Earlier this week Day 1 Studios, located just up the road near Baltimore, released F.E.A.R. 3 along with publisher Warner Bros. Games. This marks the latest installment in a franchise which now includes three standalone titles and two mediocre expansion packs. Over the years several different developers have contributed to the series under numerous publishers. The first of which was Monolith Productions with the release of the original in the fall of 2005. F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) revitalized the survival horror genre with its chilling visuals and intense FPS gameplay. A combination so compelling it brought this writer back to the world of PC gaming. Day 1 Studios was later tasked with porting the original title onto consoles making it available to a much wider audience with the boom of the next generation systems. In 2009 Monolith Productions released F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, a successful cross platform sequel with a plot that paralleled its predecessor. The follow up introduced Michael Becket and depicted events occurring within the same timeframe as the first game. As a long time fan of the series it was interesting to see how Day 1 Studios would interpret the franchise and find out what the third game would contribute to the plot.
F.E.A.R. 3’s story picks up where the sequel leaves off as Alma, the game’s absurdly disturbing antagonist, is now pregnant with Beckett’s child. This time around players resume the familiar role of the genetically enhanced Point Man. With everyone afraid of how powerful the unborn child will be, Point Man is again tasked with putting a stop to his mother’s supernatural shenanigans. Along the way players will also uncover the secrets to the gruesome circumstances surrounding his childhood and creation at the hands of Harlan Wade. Alma returns in the same fashion as the previous games, including the always creepy little girl in a red dress and her grotesquely nude adult form. With a few improvements the now expecting poltergeist is more terrifying than ever. Veterans will also enjoy being reacquainted with other familiar faces, such as Jin Sun-Kwon and your resurrected brother, Paxton Fettel. Fettel, now sporting a stylish bullethole in his forehead, is available as a playable character once the Intervals have been completed or if playing the game’s Co-op mode. In order to enjoy the full experience it’s recommended that you play the campaign mode solo the first time, but teaming up with Point Man’s brother offers a great new depth to the gameplay. While Point Man plays much like you would expect from a FPS shooter, gamers assuming the role of Fettel will be able to tap into his supernatural powers and posses nearby enemies. These awesome abilities add several new elements and provide a much different approach to the gameplay.
A large part of F.E.A.R.’s success as a survival horror series comes from the eerie atmosphere it created. Playing through the first game was a great experience and one this writer made sure to enjoy while his roommates were out of the apartment. Constantly flinching whenever a ghastly apparition attacks the screen doesn’t bode well for one’s status as a man. The success of the first game was met with some complaints about the cramped office spaces so in response the sequel placed gamers in some vast and truly unsettling environments. F.E.A.R. 2 redefined the uneasiness of dark corridors that first confronted gamers back in 1996 with the release of Resident Evil. The locations in the sequel took players from an abandoned hospital to a dilapidated elementary school with walls covered in crimson finger paintings. F.E.A.R.3 continues to up the ante and players should expect to return to some seriously creepy locales, including an ominous airport and a wholesale store overrun with cannbibals (we will definitely need a cleanup on aisle nine). The wide spectrum of temperatures used in the lighting contrasted with the inky black shadows helps create a dramatic mood throughout the game. The detail in the sound design, weather effects, and textures also contribute to the unsettling ambience. This commitment to atmosphere is where the game really excels as it adds to the mounting psychological tension the players endure. Stomping on mushrooms while looking for a princess is one thing, but slogging through levels filled with dismembered corpses only to find yourself face to face with a telekinetic poltergeist is truly disconcerting. The knowledge that every dimly lit corridor brings you closer to the confrontation will constantly keep players on edge. Nowhere is safe as Alma (and other assorted spectres) won’t hesitate to remind you of their presence. These horrifying encounters often manifest themselves as visual and auditory assaults on your senses. Disturbing images of Alma will flash on the screen accompanied by superbly eerie sound effects. This makes the time spent between gunfights seem like an eternity as players are left in a constant state of unrest. Users will find themselves gingerly following their flashlight beam into dark rooms and tiptoeing around corners. Being a self proclaimed aficionado of the horror genre, in both film and game, it’s nice to see that developers can still come up with successful ways to give players the willies.
From the artsy title sequence to the clean layouts of the interface, the game’s overall presentation is well executed. These elements also carry over into the gameplay as fans may notice a more stylized approach to the character designs of Point Man and Fettel. The graphics themselves are slightly less than impressive, but hardly take away from the overall visuals. This may be an issue solely with the console versions of the game as prior PC releases have had stunning graphics. The most impressive graphical elements in the game are the various and horrifying displays of gore. Gore is a notorious cornerstone in the horror genre and with more blood than the elevators at the Overlook Hotel, F.E.A.R. 3 won’t disappoint. Some rooms are so over the top they look like the crime scene after the Kool-Aid man has been bludgeoned to death with jars of strawberry jam. The walls are covered with handprints, smears, and splatter straight out of an 80’s slasher flick. In addition to the copious amounts of hemoglobin dripping from the ceilings the gore is also heavily present in the gameplay. With a wide arsenal of weapons players can dismember, decapitate, and disintegrate their enemies. A close range shotgun blast will explode enemies into a pink mist filled with glistening pieces of flesh. In order to truly appreciate the devastation players can utilize the game’s popular slow motion feature and watch limbs with exposed bone tumble lazily to the ground. Videogame violence has never been better.
The gameplay mechanics are fluid, but heavier guns lack the weighted feeling found in the Killzone games and the controls aren’t quite as refined as the Call of Duty series. It’s also important to recognize that those games were developed with significantly larger budgets so ignoring these minor flaws is easy. One issue that has been consistent in the series is the lack of realism with the grenades. Granted that Point Man is a super-soldier, he still throws grenades with the finesse of Tony Romo. Players will find themselves constantly lobbing the explosives over their targets only to blow up a seemingly innocent stack of boxes several yards away. The firefights are intense and a Gears of War style cover system allows players to use various objects within the environments for protection. The enemies are responsive and react to everything from flashlight beams to injuries sustained by their comrades. However, the AI does suffer from lapses and players will occasionally be able stand unnoticed in the open while lining up their crosshairs. The gameplay also includes an elaborate point system where players will gain experience for completing various achievements in both the multiplayer and campaign modes. It’s not as in-depth as the COD system, but players will be rewarded with rankings for things like head shots and kill streaks.
F.E.A.R. 3 is a solid game and should be considered by fans of first person shooters and/or the survival horror genre. Veterans of the series will naturally get more out of the experience as it adds another chapter to the franchise’s dark story. There are some noticeable gameplay issues that will most likely keep it from being considered among the best FPS’s of the year, but even these can be overlooked. The true value is the promise that being scared is always fun and players looking to experience another tense horror title won’t be disappointed. With insanely addictive slow motion shootouts and appalling amounts of gore the game has something to offer all fans of the genre…who are over the age of 18, of course. The replay value is high with two different weapon sets and endings available depending on which character you choose. The robust leveling system and creepy little collectibles will also have players running through the campaign mode several times. F.E.A.R. 3’s replayability is also heavily tied into its Co-op system and multiplayer modes. The multiplayer battles are creative and loads of fun (think COD Zombie survival, but better). Whether you’re looking for intense FPS action or a chilling story with bloody good visuals, F.E.A.R. 3 is definitely a game that shouldn’t be missed.