The Art of Fear
Fear ah...how much I loved you, the others not so much. It seems the more that Fear tries to scare you, the less it manages to achieve and yet it fits comfortably in the first person shooter space. Fear 3 is the latest in the paranormal shooter series and well, it's supposed to be the last. It is however certainly a big step away from the first Fear and in some ways, it's good.
A caveat though, if you are a fan of Fear...then you might consider this one a heavy departure from the twisted/scary Alma that you know and love. There's no real subtle horror in this one...and that somewhat brings the series further away from the storytelling quality and psychological effects that it brought to the table with the first game.
Alma's back, you're Point Man or Paxton Fettel and you have to get to the bottom of what's going on. Armacham are going to try and stop you, everything is out to get you and there's a huge psychic backlash. The story is told with a mix of cut-scenes and first person point of view mechanics.
First person shooter ahoy! Fear 3 is basically just that, a generic first person shooter with some shock-horror thrown in. What it does do rather well is handle the moment-to-moment first person gunplay, cover shooting (a first for the series) and sticky cover. Sticky cover is great, it allows you to get behind something and slide along it and around without too much trouble. You can vault low walls and over boxes, you can shoot the hell out of your enemies tactically and you can employ the same tricks that the AI was capable of in the last few Fear games in terms of mantling around and over cover and scenery.
You're rewarded for doing various feats through the game; it gives you a bunch of points (experience) and allows you to level up one of the two characters you can play. That's right, remember Point Man, who put a bullet in Paxton Fettel's head from the first game? Well...you play as either him, with his amazing slow-time reflexes or once you've beaten the mission in question, Paxton, who has basically reanimated himself due to the huge amount of psychic backwash that's going on. Paxton has powers though, he can possess people and throw bolts of energy, and he can also lift folks up with the power of his mind and pop them like a grape. From a pure 'fun' point of view he's so much more interesting and evil than Point Man.
He gets a bunch of different feats to help him level up, scoring a lot more points that Point Man in terms of experience gains.
So the duo basically goes from one part of the city to the next, getting closer to the source of the problem. The game plays out in a linear fashion with regenerating health, checkpoint saves and some larger and larger mech (small walker and large walker) units to control to break up the tedium of just running and gunning. Fear 3 tries to scare you along the way but really only succeeds in being a bit of a letdown in that regard. The horror is predictable and the random events do nothing except raise a bit of a chuckle.
The story is over all too quickly and the game sort of falls flat in the later acts. The weapon arsenal has a few decent guns but it falls quite flat and feels generic most of the time. Even the better weapons have a flat feeling to them. The physical move interaction is much better, with weighty combat moves in melee making your foes tumble and fall down. The slide is an effective tactic for knocking your foes prone.
As for collectables: there are Alma dolls and psychic links, these links add points to your experience total. When you level up you get a reward, faster health regen, more bullets per clip, more special power bar etc.
Graphically Fear 3 is nice, it's a good looking game and it pushes all the right graphic buttons. The textures are crisp, the designs are excellent and the environments are pretty disturbing at times. Yet, again, the horror just seems way too overboard and doesn't ring with that psychological edge that the first game had. There's something almost laughable about the huge amounts of blood and dead bodies in the game, the ripped up corpses and so on. They're really well done, but the shock-horror of it all is lost in the gore gore gore approach through even the graphics. Lighting, special effects, shading and all the bells and whistles that the engine can deliver are top notch though.
A high level of polish has been given to the animations in the game, the enemy animations and the various other animations all have the trademark of quality animators. They are especially good when it comes to environmental interaction, enemies taking cover and running, vaulting and of course various death animations from the arsenal of weapons. Cut scenes are well directed and animated and the weapon animations are also good.
There's a good level of physics in the game. Objects can explode when shot, some cover can be degraded and the bigger guns from the walkers are a joy to send people flying with. There's a nice feeling of weight behind some of the character melee moves too.
Now the AI in Fear 3 is actually really good, we really liked the way it knows the environments. The way that opposing factions fight each other and the way that it knows to run away if it's too badly injured, or needs to regroup. Flanking actions are executed in a solid fashion and the Armacham bad guys are pretty sneaky at times. All in all, there are no real problems with that side of the game.
The environmental sound is good, the spooky sounds work quite well and the game has the right kind of atmosphere. The problem that we encountered though...some of the distortion effects used in the game were a bit overbearing, they don't happen often but they don't really add to the tension either. Rather than being bothered by them, we were oddly annoyed. They're not as bad as Shadows of the Damned though, which is a true distortion nightmare. Fear 3 has a pretty solid set of sounds for most of the weapons too.
Fear 3 has a good solid soundtrack. It helps to really immerse you in the atmosphere the game's trying to create. There aren't any problems here, so moving on!
The story writing is pretty good, the script flows well and if you care about such things there aren't any real hiccups with the dialogue. If you don't care and you just want to shoot something, well, there's lots of that.
The voice actors do a great job with their lines. Paxton is suitably menacing and Point Man, well, he remains silent as he did before which is a great touch. The rest of the cast are decent and there aren't any real hum-dinger bad performances.
Fear 3, rather like The Cartel (from yesterday) is a game best played with a friend. Once you have a buddy as either Point Man or Fettel the tactical options go through the roof. You can hold a bad guy aloft with Paxton's telekinesis and riddle him with bullets as Point Man. You can possess a bad guy and fight alongside your brother. You can work together as a finely honed machine, or try and outdo each other. You can share your psychic links with your co-op buddy or...steal them for yourself!
It's a great facet to the game though, and co-op is excellent fun. There is good networking code too, so you don't get any lag.
There are a few co-op modes too:
F**king RUN! - Your F.E.A.R. squad is being chased by Alma's psychic wall of death. You have to push forwards, kill Armacham forces and stay one step ahead of the wall...if so much as one of you is lost to the wall, its game over. This was apparently inspired by John Carpenter's: Prince of Darkness book cover. There are checkpoints thankfully, but they're few and far between.
Contractions - Your F.E.A.R. squad is isolated. Armacham is closing in, Alma's minions are around and Alma herself stalks the area. You have to work together to hold off the bad guys, collect weapons, rebuild barricades and as the paranormal fog thickens per round more dangerous monsters appear from the ether. There are 20 waves to survive and the game mode was inspired by John Carpenter's: The Fog.
It's fun, it's frenetic and it's lag free most of the time. Don't let the small player numbers put you off, because the tight focus on these modes really does make for some personal horror gaming. 4 players can compete or co-operate in the various modes.
Soul Survivor - The team begins as a cooperative experience but it rapidly devolves into an adversarial. One of the players is corrupted by Alma and turned into one of her minions. The chosen player now has to corrupt the other team members. Once corrupted the corrupted side must help eliminate the squad members that remain. All of this goes on under constant Armacham assault and even Alma's cult join in to help elevate the fun to more insane levels. The strongest player (the Soul Survivor) is the only one that can make it out alive once the time runs out. This is inspired by 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles, in which the survivors are taken one by one and turned against the remaining members.
Soul King - This mode is our favourite. Every player becomes a Spectre, a powerful ghost that can possess human enemies. Basically players then fight and possess enemy AI, collecting the souls of the dead. If you're killed you lose half of your souls and the winner is the player with the biggest collection at the end of the match. It is simple, fun, effective and amusing all at once.
If you're expecting an end, you're going to get one. Fear 3 could have been a lot scarier if more care had been taken with the horror element. Sadly, it becomes a really solid first person shooter that's fun when taken on that level. But as a Fear 3, we're not sure if it's worthy of the moniker. It does tie up the trilogy nicely though and we can't ask for more than that. The multiplayer doesn't feel tacked on and the Horde style Contractions mode is a blast...
Single player is over all too quickly and the ride is a bit of an anti-climax for the last few acts.
Co-op remains the best way to play the game with a nice twist at the end for a pair of co-op players.
All in all then, passable but it's not going to light the gaming world on fire.