It’s not too much of a stretch to hope – nay, expect – that when a game has the guts to literally call itself the emotion you should be feeling when you play it, you will end up feeling that very emotion at some point through the experience. F.3.A.R. – henceforth referred to with a less stupid title – is not called ‘Make You Jump A Couple Of Times 3’, nor is it referred to, even colloquially, as ‘That One Where An Apparition Of A Little Girl Keeps On Appearing In Doorways’ – both of which would be far more accurate. F.E.A.R. 3 relies on dozens of ‘BOO!’ moments to try and elicit a few cheap jumps and shudders from its playing audience. As a result, it’s all a bit tame, with players becoming accustomed to the cheap, hugely telegraphed instances in record time. It’s not even that much of a push to simply say: F.E.A.R 3 is not scary.
The first F.E.A.R. game saw a single moment in it quite early on that struck a chord with gamers and hasn’t left the mind of many of those who played it since. The simple act of climbing down a ladder – something done a billion times over in seemingly every game – was made terrifying. It was unexpected, it was well-placed and it was scary. To put it in perspective, the best F.E.A.R. 3 manages to get on the scare-o-meter is a less-successful copy of the first game’s ladder moment. And for all the hype, for all we’re told it’s a mind-melting tale of terror that will keep us all collectively awake for months after we’ve played it, it can’t help but be irksome when it turns out this is simply an action title with multiple violin squeaks thrown in to tell you when you should be scared.
The game itself does just enough to keep its head above water, so while the name may be a bit of a fib, the actual experience of playing it isn’t that bad. All the same, it isn’t that good either. If you come into F.E.A.R. 3 expecting anything other than a very standard, by-the-book shooter, albeit with a couple of decent (though unspectacular) additions to the formula, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Playing single-player, you will spend around seven hours ducking and diving out of cover in pitched battles against faceless military forces and a few monsters, along with a few boss battles thrown in for good measure. It’s so standard it aches, and from a mechanics perspective there’s very little to actually get excited about.
One area things do get at least a bit more interesting, however, is through the addition of Point Man’s brother and the original F.E.A.R.’s antagonist, Paxton Fettel, as a second playable character. Once a level has been completed with the hilariously-named silent one, it can be replayed as the psychokinetic-powered ghost with a bullet in his head. Yes, that is an accurate sentence. Controlling Fettel, players are able to possess the bodies of enemies for a limited time, controlling them completely and forcing them to commit suicide if they so choose (‘suicide’ meaning ‘causing their head to explode’).
It’s just a shame that something that could have been far more interesting and explored in a much less standard way is hastily thrown into the experience. Yes, you can possess an enemy troop and turn him on his compatriots, but all you’re doing is leaping from an interesting way of playing the game into a standard way of playing the game – it’s a backwards step if anything. And other than his possession technique, Fettel is just an FPS character with a hand that acts as a gun.
A few neat little elements stop F.E.A.R. 3 from becoming a bad game and, in fact, pull it up to a decidedly half-decent standard. The game is very clearly made with co-op play in mind, one player controlling Point Man, the other Fettel. While you do still end up playing the same game that’s all too happy to just throw waves of enemies at you seemingly non-stop, it does at least bring some tactical considerations into play. Playing as Point Man it’s standard fare, but the partner playing as Fettel will be flanking all over the place, possessing and disorganising the enemy as they go. It’s a far better way to play the game and comes much more highly recommended than the vanilla single-player experience.
Then there’s the points system. Again, in single-player it’s a bit of a standard exercise – earn points for completing challenges in each level (25 kills with a certain weapon, for example) and eventually you will level-up, bringing more health, the ability to carry more ammo, et cetera. Straightforward, really. But throw in another player and you add a fantastic competitive element to proceedings, with a ‘favourite son’ being chosen at the end of each mission based on who scored higher. And not to ruin anything, but there’s a chance these scores have an effect on the story.
F.E.A.R. 3 is a disappointment, there’s no two ways about it. The scares just aren’t there – we live in a post-Amnesia world, so we know it’s possible for FPSs to terrify – and the rest of the action is so utterly standard it strays into boring territory more than we hoped it would. A more interesting co-op mode and the competitive, point-based leaderboards covering both single and multiplayer drag it out of average territory, but generally speaking we fear this is a missed opportunity.