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Review: F.E.A.R. 3
by Andrew Testerman

Will Day 1 Studio's new release in the F.E.A.R series be able to replicate the same scares and bump-in-the-night moments as the first two games in the series? Andrew Testerman finds out. Reviewed on PlayStation 3.

Warner Bros. Interactive are back to give gamers a third helping of FPS-horror action with F.E.A.R. 3. Developed by Day 1 Studios, creators of the Mech Assault series for the original Xbox, F.E.A.R. 3 attempts to carve a niche for itself in today’s crowded market through a focus on slow motion gunplay, non-traditional multiplayer, and things that go bump in the night. It’s far from perfect, but F.E.A.R. 3’s unique blend of tense atmosphere and solid shooting mechanics make it worth a look for FPS fans craving new experiences.

F.E.A.R. 3 casts the player as Point Man, protagonist from the first game. Following on nine months after the conclusion of F.E.A.R. 2, Point Man is charged with rescuing his squad mate, Jin, from the wreckage of Fairport City, as well as finding and destroying creepy franchise poster girl, Alma. Joining him is his brother, Paxton Fettel, the primary antagonist from the first game. Together, the two shoot their way through a variety of locations, escaping from a Mexican prison, traversing an abandoned airport and negotiating a ruined Sam's Club-esque store. F.E.A.R. 3’s story hinges on the theme of family, giving it a personal touch and helping it stick out from other, more boilerplate action titles.

For a game sold on the basis of its horror trappings, F.E.A.R. 3 is surprisingly, and unfortunately, not all that scary. Whilst the first two games subtly crafted their horror through slow build-ups and near-perfect pacing, F.E.A.R. 3 is content to hit gamers full in the face with its scare attempts. "There’s blood on the wall!" the game says. "Isn’t that so very occult and strange?" Yes, for the first few rooms, it is. When nearly every wall is caked in more red than a Target store, however, the shock factor wears out significantly. Fortunately, the game’s sound design manages to provide a few good scares, filling the environment with small, unsettling noises, and rattling players with a tense musical score.

While the scare factor in F.E.A.R. 3 is lacking, the gunplay is not. As Point Man, players are given the ability to slow down time in a Max Payne fashion, making for easier headshots and greater tactical awareness. Gamers will need this advantage, too, because the enemy AI in F.E.A.R. 3 is brutal. Even on the Normal difficulty setting, enemies will flank, throw grenades and take cover behind objects, making even the most average firefight potentially harrowing. Weapons feel uniformly satisfying, especially in close quarters, when a point-blank shotgun blast can turn most enemies into a large, steaming pile of goo. F.E.A.R. 3 also lets players pilot a mech at several points during the campaign, effectively relieving the tension by making the player feel like an invincible killing machine.

Once a level is beaten as Point Man, players can go back through it as Paxton Fettel, effectively turning the game on its head. Rather than slow down time for a firefight advantage, Fettel has the ability to possess enemies, letting gamers body-snatch any guard of their choice and wreak havoc on its comrades. Playing as Fettel is markedly different to playing as Point Man, and gives gamers an incentive to replay F.E.A.R. 3 once they’ve finished the main story. F.E.A.R. 3 can also be played co-op either as split-screen or online, with each player taking control of a different brother; the game is significantly easier when played this way, but it is also stonking great fun.

Differentiating F.E.A.R. 3 further from its modern shooter counterparts is its multiplayer. In today’s world of "Call of Duty this" and "Battlefield that", games with multiplayer need to provide more than just the standard Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, and Day 1 absolutely knocks it out of the park in this regard. The two primary modes are Contractions and Soul King. Contractions is a variant of Call of Duty: World At War's Nazi Zombie mode, with players battling through waves of increasingly-difficult enemies, rebuilding defensive fortifications, and stocking up on weapons between rounds. In Soul King, four players face off against one another, possessing the bodies of NPCs laden throughout the map, earning points for killing other NPCs and stealing points by killing other players. Whether or not the game will be able to garner an active community is unsure, but F.E.A.R. 3’s online component is a breath of fresh air for anyone looking for unique multiplayer action.

Unfortunately, a few problems do rear their ugly heads. As mentioned above, F.E.A.R. 3 is surprisingly tepid on scares, especially compared to the last two entries; most of the scares come from a monster jumping out of a closet and yelling "boo", making the so-called 'terror' aspect feel rather cheap, and nowhere near on the level as, for example, the school from F.E.A.R. 2 (a level available as a demo on Xbox Live and PSN, and containing more scares than the entirety of F.E.A.R. 3). There are also a few technical hiccups, including some audio sync issues, as well as the inability to manually reload weapons; it is likely this is an issue specific to my review copy, but is disappointing nonetheless. Lastly, F.E.A.R. 3’s remaining two multiplayer modes - Soul Survivor, a possession-heavy mode similar to Infection from Halo 3; and Fucking Run, a wave-based survival mode, with the added twist of evading a moving cloud of death - are only available with F.E.A.R. 3’s Online Pass, giving a disadvantage to second-hand gamers and those who rent their games.

Though not on the level of excellence that its previous two entries enjoyed, F.E.A.R. 3 still provides solid shooting action and several unique play mechanics, making it a good choice for gamers looking for a quality summer shooter.

8/10 [?]

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- Andrew Testerman

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