Day 1 Studios and Warner Brothers Interactive are behind the newest installment of the FEAR series, which hits shelves today. Previously, the FEAR games were produced by Monolith Productions, but Day 1 Studios was responsible for releasing FEAR on the Xbox 360 and the PS3 back in 2006 and 2007. For FEAR 3, with consulting help from horror expert John Carpenter, Day 1 had full control.
This is a more robust FEAR offering than I've previously experienced before, although that doesn't make it necessarily the best. That said, this is a well rounded release -- let's take a closer look, shall we?
Alma's Expecting... Yikes.
So in FEAR 2, the player controlled Michael Becket, a member of an elite tactical military group known as Delta Squad. He is a target for Project Harbinger, a secretive project by the massive private military corporation known as Armacham. The goal of Harbinger was to create more psychic commanders, just like Paxton Fettel, who was the antagonist in the first game. Where FEAR 3 picks up is with the very ending of 2 -- Alma is pregnant, of all things, which is definitely not a good thing...
FEAR 3 puts you back in the boots of Point Man, the protagonist from the first game. As you may recall, he is a FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon) operative. Recent events have caused most of his team to die, but Jin, a female FEAR op, is still alive. Much of the campaign is about finding and rescuing her. Then you need to deal with Harlan Wade, the Armacham architect who created Alma (and you) in the first place -- and finally reach Alma. Point Man is in for a hell of a night.
Point Man will have his hands full with a variety of adversaries. He will once again be facing waves of Armacham grunts, which include hundreds of gun toting soldiers, helicopters, psychic commanders, and mechs (that you can also pilot). There are also droves of swarming citizens who have been affected by all of the hell that Fairport has been through. Over the course of the series, Fairport has been through a nuclear explosion and is also currently subject to continuous, malicious, psychic waves of energy emanating from Alma. These waves of psychic energy are due to her contractions. They are a sight to behold -- a visible wall of energy erupts and tidal-waves across the city, destroying helicopters and windows, causing all sorts of havoc. As that happens, you can hear Alma scream with pain, and
monsters are born from the psychic energy that move very quickly and leap right for your face.
A normal soldier wouldn't stand much of a chance, but Point Man has always been different. His incredible reflexes -- which we see as bullet time or slow mo -- are a part of his skillset and make a return in 3. The cover system has been tweaked a little bit too; Point Man can go from one cover point to another by using B to attach to a wall, and A to move to a neighboring wall. You can also 'slide' in cover by using the left stick to poke your head up and to the sides. The cover mechanics are nice, but I found myself just crouching and manually using walls and objects as cover to be smoother than using the button prompts, although your preferences may vary.
Another tweak, or change really, from FEAR 2 is that you can only carry two weapons. In 2, it was not
uncommon to have an assault rifle with 500 rounds, a shotgun with 76 rounds, a pistol, a flamethrower, and so on. FEAR 3 dials that down significantly for the sake of some realism and gives you two weapons to tote. Weapons are familiar -- shock, incendiary, and frag grenades; a combat shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, pistol, and three-round burst precision rifle. There is also a rocket launcher, lightning gun, and a shield + assault rifle combo. None of these weapons can be upgraded unfortunately, which is a bit of a letdown, especially in multiplayer. They're more than capable in the right hands, though.
FEAR 3's campaign is a run and gun affair, with some slower areas that attempt to stir up some fear. These scare tactics include objects that move by themselves, shadows, visions of Alma fading into ashes, bodies lying about, bloody messages on the wall, and so on. While nothing made me jump in my seat (something I haven't done since Condemned: Criminal Origins), there are some well executed spooky moments. Overall, however, FEAR 3 is the least scary of the series, and I think that is due to several reasons. For one, the levels themselves are not as conducive to scary moments as previous
FEAR games were. On several occasions, Point Man is outside, in the open, often with lots of daylight. Open, well lit areas, or even just open areas, aren't as scary as narrow hallways in a dimly lit hospital, although that type of level design is in 3 as well. Plus, going through what is basically an abandoned Super Wal-Mart was not intimidating; at worst it reminded me of Homefront, at best it was pretty mediocre.
Additionally, the Armacham soldiers talk way too much. I know that sounds odd, but any time you're engaged in battle with them they chatter, non-stop. "Get on my six!" "I'm taking cover over here!" "He's above us" "St!" -- you hear the same lines over and over again, even though there is a moderate variety of dialogue and what they say (as far as your location) is accurate. I know the Armacham guys talked in the previous FEAR games too, but, just not nearly as much as they do here. Between those guys talking, and the presence of your brother, Paxton Fettel, I didn't feel nearly as alone as with previous FEAR games. Without that sense of isolation, things weren't as scary; that doesn't mean the game is automatically worse than the others, but it was a key difference for me.
So while 3 may not have the fear factor that was more present in earlier games in the series, it does have every bit of the combat which should satisfy pure shooter fans. The eight chapters, or Intervals, as the series always calls them, are loaded with nearly 1,000 enemies and not a single puzzle. In other words, this is action from start to finish. That finish by the way, culminates, rather unexpectedly, in the easiest boss fight I have ever played, and an ending that still has me scratching my head. FE4R seems likely, but we'll see.
The campaign mode offers more than just an eight hour run and gun with Point Man, though. If you're after points and Achievements/Trophies, each Interval includes a block of challenges for you to complete. These include getting x number of kills with a certain weapon, finding the hidden Alma doll, staying in cover for 100 seconds, getting twenty-five headshots, using slow mo for so many seconds, and so on. Your status on these challenges pops up in a small notification window throughout the Interval in a colorful little box. Actually, this is another reason why 3 is not a very scary game; these Challenge pop up window updates remind you that hey, it's just a game. In other words, it was a lot harder to get immersed into the atmosphere.
The Challenges do more than just give you something to strive for, though. They help you rank up. You can upgrade your character to level 21, picking up various bonuses along the way. In playing through the campaign, I got to level 10. I learned the slide tackle, earned an extra grenade slot, increased my bullet time meter, and a few other things. When I hit Level 11, aka Assassin, I earned a 20% health boost.
As you play through the campaign with Point Man, you can unlock Fettel for each mission, meaning you can replay the campaign with his unique ability (possessing enemies). Additionally, perhaps the coolest part of the campaign is being able to play it with a friend. Via splitscreen or online, one player controls Point Man, the other is Paxton Fettel. Point Man plays normally, but with Fettel, you are able to possess Armacham soldiers, which instantly kills them. While possessing their body, you can use it against their buddies. They always attack in groups, so imagine Point Man taking cover and firing as he normally would. Meanwhile, Fettel can flank and get within range to possess and suddenly turn one Armacham soldier against the others. I've always said that co-op can make up for campaign shortcomings because of the fun factor and reward of teamwork -- that is the case with 3. You have what is a pretty mediocre single player campaign made a little bit better by having a second, unique player jump in.
The co-op campaign is one of five multiplayer modes with the other four modes being Contractions, Soul King, Soul Survivor, and F*cking Run!. Two of these modes, and their three maps each, were unlocked with the included online pass that came with the game. A 150MB download later, and I was set. I was impressed with the creativity behind these modes; bear in mind this is coming from a guy that does not spend a lot of time playing online, but I thought these modes were cool nonetheless.
Contractions is all about getting up to four players together to fight off wave after wave of enemies. Sure it's been done before, but it's fun nonetheless with the right players. I like what Day 1 did here; there is the obvious offensive element to this mode, but the amount of strategy may surprise you. Spreadout throughout the relatively compact level are random storage crates that appear in between waves. These crates can be picked up by a player and carried back to the home base. When you bring a crate in, it drops weapons and ammo that your whole team can use. You are defenseless and move slowly while hauling a crate into base though, so you have to be weary about not being too far away from base before the next sh*tstorm of a wave starts. Multiple players can go out and get crates or they can repair the barricades to help keep foes out.
Basically, in between waves, especially as you get on past wave 15, you are staying incredibly busy, either swapping weapons, reloading, getting crates, repairing barricades, or scrambling to get into position. With each wave, the 'fog' grows thicker and the enemies grow tougher and tougher. You will also see and hear Alma skipping around, but avoid looking at her and shooting her or she unleashes a really upset monster your way.
Contractions turned out to be my favorite mode, but it all depends on finding the right people to play with. Everyone has to pitch in and stay constantly busy. You might think that just hording up in a corner together will keep you safe, and it will for some enemies, but it isn't long before the waves start featuring grenade-tossing, rocket launching bad guys, not to mention psychic commanders. While there are only three maps right now (for any mode for that matter), Contractions is a helluva good time.
Soul King is a more competitive, less co-operative mode. In this mode, players are spectres, creepy looking, floating entities that need to possess Armacham soldiers that the CPU controls. By possessing these soldiers, you can kill others, be they other Armacham operatives or players, and collect skull orbs that give you points. You become the Soul King when you have the most collected souls, but you also become the hunted because your player is visible through walls and floors, making it easier to track you down. I got annoyed at how much my character talked, in that forced spooky voice, and also when Kings would run away and hide, waiting for the clock to run out. Still, Soul King is an okay mode, but not one I see myself playing often.
Soul Survivor is a team based mode that pits FEAR ops against Spectres. The Spectres are tasked with possessing and corrupting the FEAR squad while the FEAR squad is out to blast the Spectres and revive fallen comrades. The Last Man Standing can seek out an Escape Point to end the round, or stay and battle it out with his friends. I have played this mode the least of all so far, but I found it more enjoyable than Soul King.
Finally, there is F*ucking Run! which is a fun mode for a group of dedicated players. The idea is that players, up to four, need to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. In there way are numerous physical obstacles, not the least of which are Armacham soldiers and monsters. You have to keep moving though -- reviving fallen buddies as fast as possible along the way -- because a literal wall of death is behind you. If any member of the team dies, it's game over for everyone. These rounds do not last very long but are as intense as anything you will face in the other modes.
Players can check out any of these modes offline too, in the Solo Practice mode which throws a variety of bots at you. It's obviously not as fun or as easy, but it's nice that it was added so you can practice tactics and get familiar with the maps.
Visually, FEAR 3 is good, but shy of great. On a technical level, I couldn't help but think that the game looked a little bit dated. Textures are a little dull, effects were fine, but not awesome, and so on. However from an artistic point of view, things are much better. Day 1 did a good job setting up some creepy environments and scenes, although as a general note, level design is decent, but very linear (also a staple of the series though).
Aurally, it's mostly good, but a mixed offering. Again I thought there was just too much chatter from the Armacham soldiers, and Fettel's attempt at a creepy voice is a bit grating. Similarly, Point Man doesn't say a word at all, which makes him really lack a personality. He looks a lot like Ethan Thomas from Condemned 2 by the way. As for the sound effects, mostly good, expect to hear the constant sound of gunfire more than anything though. What music there is in-game is okay; not as stress inducing as some of the previous FEAR games, though.
To the summary...