F.E.A.R. is somewhat unique among FPS games, in that it's an action FPS with a horror theme. The idea is that you run along, shooting at least thirty five holes in any soldier unfortunate enough to be in your path, but at the end of your murder run you might just find a little girl in a red dress. A little girl who'll disappear into ash and then force hideous monster ghosts that you can't defend yourself from down your throat. It's difficult to mix high action with the vulnerability and isolation generally associated with horror games, particularly survival horror games, and especially in this latest game, F.E.A.R. 3, which is a co-op shooter. So does it scare us to death, or is it more about bringing death to somewhat scary enemies ?
As you might expect, F.E.A.R. 3 picks up just where Project Origin left off. Creepy ghost woman Alma has become impregnated by the second game's protagonist (don't ask us how a ghost gets pregnant, maybe it just has to do with a daddy ghost and mommy ghost loving each other very much...) and she's now having apocalyptic contractions. The skies are red, the rivers are running with blood, and shockwaves regularly speed through the city of Fairport, warping the minds of its inhabitants and reducing the landscape to rubble. The first game's hero and son of Alma, the silent and homeless-looking Point Man, is under the guard of evil corporation Armacham, but luckily his ghostly brother, Paxton Fettel, is there to break him out. From there on, the two brothers are on a mission to find Alma and her latest offspring, for their own reasons of course.
Honestly, the story of F.E.A.R. has always been a little confusing, and F.E.A.R. 3 is no exception. There's a lot of questions raised in the game, not many of which are resolved by an abrupt ending. Point Man is shuttled from location to location through the commands of his fellow F.E.A.R. comrade Jin, with cutscenes bridging the gap, apparently overseen by no less than John Carpenter. You wouldn't know it though, from their bombastic action and lack of real scares. Bringing Paxton Fettel back as a malevolent, if chatty and sarcastic, ghost somewhat lessens the impact and strangeness of all the other paranormal activity in the game. It's a little difficult to get scared of one ghost, when you've got another fingering the bullet hole in his forehead while he kicks back beside you. It's goofy, but the rest of the game takes it self so seriously it all kind of becomes a big baffling mess in the end.
F.E.A.R. 3's campaign is a brief affair, only running for eight 'intervals' (levels) as opposed to the eleven in F.E.A.R. or the fourteen in Project Origin. However, each level is a reasonable length, and depending on how good you are at the game (and how many times you get shotgunned in the face repeatedly and have to restart at a checkpoint), it can take you anywhere from 6-9 hours to complete the campaign. It can be played in single-player as Point Man, who can slow down time for short periods just like past games, and replayed as Paxton Fettel, who has his own range of interesting abilities. Fettel, being a ghost, can fire psychic blasts, levitate enemies, liquify them, and more usefully possess them to gain the ability to use weapons and deal out some real damage.
These two characters come into their own in the campaign when it's played in co-op. It's a boatload of fun playing as Fettel in a supporting role to Point Man, levitating enemies for him to take down or possessing an enemy across the room to get a different angle on the situation. Likewise, when Point Man slows down time, he does so for both characters, helping Fettel get out of some sticky situations. It's a good lark, but it's not especially scary. There are bodies lying around that either or both characters can psychically 'link' with for points - these points, among other factors, eventually determine the ending of the game, and which brother it favors, giving an air of competitiveness to the proceedings as well.
Playing as Point Man, the gunplay in F.E.A.R. 3 feels very similar to how it has always been, although a new cover system is now in place and works very effectively, allowing you to move around blockades and barricades with ease. Enemies take a lot of shots to kill - sometimes ridiculous amounts. Seriously, we flayed the skin from one balaclava-wearing soldier's face, so much that you could see his jaw and musculature, and he still kept firing at us, taking cover, all the usual enemy stuff. Guess that was some psychic training, huh. The AI is smart, often finding clever ways of taking advantage of opportunities to kill you. However, there are some parts of the game lifted straight out of Left 4 Dead as 'cultists' (zombies) swarm you with melee attacks - some even carrying bombs to blow up near you in suicide runs. The weapons seem strangely mundane, with only a couple of variations on a pistol, machine gun, and a shotgun, although after felling some super psychic soldiers you do get access to some more esoteric and exciting guns.
You also get the opportunity to command a couple of different types of Mechs, in sections that are basically pretty easy, and a little disappointing in the destruction you can dish out. You actually charge into an apartment complex in one Mech section, but find the only things you can blow up are pre-set 'weak' sections of the wall. Finally, apparently the scares in F.E.A.R. 3's campaign are 'generative', meaning random events happen to each player to increase their unpredictability. To be honest, we didn't really notice the feature, but we can guess that the appearances of Alma and a certain 'Creeper' monster are probably a part of the system, and most of the time we didn't even notice they were there, much less get scared by them, because we weren't looking in the right direction.
F.E.A.R. 3 actually has a great range of multiplayer modes to offset the slightly disappointing campaign. Each one is actually really interesting, starting with 'Soul King', a mode that sees four players taking on the role of evil wizened ghosts, that have to possess AI-controlled soldiers around the map and kill as many bots as they can to collect souls. You can also kill other players to collect their accumulated souls, leading to some big upsets on the scoreboard and some tense gameplay. 'F***ing Run!' is a co-operative four-player game where everyone has to run a gauntlet of soldiers down a long, winding road, as a wall of smoke chases them. If anyone falls behind, the game's over. 'Contractions' is a survival mode, where waves of cultists attack your base, as in-between attacks you gather supplies to convert into various weaponry. 'Soul Survivor' is another co-op mode, where everyone has to work together to defeat enemy soldiers, but one of the team is 'corrupted', and must corrupt all the others, leaving only one 'sole survivor'. All of these modes are inventive and fun, our personal favorite being Soul King, but they're all well worth trying and participating in with the customary meta-game, which levels you up and rewards you with new abilities.
F.E.A.R. 3's visuals range from dated to reasonably impressive. There's nothing here to top the blockbuster FPS games out there, but some of the details are nice, from the way blood seems to drip up to the ceiling in some areas, to a bit of Slenderman-like graffiti and creepy altars. The voicework is actually quite good - although not necessarily from the leads, as Fettel just sounds way too evil to make you think his intentions are anything but. The soldiers in the game are actually pretty well voiced, with some funny lines and very reactive speech, as they relay your exact position surprisingly well to their buddies. Of course, it's a little silly when they feel the need to shout out "I'm all alone here!" after you've killed the rest of their squad, but it's still done very well. The music is unmemorable, but can at times be atmospheric.
F.E.A.R. 3 is a game that works best with other players. Playing the campaign in co-op mode, or the various unique multiplayer options, produces a really fun experience. Not a scary one by any stretch, but a fun one. It's a shame the campaign fails to provide a comprehensive or even comprehensible wrap-up to the series, and there are some niggles here and there that detract from the experience. It's a horror game without any scares, but it's a decent action game. Check it out if you're a fan of the series, but don't expect your pants to be any worse for the wear afterwards. For a lot of people, that'll actually be a good thing.