.E.A.R. 3 is a beautiful game and a lot of work went into designing and detailing the world. But whenever Point Man goes into his bullet time routine, the world blurs and runs together. Unfortunately, someone on the design team decided that this effect would be a great way to show that a supernatural event was occurring. There are vast sections of F.E.A.R. 3 where the screen goes blurry or a red filter appears and disappears. And while this is supposed to show that the waves of supernatural energy that Alma is emitting are influencing people’s minds, it’s mainly just nauseating. I was unable to complete more than 3 levels of the co-op game before my partner had to stop due to mild motion sickness and a killer headache caused by these effects. I was personally able to make it through to the final level of the game before it hurt too much to continue on. I’m not sure if this effect was unintended or the greatest attempt at immersive game design ever by allowing players to actually feel what the characters feel. When a game is actually painful to play, something is terribly wrong. To be honest, these effects were not constant. However they were frequent enough to ruin the game for me.
Oh and there are magically teleporting enemy soldiers too. No explanation is ever given.
There are a lot of little features I have not mentioned so far such as a character leveling system based on points earned by getting 5 headshots in a row or some other sort of achievement, but really none of them is enough to keep this game afloat. The multiplayer gameplay is supposed to be good, but as my fellow play tester swore to never touch F.E.A.R. 3 again after the Tylenol kicked in, I didn’t have the opportunity to judge it properly. Uninspired design, an inane plot not worth mentioning, boringly generic gameplay and audio/visual effects that made me want to blind and deafen myself with a pair of knitting needles all share the blame for making F.E.A.R. 3 a completely forgettable title. I really wanted F.E.A.R. 3 to be a game worth buying but as it is, it’s barely worth a rental. If you’re a diehard fan of the series or you just intend to play the multiplayer and completely skip the main story campaign, then I may hesitantly suggest you buy a copy of F.E.A.R. 3 but only after renting it first and giving it a shot. For everyone else; Fry It.