Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: F.E.A.R. 3 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)


The F.E.A.R. games have always represented an anomaly in the first-person shooter genre; combining elements of shooters and survival horror, they are not as cinematic or polished as the bigger name titles but they stand out despite their shortcomings. For me personally, the second F.E.A.R. game really hit the right note, creating a wonderfully creepy story-driven experience and improving on the deficiencies of the first game. It is one of my favorite FPS titles of this generation and my expectations of the third installment were what you might call “cautiously high” - I loved the previous installment and was hoping to be blown away, but I was also aware that high expectations breed disappointment. The results of the finished product are a mixed bag, but F.E.A.R. 3 as a whole is a solid shooter that delivers in most areas and predictably stumbles in others. Is it worth you time and money? Read further to help guide your decision.

The plot in F.E.A.R. 3 is pushed forward partly by linear game design and partly by atmosphere. Picking up after the events of the second game, you assume the role of Point Man, the protagonist of the first F.E.A.R. title, as you take on the responsibility of stopping Alma, the ghostly female antagonist from the two previous titles, from having a baby conceived (forcefully) by the main character in the second game. Along for the ride is Point Man’s demented brother Paxton Fettel, another returning character from the original F.E.A.R. and one that fans had assumed was dead. As convoluted as the plot sounds, the objective of the game is fairly simple - blast your way through eight levels and ultimately put an end to Alma’s pregnancy before her offspring is born and even more hell breaks loose. The story also represents a full circle for the two protagonists, Point Man and Fettel, as they both confront their troubled pasts and form an alliance to achieve a common goal. On the whole, the story is effective in making you feel like you’re accomplishing something bigger than just blasting through waves of enemies, though don’t expect any big surprises or revelations that you won’t see coming a mile away. 

During your first playthrough, you are limited to playing as Point Man and he controls exactly like a gun-toting protagonist in an FPS game should. Throughout the levels, several different weapons are made available to you, ranging from the usual pistols, shotguns, machine guns and sniper rifles, to more creative weapons of destruction like the Penetrator, which nails enemies to the wall, and a beam gun that cooks your enemies where they stand. Also returning is Point Man’s ability to slow down time and use this to line up shots that would otherwise be difficult to make, which is a life saver in the more hectic battles. The gunplay controls are intuitive, responsive and easy for any genre veteran to pick up in a heartbeat. As each level in the game is unlocked, you are given the ability to play through it again as Fettel and he represents the more interesting addition to the series. He is unable to use guns or weapons of any description, however he has spectral powers that allow him to suspend and shock enemies, shot bolts of electricity and take possession of enemy bodies and send them after the others. In addition to the gunplay prowess of Point Man and the demonic powers of Fettel, there are a few instances where you are given the opportunity to take control of a Mech Suit and mow down waves of enemies with relative ease. The levels and the story play out the same regardless of who you play as, but the addition of Fettel and his unique abilities does provide more depth and replay value that would otherwise be found here.

As a single player experience, F.E.A.R. 3 is a linear corridor shooter that provides about seven hours of gameplay, possibly more if you take the time to search for collectables. The game does a good job of guiding you down a narrow path, with doors closing behind you and previously visited areas being rendered inaccessible as you are pushed from one checkpoint to the next. The downside to this is that the game feels shorter and more rushed than its predecessor, leaving you with less time to soak up the atmosphere and really get immersed. Another aspect to the game that feels overly familiar is the “duck and cover” gunplay that will have you spending most of the game hiding behind cover and popping out to short your enemies, though some of the cover is destructible and you will be left scrambling to find another place to hide before you die in a hail of bullets. As strong as the story ideas are, they ultimately get lost due to the overly quick pacing that the story is told in. F.E.A.R. 2 was a slow cooker and you really got into it, however I didn’t get that same feeling with the third installment. This is not to say that it’s bad, but the pacing makes this feel more like a standard military shooter than a proper story-driven experience.

The Multiplayer is divided into co-op and competitive game modes. On the competitive side, you are given four different options that are a combination of familiar team-based deathmatch and survival matches, however there are some unique twists here. The Soul King mode is a deathmatch between soldiers and cultists, and Contractions acts as a “king of the hill” mode of sorts, with you and your team holding a position and fighting off waves of enemies for as long as you can. The two unique additions are Fucking Run, which requires you to escape an enveloping cloud of fog while fighting off hordes of enemies, and Soul Survivor requires one player to possess the bodies of three other players. The latter two are a refreshing twist on the tired multiplayer we have come to expect from FPS titles and will hopefully be enough to keep fans playing. On the co-op front, you are given the option to play through the entire game with a friend, one person playing Point Man and the other playing Fettel. This is the best way to experience F.E.A.R. 3 since combining the abilities of both characters makes for some wickedly fun and immersive gameplay. Whether you are playing solo, co-op or competitive multiplayer, F.E.A.R. 3’s overarching point system and ranking levels will apply seamlessly. Throughout the game, you are awarded points for completing challenges ranging from menial, such as picking up ammunition or using cover for specified periods of time, to more complex like achieving a certain number of headshots or using certain types of weapons. As you accumulate points, you rank up and your level applies across all gameplay modes. The point system is derivative of most online multiplayer shooters, but it’s nice to see it benefit players in other game modes as well.

The graphics in F.E.A.R. 3 may lack the polish and realism of other FPS titles this generation, however the cornerstone of the F.E.A.R. series has always been an emphasis on atmosphere and you can expect to be treated to some wonderfully creepy ambience here. The corridors are drenched with dripping blood, littered with dead bodies and filled with dark corners that will keep you in a constant state of unease. The enemies range from garden variety soldiers to fast-running “cultist” zombies and demonic creatures that will appear out of nowhere. The design and animation in both the levels and the enemies may be dated and unimpressive, but the game’s atmosphere and creepiness more than makes up for this. As in the two previous installments, you encounter some random hallucinations and apparitions of Alma, both of which are punctuated by loud shrieks and unsettling changes in the music score which provide many of the “shock” moments in the game.

In the end, F.E.A.R. 3 is a solid FPS experience that combines the creepy, blood-drenched atmosphere of Silent Hill with the solid FPS mechanics of Half-Life. The rushed story, point system and emphasis on large gun battles do leave the impression of this being more of a military shooter with supernatural elements, however to write it off completely on that basis would be doing it a disservice. The look and feel of the game may be dated, but there is still plenty of fun to be had here.The brief but fun single player experience, the wonderfully robust co-op and unique twists on conventional multiplayer modes really make this game worth checking out for any FPS fan.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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