If you fell in love with Japanese horror films about a decade ago, as I did, you’ll know doubt have played F.E.A.R. at some point. F.E.A.R. was a 2005 PC first-person shooter that pitted players against a shadowy organization and, here’s the kicker, Alma Wade, a child-like evil presence that looked actionably similar to Samara, the villain from the Japanese-to-English horror film, The Ring. The game was full of creepy atmosphere and jump-out scares, but the gameplay felt dated, even then. A sequel followed on console and PC, but it was met with tepid reviews for lack of scares, bizarre story and dated FPS gameplay. Now the third game, F.3.A.R., seeks to continue the ever-weirder tale of Alma and her two sons, Point Man and Paxton Fettel. Has the gameplay been brought up to today’s standards? Are the real scares back? How big of a research team will I need to sort out the series’ storyline? Read on to find out.
F.3.A.R. attempts to be a story-driven FPS, but when the story makes so little sense it can be tough to hang onto that title. Even if you’ve played the other F.E.A.R. games, you’re still not going to be able to keep up. Players take on the role of Point Man, one of Alma’s sons, in an effort to feud endlessly with his undead brother, Paxton, and run around linear environments with occasional scripted events and scares from Alma. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. I feel especially sorry for players new to the series, who I encourage to skip the story scenes and stick with the action; doing otherwise will only serve to confuse and enrage you. Players will visit some cool environments through the game’s campaign, but they’ll have no clue why or what they’re supposed to do there. By the last part of the game, I didn’t even care to watch the ending (I did, and it was baffling). If you want a game where you can follow a plot, F.3.A.R. might not be for you.
When it comes to F.3.A.R.’s presentation, it looks like the series has finally stepped into the here and now. The game looks, sounds and runs great on the 360, with only one or two framerate dips here and there. It’s not a big deal when it happens, but it does happen. The environments may just be semi-linear tunnels, but they look gorgeous in HD (the first levels are a mixed bag graphically, but things pick up in chapter 3). Really the only issue I took with the presentation was the enemy soldiers’ repeated and obnoxious vocalizations. Enemies will often shout the same phrase numerous times in a row, they’ll say things that make no sense and, worst of all, their commands don’t match what they’re actually doing. I had an enemy yell, “Eyes on target!” about five times in a row, when there is no way he could have seen me two floors below him (we were the only two in the area, so it was that one enemy shouting for sure). At least when Dick Vitale repeated the same stuff over and over in NBA Jam it was funny; this gets annoying before the end of level one.
The game isn’t perfect, but it is incredibly solid. Nowhere is this more evident than in the gameplay itself. F.3.A.R is as good a shooter as most on the market, and I can’t imagine anyone who likes FPS games to walk away disappointed, at least in terms of gameplay. The shooting is balanced and fun, and the characters’ abilities, such as time freeze, really set this one apart. The game plays it safe, though; I can’t think of a single gameplay aspect that is wholly original to this title. Everything here is a bit derivative, but that will be far from your mind when you’re using two Uzis to hold off the wave of zombies, which is flooding the weird religious monument where you stand. F.3.A.R. can be a lot of fun, and that’s what matters, right?
But as fun as it is, there are problems. As in the first F.E.A.R. sequel, the scares have been toned down even further, which makes the game feel like a wholly generic experience. When they do happen, it can be pretty cool, but their rareness makes them feel even more like scripted events, rather than the results of your actions. The carnage littering each of F.3.A.R.’s stages is supposed to scare us, but it doesn’t take long to stop noticing it is even there, let alone scary. The scarce surprises strain the limits of F.3.A.R.’s classification as a horror game, and picking out the places where the scares SHOULD have been just isn’t that much fun.
F.3.A.R. really pushes players to test out the multiplayer, and those who do will find a mixed bag. The co-op mode, both offline and on, is simply fantastic. Local multiplayer gets the split-screen treatment, with the online forgoing it. Players take over for Point Man or Paxton, and the two must work together to make it through the single player campaign. In the few games I played online, I saw about a 50/50 break in the people who actually help vs. the people who just want to steal your stuff and screw you. The latter is much more entertaining, believe me.
The other multiplayer modes are hit-or-miss, but at least they bring some variety to the table. The title of the most interesting mode can’t be printed here (bad language), but even without a name it is worth mentioning. You and three others must constantly move forward, as a wall of death is at your back. If it gets even one team member, the game is over for everyone. It reminds me of a FPS version of Tiny Wings, actually. The rest of the multiplayer modes are passable, but you’ve all seen deathmatch and horde modes in other titles. The only mode that kept me playing was the one that shall not be named, and I doubt I’ll quit very soon.
I feel bad for F.3.A.R. In fact, I’ve always kind of felt bad for the entire F.E.A.R. series, dutifully buying and playing each, knowing they’ll be good, but not great. What holds the sci-fi/horror games back? To put it simply, they’re behind the times. F.E.A.R. games have always left me thinking, “Man, if that game came out a few years ago, it would have been the best game ever.” But by the time these shooters come out, the great concepts and gameplay they hold just feel tired. Imagine stacking F.3.A.R. up against, say, Resistance 2. Shooters both, the games are about on par with one another in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay, etc. The difference is Resistance came out in 2008. It’s 2011, and forward-thinking gamers simply don’t feel like yesterday’s best is today’s as well. I say bring on F.3.A.R. 4, but make sure we have some new ideas, better scares and an easier to type title next time around.
Final Rating: 75%.