August 25, 2011 by Paul Curtin
To start the second half of a year jam-packed with trilogies, First Encounter Assault Recon is back with the third game in the series that debuted back in 2005. After upsetting many fans of the original by having a new main character in the second game, Monolith Productions has brought back the original protagonist, Point Man, but this time he has a tag-team partner to accompany him throughout the entire game, the spirit of his evil dead brother whom he killed in the first game. Like Alma (the creepy little girl that haunts you throughout each game), the F.E.A.R. series is back, but unfortunately it too is starting to show signs of its age.
Set nine months after the events of both previous games, F.E.A.R. 3‘s plot revolves around Alma, the little girl who is all grown up and now about to give birth. Players are able to go through the campaign as either one of Alma’s sons, the Point Man or Paxton Fattel, as they fight their way to Alma together through a fallen city filled with Armachan military units and civilians who have been driven to the point of insanity. Like previous games in the series, throughout the journey players will be haunted by visions of Alma and other mysterious spirits that are still very creepy, but players of previous games will be wise to Alma’s tricks and no longer as scared knowing that none of her illusions will do them harm.
With the same old illusions and tricks used to scare players and the ability to play cooperatively throughout the entire game with a friend, the F.E.A.R. series is less scary than ever. And that’s F.E.A.R. 3‘s biggest problem: Monolith seems to be having an identity crisis with where they want to take the series and as a result has failed to improve upon anything that made the original games so frightening and fun to play. Instead of putting an emphasis on the horror that has made the series so iconic by focusing on the “F.E.A.R.,” the latest installment is focused more on the “First Encounter Assault Recon” and geared more towards Call of Duty fans.
One of the early levels in the game is set during the daytime and in the slums, which feels exactly like Modern Warfare 2 but with the ability to go into bullet-time and kill everything in slow motion. In addition to a completely out-of-place level that screams Call of Duty, one of the new features is a constant pop-up in the bottom left corner with stats for each level, such as number of kills with the current gun being used and how close an achievement is to being unlocked. How am I supposed to be scared when I keep seeing achievement updates popping up on my screen and reminding me that I’m playing a game? Horror games should do everything they can to keep from reminding you that you’re playing a game, like completely removing the HUD, which Dead Space 2 did perfectly at the start of this year.
Despite the game’s campaign seeming to try to do everything it can to be more like Call of Duty, Monolith has completely ditched the competitive multiplayer that was featured in the previous games. Instead, there are four bizarre new modes: Soul King, Soul Survivor, Contractions, and Fucking Run. Soul King and Soul Survivor are the new competitive multiplayer modes with players being able to possess human bodies and try to kill one another, something that sounds intriguing but isn’t worth playing more than a couple times. The Contractions mode is a straight rip-off of Call of Duty‘s popular Zombie Survival mode, and Fucking Run plays similarly to Left 4 Dead. Many would argue that F.E.A.R.‘s bullet-time sequences are even more enjoyable than what you’d find in other FPS games, so it’s strange to see the series abandoning what could have been a serious competitive multiplayer shooter in order to make worse versions of what you can find elsewhere.
To add to the list of “things other games do that the F.E.A.R. series is now trying” is a tacked on cover system that you’ll try your best not to use and even sometimes accidentally get pulled into using because of the controls. The cover system isn’t terrible, but just crouching behind objects is faster and more effective. Thankfully, there aren’t any other big changes to the controls, which overall are still solid and keep gameplay enjoyable even during hectic battles with swarms of enemies.
Another missed opportunity is the lack of new weapons in Point Man’s arsenal. Since there are less horror elements, there needed to be new guns that helped keep the gameplay fresh and make the F.E.A.R. series stand out from the crowd as the superior shooter it once was. With a cool feature like bullet-time, you would expect there to be a tons of new weapons in each game to have fun with, especially with the story revolving around top secret military research. Yet, I don’t think there’s a single new gun that wasn’t in the previous games. The Penetrator (Nail Gun) is still fun to use, especially in slow motion, but it’s a weapon that’s lost most of its appeal due to so many other games now having it and you’ll rarely get a chance to use it in F.E.A.R. 3 since only the elite enemies drop it and there’s only about four of them throughout the entire game. Most of the time you’ll be using one of the two boring machine guns, a shotgun, a pistol, or dual-SMGs and constantly spamming the bullet-time. The bullet-time gimmick has just about run its course and definitely won’t cut it as F.E.A.R.‘s pinnacle feature if there’s another game on this console generation.
The only impressive new feature is F.E.A.R. 3‘s co-op that allows players to go through the entire campaign, chapter by chapter, with a friend. But as mentioned earlier, talking with a friend as you play kills the scariness of the game, so if you’re looking to get creeped out, you’ll want to stick to single-player, which for some reason plays differently than co-op — either to keep players feeling alone or laziness from the developers, it’s not clear. Throughout single-player you’ll hear your evil brother Fettel’s voice randomly talking to you, and he’ll make appearances in cutscenes, but he never fights alongside you in the single-player gameplay; it’s as if the developers didn’t feel like trying to add an A.I. smart enough to act like another person playing. Even after beating the game and playing a second time as Fettel, it’s not the same as playing with a friend where there are two characters playing at once, and instead you’ll basically play the exact same game in Point Man’s position, but with the new ability to shock enemies with your powers and take over their bodies. It’s a nice added bonus, but not enough to make most want to go back and play through the entire game again.
Whether the removal of an A.I. co-op partner was a design choice or just laziness, the overall design of the game seems to fall on the latter, with enemy A.I. that doesn’t seem to be any better or worse than previous games. I have no problem with tons of cursing in games, but it gets annoying hearing multiple enemies in a fight all repeating the exact same lines, with the exact same voice, most of which always contains the words “Shit” or “Fuck.” Even with dialog that would prove otherwise, the enemies overall are pretty smart and can make for a nice challenge by using cover, throwing well-placed grenades, and even charging at you — that is, until you use the overpowered bullet-time and blow them all away like a fearless action movie hero.
Although it’s not as strategic as Dead Space, the game’s graphics engine does allow for impressive body dismemberment. Enemies whose legs you take off will still crawl at you until you put them out of their misery. After getting his arms shot off, one crazed human enemy kept trying to kill me by throwing his entire armless body at me — it wasn’t scary so much as it was funny and impressive that the game offered A.I. that acted like real zombies that keep coming at you no matter what and don’t die from just having one part of their body taken off.
But even with the realistic improvements made to character models, the once superior graphics that made the original F.E.A.R. stand out are starting to show their age. Level designs are also dated and linear with most areas consisting of tons of narrow hallways filled with doors that cannot be opened. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics are still good, but it’s just one more thing that F.E.A.R. 3 does well but fails to actually improve upon from previous games in the series or do better than other current games on the market. While the level design is dated and linear, many areas still make great use of the lighting, sound, and random Alma visions to give you the chills.
The problem with F.E.A.R. 3 is that it’s become too much of a shooter and not enough of a horror game, and despite its focus on shooter gameplay, it offers nothing new and does almost nothing better than the previous two games did. The parts where Point Man is alone in levels like a meat freezer filled with hanging dead bodies and a possessed abandoned house with walls covered in psychotic writing are perfect and will have you creeped out as visions of a long-haired Ring-like girl haunt you, but those parts are far and few between the majority of the game, which involves shootouts with other humans wearing generic body armor that isn’t scary at all. Throw in letting the main character use bullet-time and even mech suits to mow down enemies, and it’s hard to feel fear towards anything in the game with such an overpowered lead character. Hopefully F.E.A.R. will go back to its origins in the next game and focus more on the horror elements and forget about the co-op. F.E.A.R. 3 gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Good controls and bullet-time sequences make for a solid shooter
- Certain parts are still scary enough to creep you out
- The entire campaign can be played with a friend via co-op locally or online
- Two different characters offer two unique ways to play co-op
- Co-op creates less of a focus on the horror aspect
- Repetitive linear gameplay
- Lack of new weapons
- Online pass requires you to pay to play all the online modes