F.E.A.R. 3 Review

I’m not going to pretend I can make sense of the F.E.A.R. series. There’s Point Man, a guy with no name and heightened reflexes that played the first-person shooter protagonist in the first F.E.A.R. title. There’s also Paxton Fettel, a psychic and genetically engineered soldier used by a company called Armacham to psychically command troops. There’s also Alma, a creepy super-psychic who projects herself into the world as a child and generally seems pretty evil. In F.E.A.R. 3, they’re all at the forefront and they’re all responsible for the deaths of lots of nameless soldiers.

Oh — one other thing: Point Man and Fettel are brothers. Point Man killed Fettel but Fettel survived somehow. Alma is their mom. Alma is pregnant and that baby will also be super-powered and probably evil in some way. And the contractions of her pregnancy are creating all kinds of supernatural havoc, so Point Man and what remains of his First Encounter Assault Recon team (F.E.A.R., get it?) are trying to stop it.


F.E.A.R. 3 (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: June 21, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

Yeah, it’s convoluted, but the gist is, lots of guys want Point Man dead, and he and Fettel (who he killed but who is now alive and who is helping Point Man) are breaking out of an Armacham prison, squashing every soldier they can along the way and hoping to get to Alma. That puts you on a course to take down thousands of Armacham peons in an expertly paced, creepy first-person shooter that remembers all the best aspects from F.E.A.R., while adding some quality tweaks along the way.

Primarily, as Point Man, you’re just a soldier with one additional superpower — for a short time, you can slow down time by activating your faster reaction speed, giving you ample time to string together headshots and occasionally dodge incoming damage. F.E.A.R. 3 stands on the conventions of the modern shooter, keeping the action moving with regenerating health and a two-guns-at-a-time weapons limit, but it expands things in at least one way: It has the best first-person cover system I’ve yet used. Entering is done quickly with the crouch button, and you can carefully peak up or around cover with the analog sticks before standing for a full-on blast. Moving from position to position is also very easy if they’re close by one another, so much so that you’ll often actually want to use cover as a means of strategy, rather than just being forced to in order to not die.

From an A.I. standpoint, F.E.A.R. 3 stacks up pretty well, especially given the cover system. You can hear squads working together, freaking out a bit when somebody’s head bursts into a fine red mist, coordinating their attacks between suppressing fire and advancing on your position. Sometimes they’re dumb — they love to pick a position and just pop up from it continually until dead — but usually, and especially in numbers, the enemy soldiers strike a balance between putting up a decent fight and being hilarious fodder for your latest weapon.

Three Ways to Play Campaign

The single-player (slash-co-op) campaign includes eight stages, and it moves at exactly the right clip, alternating between creepy darkened hallways and large battles, sometimes throwing in super-enemies like mechs or vehicle portions, and almost always ending a level with a hard-fought boss encounter that can range from one big battle to a monster mech suit that seems impossible to kill. Each level is rewarding and most of the battles are tactical and fun. F.E.A.R. 3 mixes in some more paranormal enemies along with the soldiers, too, which provides just enough variety that you’ll have to think about what you’re shooting at, but not so much that you’ll find yourself stalled out or annoyed at one set of enemies’ tactics.

I have to take a second to comment about level design as well. F.E.A.R. 3 suffers from the modern first-person shooter problem of being fairly linear and mostly about alternating corridors and large rooms, but each level offers some really great visuals and inspired aesthetic thinking. Everything is awash in blood and gore, and the creepiness factor hits some really high marks at many points. But running from a prison to a slum to a destroyed bridge littered with subway cars and a Costco-like warehouse store filled with fanatical maybe-zombies doesn’t just channel a scary feeling, it keeps the game extremely fresh, which is something I felt the original F.E.A.R. struggled with.

Single player will last, at the very most, six hours. That seems short, but it’s a pretty solid experience to run through alone (it’s creepier that way), and F.E.A.R. 3 allows the entire campaign to be experienced cooperatively, as well, with one player using Point Man and the other Fettel. Defeating each level as Point Man unlocks the ability to replay it in single-player as Fettel as well, and while you’re running through the same levels, this actually makes for a vastly different experience. Fettel’s abilities are all psychic, and he can actually possess enemies, hopping from body to body and letting you fight enemy soldiers with enemy soldiers. In this way, it’s a lot like you’re playing two different campaigns, since each brother handles differently.

Keeping It Competitive

F.E.A.R. 3 also throws in a deep and robust scoring component to the campaign, both in single player and in cooperative mode. The points are earned for everything — effective use of cover (by staying in it for a certain amount of time or nailing enough kills from within it), marksmanship, melee strikes, weapon usage — and the many categories and rewards encourage not only lots of different actions, but thinking about how to be a better player. It reminds me of the Bulletstorm model, where the points and rewards serve as a way of making players think about how they actually play. There are also online leaderboards to go along with the local competition, adding another layer and providing plenty of reason to keep playing F.E.A.R. 3 over and over again.

Points earned progress each player’s rank, and each new rank opens up additional perks. These points are earned through all of F.E.A.R. 3′s modes, both single and multiplayer, and earn you things like larger ammo clips, more health and extra grenades. Coupled with the point system, there are a lot of layers to character progression throughout the game, and a lot of rewards for sticking with F.E.A.R. 3 and stepping up your play over time.

And oh, the multiplayer modes. F.E.A.R. 3 is a game designed to be played with other people, and Day 1 Studios has really gone all-out in giving players things to do. In addition to the cooperative campaign, there are four multiplayer modes, some competitive, some cooperative, all limited to just four players. Two are available on the disc when you pop it in, and two more are unlocked with a code that comes with the game — tough luck, used copy buyers.

All four modes are interesting takes on standard FPS situations. The first, Contractions, is basically a riff on Gears of War’s Horde mode or Call of Duty’s Zombies. A group of four F.E.A.R. operatives have to survive as long as possible against waves of enemies. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before by now, but F.E.A.R. 3 does what it does best here — adding slight tweaks to tried-and-true conventions to make them better. For example, instead of buying and unlocking guns, players have to run out of the stronghold between waves and find and collect supply crates, which can be brought back to certain spots in the level where weapon load-outs are kept.

There’s lots of strategy in this: time spent finding crates is time left vulnerable and without players repairing barricades that can help when the fighting gets tough, and as time goes on, a fog creeps up from the ground and obscures the lower levels of each stage. Fog makes it tough to fight (and I think it’s deadly after prolonged exposure), and even worse, if you left all your supply crates at the ground-floor weapons depot, it becomes dangerous as time goes on to attempt to retrieve them until a wave ends. And a further caveat is Alma, who wanders around this (and most) multiplayer modes. Encounter her, and she might just render you half-dead and in need of a revive from a teammate — or she’ll warp you halfway across the level, where you’ll be forced to fight off soldiers, zombie-like enemies and other hazards all on your own until you can return to base. All these tweaks take something that most FPS players have seen lots of times before and make it fresh, tonally congruent with F.E.A.R. 3 and strategic in new ways.

The other cooperative multiplayer mode is F–king Run, which you can probably guess at. Four players have to trek from one side of a level to the other, fighting off enemies as they go and under constant pursuit from a boiling wave of smoke at their backs. If any one player gets swallowed by the smoke, it’s all over, which breeds not only self-sacrificing teamwork of the no-man left behind variety, but also a lot of screaming intensity and near-misses.

Keeping What Works

F.E.A.R. 3 also packs two competitive modes, each based on the possession mechanic Fettel can use during the campaign mode. In Soul King, each player is a ghost that can possess A.I. soldiers running around the level, and then kill more soldiers with that body, snagging souls off each one that’s killed. The key is to hop from body to body and avoid getting killed along the way by other players, who can steal your souls. Soul Survivor takes the Soul King mechanics and scales them down, mixing possession with Infection-type game modes. In that mode, one of four players turns into the ghost and has to sneak around, possessing the others. Doing so turns them to the ghost team until only one player’s left.

There’s just a wealth of gameplay here, and while F.E.A.R. 3′s story mode and production values aren’t quite top-tier — voice acting and dialogue are a little weird at points, nothing much makes a whole heap of sense along the way and graphically it’s about average — Day 1 has identified many of the great working elements of modern shooters and come up with ways to augment them. Most of F.E.A.R. 3 amounts to adjustments of things that are great about other shooters, but even though Day 1′s game stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, the result is a quality experience that does a whole lot of things right. There are minor detractors here and there, but none enough to mar the overall game.

Pros:

  • Great cover system
  • Deep competitive point system
  • Lots of play options — an unlockable character for the main campaign and a full local or online cooperative mode
  • Four tried-and-true multiplayer modes with interesting tweaks
  • Satisfying gunplay and mechanics that are highly familiar
  • Lots of creepy, interesting levels

Cons:

  • Weak grenade mechanics, not a ton of variety in weapons
  • Some spotty voice acting
  • Story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense
  • Not a lot of innovation, just small, intelligent additions to mechanics found in other games — for better or worse
  • Final Score: 85

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4 Comments on F.E.A.R. 3 Review

SupremeAllah

On June 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Your review seems to reflect what I was expecting. Though I have actually made sense of the story. I didn’t play FEAR 2 beyond the demo because I wasn’t really impressed, and I was also somewhat displeased that the two expansions for the first FEAR game no longer happened in the story timeline. However, since I heard about the return of the Point Man and Fettel, I was interested from the start. Any info on if they did anything to their engine for this, or is it still that which was used in FEAR 2? Personally I thought FEAR 1 looked better than two.

DisgruntedIndividual

On July 9, 2011 at 1:12 am

First Encounter Assault Recon. Please get it right next time.

Phil Hornshaw

On July 9, 2011 at 1:47 am

@disgruntled

Whoops, placeholder text. Sorry. Good catch. I was too busy writing the review to look up the game’s forced acronym. Will make sure to get right a term that appears once in the manual right next time I’m reviewing a game and how it plays. My bad.

John J.

On July 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

The story isn’t that complicated, so not being able to make sense of it is disappointing. Unless you meant it as a joke. You’re reviewing a game as a professional, aren’t you? So you should make sure that you add things like F.E.A.R’s meaning. No need to get snippy with a reviewer.