June 29, 2011
I think if there is one thing that we should clear up straight away it would be the following – this is not a scary game. Not even a little bit. This is a fact made all the more perplexing by the fact that Steve Niles and John Carpenter were roped into proceedings to give things their own weird twist. That is not to say that FEAR 3 (or F3AR if we really must) doesn't offer plenty of entertainment, but for a series that has always been about the scares first and the shooting second, the mantra seems to have swung too far the other way.
The emphasis is still firmly fixed around the world's most dysfunctional family. Pointman, still the worlds worst named hero, and his undead brother Paxton Fettel, the most violent ghost around, have to join together in a bid to find out what is causing the vast array of supernatural events that are plaguing the world. It should be no great shock to find out that their dear mother, the rather sinister Alma, is the root cause. It seems she has gotten pregnant and slipped into the same crazed behaviour that hits most mothers to be – only with a side order of the paranormal.
To be honest the story makes pretty much no sense, and even fans of the series will be left scratching their heads a little at the numerous plot holes that present themselves. A few abrupt flashbacks give a sense of the brothers' story but it's never fleshed out enough to give newcomers a sense of the overriding story that has occurred throughout the series. Plus, the ending, depending on which one you see, raises more questions than answers. It's a shame, but with a lack of scares and a less than compelling plot, the game has lost a lot of what made the original such a hit.
In fact it would be safe to say that this game plays more like Call of Duty than anything, as the emphasis is firmly on hordes of enemies being flung at our unwary hero. Then he has to rely on his gun skills, and unique reflexes (that’s slow motion to the rest of us) to pummel his foes to death. They have also added in a cover system, because hey, everyone needs one right? Though in fairness it works pretty well and Pointman can vault over obstacles and strafe around them to good effect. Enemies still have a good level of intelligence too and work together to try and take you down, via flanking manoeuvres and cleverly aimed grenades.
Despite the well-put-together nature of the action, and the amusing mech sequences, things feel amazingly linear and the game is decidedly short to boot. If that was all she wrote, then this would hardly be worth the effort but thankfully a couple of factors come to the rescue in terms of single-player. First of all is the ability to play the whole thing in co-op with one person taking Pointman duties and the other controlling the far more intriguing Fettel. As a ghost he can psychically control foes and even possess their bodies to turn them against their former allies. His telekinesis abilities almost make it feel like you are playing an entirely different game, though sadly you only unlock him for single-player after beating each stage of the game.
Next up is the rather amusing scoring system, that sees you earning points for performing certain actions throughout the game, and you can then check your skills against the rest of the world via the leaderboards. This actually helps the game maintain a level of fun that might have otherwise been lost, as you strive to snag headshots, cover-based kills or slow motion moves. Snagging an especially skilful chain of events feels worthwhile, and there are times when you find yourself planning out your next scoring attempt rather than following the story. Whether that speaks volumes about the plot or the strength of the scoring system is open to interpretation. Your points also help to rank up your character and give them access to new skills and enhanced healing and secondary abilities which is nice.
As with other FEAR games there are also a plethora of online modes to take part in and this is actually one of the strongest selling points of the whole experience, though only if you buy the game new as you will miss out on some modes and maps if you decide to go pre-owned. Boo, and all that noise. Regardless, the four modes on offer are actually pretty decent and make a refreshing change from the usual spate of Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes.
Contractions wins no prizes for originality as it is basically Horde or Firefight (depending on your online experience of choice) by another name. Fighting off waves of foes, you can also help to kit out your team by dragging weapon crates back to your base or by using various defences and armoured suits that are scattered around. It is fun stuff, helped by the fact that random fog can descend onto the battlefield to obscure your vision and the fact that Alma randomly wanders the arena punishing players that gaze upon her for too long. So cover those peepers. F**king Run has players working together to escape a creeping wall of death, while killing foes that get in your way. It’s a clever idea and one that can be great fun assuming you get a well co-ordinated team together, as one death means game over, which can lead to frustration if you are with random folk.
The last two modes are fairly similar. Soul King sees all four players start as spectres, with the remit being to possess enemies and kill other foes and players to amass points. The longer you go without dying then the more points you can amass, though it also means a much bigger loss should you eventually get bumped off. Soul Survivor sees just one player acting as a spectre in a bid to possess foes in a bid to kill off rival players and turn them into ghosts as well. All of the modes work well although getting a game up and running without a dedicated party can be a trial. Still, if you're only looking at spending time with this game then this is certainly where it will happen.
This is also a less taxing achievement experience than previous titles, as it doesn’t have the outrageously lengthy online tasks that the other games revelled in. Instead you are tasked with completing the game at least twice, as you will have to unlock Insane difficulty, but this is not too annoying a task as it gives you the chance to experience the campaign as both players. Also you will have to rack up certain kills, get to Rank 21 and max out your score on each level to name but a few. There are a few online tasks but these are mostly fairly easy, with only a few of the lengthier Contractions tasks proving time consuming. A decent mix if truth be told, but nothing too original.
The story is fairly short and linear, and offers up a pretty much shock-free experience, but once you get to play as Fettel things seem to get kicked up a notch. Sure you will have fun while it lasts but that being said this will be a fairly unsatisfactory experience for long-term fans and certainly doesn’t blow away recent shooters, mainly because it spends too much time aping their best features. The multiplayer is the saving grace, with some interesting modes and maps, but that has always been a secondary feature to the main event and on that front, FEAR 3 is good but not great.
Atmospheric music and some amusing banter from Fettel help to keep things ticking along, though in a way the music writes cheques the game never cashes as it constantly builds to an epic crescendo only for nothing to occur.
Decent but not spectacular and the landscapes are soon shown up as being pretty bland and linear. A step up from the drab locales of the original but still nothing special.
A decent shooter as Pointman, and a whole lot of fun as Fettel, with some great MP modes to back things up. The cover mechanics and abilities work a treat too to mix things up.
As a horror shooter this fails fairly badly, though the addition of co-op and the scoring mechanic salvages things somewhat only for the woefully short campaign and dodgy plot to shoot itself in the foot. The proverbial mixed bag.
A solid list that helps you to experience everything that the game has to offer, though without ever truly innovating. At least they have axed the grind fest style online tasks.
While it lasts this game is a solid and entertaining shooter, but as a FEAR game you should be expecting a bit more than just that. A return to the horror roots and a few more innovative twists in the tale would push the series back into greatness, but as it is this is a by the numbers experience with just enough novel features to keep it interesting.