Ah yes, F.3.A.R: another victim of the numerical title plague that Driv3r instigated. I have suppressed the persistent desire to burn all games that adopt this technique for far too long; making it quite likely that F3.A.R, too, would suffer this fate if it turned out to be bad. Fortunately for my sake, and also that of the environment, my concerns were unfounded. This game is quite good. I will, however, refuse to call it ‘F.3.A.R’ from this point on.
Fear 3, the third outing of this perpetual shooter-cum-mind-fuck series. And as you’d expect, things are a lot stranger, and a darn sight more confusing on this third time round, as our two brothers from the first game, Point Man and Paxton Fettel, are thrown together – in a somewhat awkward embrace – as they attempt to locate their pregnant mother, Alma.
For those of you who don’t know why these two events are both significant, yet also bizarre: our main protagonist, Point Man, shot and killed his brother during the first game. As for the pregnant mother, that monstrosity came about at the end of Fear 2 when Michael Beckett (the main character from the second outing) was, for lack of a better word, raped – all of which is casually unveiled to the player in the first few minutes.
Perhaps it doesn’t need pointing out, then, but Fear 3 really is a dark game, and the moments that make you jump are the least of your concerns. If you’re really looking for a fright, just start poking about in the background of each character, that’s where Fear 3 demonstrates itself as remarkably unnerving.
The storyline surrounds the final trimester of Alma’s pregnancy, making up much of the narrative, spanning over eight chapters and clocking in at approximately six hours. It’s rather short, but the developers behind Fear 3 quite clearly realised this, too, and introduced a number of gameplay elements to artificially introduce longevity.
It’s for this reason that the Fear 3 campaign is designed to be played through twice, once as Point Man and once as Paxton Fettel, each boasting a rather unique skill-set. It goes without saying that Fettel makes for a more amusing experience, primarily because he’s no longer amongst the living, and thus has access to all manner of spiritual powers; including the ability to possess enemies, throw objects about, and generally make an unnerving nuisance of himself.
Unfortunately, the storyline is exactly the same for both characters, and with such heavy reliance on the narrative of Fettel (given that Point Man remains a mute, moody type for the entire game) it doesn’t always make sense because of it. Yet it’s still fun, and feels different enough for you to not feel cheated.
The second, and more appealing option, is to play through the campaign co-operatively. Fear 3 was evidently designed with co-op in mind, as even on the easiest of difficulty settings, some of the levels – when played alone – are incredibly unforgiving, making for a very infuriating experience. Team up with a buddy, though, and you’ll rarely encounter a problem.
Gameplay wise, Fear 3 is a very different beast to its predecessors. It’s horrendously fast paced, resulting in a heavy dependence on the slow-mo system, and includes a number of elements that liken the series to an arcade title. The end of each round presents a score sheet, and there are a number of mini-challenges available for each mission, that’ll help you rack up points. It’s all utterly bizarre, from a singleplayer perspective, and just goes to emphasise the fact that Day 1 Studios designed this game as a co-op experience, which is always improved with a little healthy competition between friends.
This third outing isn’t as scary as those that came before it, either. There’s plenty of scenes intended to make you jump, but unfortunately they do little more than recycle techniques from the previous games, which when coupled with the arcade style, detracts heavily from the horror genre that this series is undeniably a part of.
Fortunately, despite the numerous flaws that I’ve highlighted with such excruciating attention to detail, Fear 3 is a rather good game. The gameplay is gripping, certainly the best of three, and the co-op simply works. And sure, the story trundles along at a predictable pace, but Fear isn’t about that – it arguably never has been.
Instead, the focus is on the sheer reliance you develop for the slow-motion system, the racing of your heart as waves of enemies descend on your position, and the unmistakable ‘clink’ sound, that’s accompanied by an involuntary shudder, when your weapon of choice runs empty. This is what Fear is about, and Fear 3 has it in abundance. The cover system is equally attractive, and provides Gears of War style efficiency with a first-person shooter, a feat that – as far as I know – hasn’t been achieved before.
The multiplayer is also a considerable improvement on what’s come before it, partially due to the introduction of ‘Fucking Run!’ In this gameplay mode, players must push forward at all times, escaping Alma’s wall of death behind them whilst battling through an onslaught of enemy soldiers before them, to reach the next sparsely located ‘safe-zone’. The multiplayer is certainly designed as an extension of the fast-paced singleplayer, and it works very well.
Fear 3 is far from the perfect shooter, but amidst the current sea of oppressive Call of Duty clones, it does well to stand out from the crowd. And whilst it’s difficult to recommend for newcomers to the series, veterans will feel right at home. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and a great wealth of replayability, especially if you factor in the excellent multiplayer, you’ll keep playing long after completing the short campaign experience.
Verdict – On Target
Platforms available – PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Version reviewed – Xbox 360