Aftershock: F.E.A.R. 3 Is Boring When You Play Alone

“Aftershock” is a recurring feature column on Game Front. We take games we’ve already reviewed, and give them a sober second look once the post-launch dust has settled.

In real life, I’m kind of a loner. I have friends, yes, but I spend most of my time alone, and that includes my gaming time. Until I find a girlfriend who loves games, I’m going to be playing games by myself.

Thus, I’m not all that enthusiastic about co-op games. There are times when I can rustle up a friend to play something with me, but it doesn’t happen terribly often. As a result, the only co-op I’ve played this whole calendar year is about half of Portal 2′s co-op campaign. This is lame.

My lack of enthusiasm for co-op didn’t temper my excitement for FEAR 3, though. Despite knowing that game’s campaign is geared for co-op, I was looking forward to the game because of my general good feelings toward the franchise, by which I mean that I like FEAR and FEAR 2, and so I wanted to play FEAR 3.

Unfortunately, because my daily schedule is so out of whack with that of my lone co-op buddy — and because I was playing the game on OnLive, which because it’s a PC service offers no splitscreen — I had to go it alone in FEAR 3. I was quickly bored out of my skull with the game.

It’s clear from the beginning that the game is built for co-op or, at the least, squad combat. Like in a Brothers in Arms game, to cite one comparable title, enemies tend to do two things in the game: bunker down, and flank or rush you if you get too aggressive. Because the game is a cover-based, pop-and-shoot affair, combat is often slow and methodical. In squad-based games, that pace makes sense because there’s an element of strategy to combat that keeps the comparatively slow pace from being boring.

If you’re playing FEAR 3 in co-op, likewise, that element of strategy is present because you’re working as a team to make your way across the game’s large, enemy-filled rooms. Fettel’s special possession abilities really liven up the experience, too, adding an exceptional dimension to the battles.

Unfortunately, when you’re playing alone, and you lose the element of strategy, the game becomes a tedious slog, because the game is so heavily balanced toward that strategic element, which is totally missing when you’re playing alone. Each firefight becomes a matter of staying in cover until an enemy pokes his head out of cover and then popping out to shoot him, rinse, repeat. It’s terribly dull.

The game still has some value. Not every battle is a firefight, as some intervals will have you face off against enemies that rush you en masse, and these parts are fine and effectively creepy. But so much of the game is about shooting dudes who are shooting back at you, and when you have to do that, it’s not very much fun when you’re by yourself.

It’s a tragedy, really, and an avoidable one. The reason many shooters have separate campaigns for co-op and single-player is because developers are trying to avoid this scenario. Those who do build a campaign for both co-op and single-player tend to gear it toward the single-player first and then make it more fun with friends. Unfortunately for us loners, Day One built a campaign primarily for co-op and then made it possible to play it by yourself.

That is not a winning formula.

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