FEAR 3 Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Jun 22, 2011

The most dysfunctional family in gaming returns as Point Man and his dead brother must try to play nicely to overcome an army of evil corporate thugs and the impending arrival of a new sibling.

The Pros
  • Superb gunplay and use of slo-mo for amazing firefights
  • Great atmosphere and excellent level design
  • Fun and distinctive multiplayer
  • Creepy and effective pacing
The Cons
  • Story is still suspect
  • Sticky active cover
  • Multiplayer only supports up to four
  • Doesn't integrate the duality of the main characters well
  • Graphics engine is showing its age

FEAR 3 Review:

F.E.A.R. returns with everything fans of the series would expect. Developer Day 1 Studios takes over from Monolith this time and seems to have learned from their experience creating part of the F.E.A.R. Files add-on. While F.E.A.R. Files didn’t set the series alight, F.E.A.R. 3 is one hell of an exciting and creepy action game.


What the Hell is Going On Here?

Storytelling has always been the weakest link in the F.E.A.R. series. Right from the start, it was clear that Monolith was intent on copying the imagery of Japanese horror movies to create atmosphere and dramatic imagery—often at the expense of coherent story telling. Day 1 Studios must have realized they'd have their hands full trying to tie the first two games together, so they got help from the professionals.

Horror writer Steve Niles co-wrote the story, while legendary film director John Carpenter helped out with the cinematic sequences. The result is a somewhat more cohesive plot. FEAR 3 puts players back into the combat boots of the generically-name Point Man, nine months after the first game. It's hard to say what Point Man was doing all that time, but when the game opens, he is in the custody of Armacham--the vile corporation that created him and his brother, Paxton Fettel. When his telekinetic (and dead) brother rescues him, the two join forces to, well . . . do something.

It's here that the story gets hazy. Point Man gets a distress call from Jun Sun-Kwon, the hot Korean F.E.A.R. operative from his very short-lived stint on the team, and immediately decides to go rescue her—despite never having even actually talked to her, making this a threadbare motive at best. Thankfully, Fettel is around to tell Point Man he's acting like an idiot.

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My Brother Hurts People

Fettel is the bright point of the story. He's a gleefully homicidal maniac and much more interesting than his bland, silent brother. It's a real shame that the single-player game doesn't use him more actively. Playing through a level as Point Man unlocks the ability to play through as the ghostly Fettel, and two players can mow through the entire campaign cooperatively. Yet, just playing singularly as Point Man, Fettel is virtually nonexistent past scripted events and cinematic sequences.

There are a few other oddities in the narrative structure. There are no answering machine messages or e-mails to discover to this time around. Level secrets consist of hidden Alma dolls and special corpses to psychically link to for more experience points. There’s no explanation given for these dead bodies, and they have no use beyond helping to level your character up. Leveling increases health, weapon abilities, and slow motion, but unfortunately it’s all automatic.

Narrative issues aside, the meat of F.E.A.R. is combat, and the third time out is still a charm. Combat is satisfyingly meaty and brutal. The weapons might be mostly standard issue pistols, machines guns, and rifles, but they just feel great. The segments where you pilot the mech suit are pure, joyous mayhem.


Hello… My Name is Creepy

In short, few games do blissful, hardcore violence as well. There’s nothing particularly original here—you basically run from one massive and intense battle to the next. There’s really nothing different from the previous F.E.A.R. games in fact. As before, the battles are fun and frequently nail-bitingly hard, but generally not to the point of frustration. The cover system is effective, but in the heat of battle, it’s easy to get stuck against a cover surface since you have to manually disengage the function.

The horror elements might not make much sense, but certainly add incredible atmosphere. Part of the game’s success is the pacing that moves from creepy moments of paranoid quiet to sudden supernatural events, flashbacks, monsters, or assaults against remarkably intelligent squads of soldiers. F.E.A.R. 3 adds cultists as well (reminiscent of Condemned’s shambling homeless psychos), who generally stick to damaging melee attacks.

Most of the creepiness comes from the superb use of lighting and audio effects. The use of long shadows, ambient lighting, fire, and other familiar, yet effective mechanisms to build tension are impressive. That said, the series’ graphic engine is definitely showing its age. F.E.A.R. 3 looks good, but not on par with newer games.


Scare Your Friends

The single-player campaign will easily satisfy fans of the series and those looking for engaging violence. If you want something a bit more competitive, however, F.E.A.R. 3 offers an excellent series of four-player game modes. Soul Survivor tasks a team with surviving an onslaught of supernatural foes and infected players. Soul King places players as competitive ghosts who most possess and kill AI soldiers, then collect the most souls. Contractions is a survival mode, where Alma throws consistently harder waves of enemies at the players. Finally, the appropriately named F*%$ing Run! tasks players with staying together while outrunning a wall of death through large urban levels stocked with bad guys. If any player dies, the whole team loses.

The only real complaint with these multiplayer games is simply the four-player limit, as most of these modes would have been easily as playable with more players. The multiplayer offers a refreshing change of pace from tradition shooters and hopefully F.E.A.R. 3 will find a solid audience online.


F.E.A.R. is Good

F.E.A.R. 3 doesn’t try hard to branch out from the rest of the series, but it does maintain the same high-quality game play. It’s easy to poke holes in the entire series’ story and all the J-Horror clichés it thrives on, but few games have such a satisfying mix of great first person shooting and horror. There are genuine thrills and chills to be had here, both online and off, and that’s high praise indeed.