Publisher: WBIE / Developer: Day 1 Studios / ESRB: M (Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360
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When FEAR 3 first landed on my desk, I had to double-check the box. There was no sign of the Monolith logo anywhere. “Strange”, I thought. A quick Google search revealed that Monolith didn’t, in fact, work on this game. As the development house behind this and the Condemned series, the studio has deservedly developed a reputation for properly delivering the creeps. So did the founding studio’s lack of involvement have a grossly negative impact on the game? Fortunately, no. Any fears (ha?) I had about the game were quickly put to rest as Day 1 Studios managed to maintain the spooky atmosphere, solid shooting mechanics, and strange story elements that originally popularized the series. Plus, a few additions pop up that may not be integral to the experience but help to nicely round out the game.
If you finished FEAR 2 then you might remember the all-too-disturbing sequence in which franchise poster child and creepy telekinetic ghost-lady Alma engages in non-consensual ghost sex with protagonist Michael Beckett. The result is a very pregnant Alma who, nine months later, becomes the center of FEAR 3’s narrative.
The game follows Point Man, Project Origin’s first prototype and his younger brother, Paxton Fettle. The two have a tenuous relationship at best. The end of the first FEAR saw Point Man putting a bullet through the head of Fettle, killing him. But now he’s back from the dead, guiding and antagonizing Point Man as he makes his way to Alma, who, through the agony of her contractions, has created some kind of crazy paranormal reality tear that’s causing all kinds of bad shit to go down in the town of Fairpoint, where the Armacham Research Facility is located.
Initially, very little time is spent introducing these characters and events. So unless you have at least a pretty basic understanding of franchise lynchpins like who Alma is or the goals of Project Origin, FEAR 3 will likely be disorienting. On the other hand, fans of the franchise won’t feel like the game is holding their hand through needless familiarization.
Probably the most significant gameplay addition to FEAR 3, and the one that defines most of its design, is co-op. The game succeeds at its implementation in varying degrees. You can play through the entire single-player campaign with another human–either online or split-screen. Player one controls Point Man, who doesn’t play any differently from your standard silent dude with a gun, except for his ability to initiate a bullet time-esque power, which is pretty damn cool and extremely useful when dealing with large batches of enemies. Paxton Fettle, controlled by player two, is a much more atypical gameplay experience. His psychic powers allow him to temporarily inhabit an enemy’s body. Additionally, Fettle acts a support character for Point Man. He can lift enemies in the air, making them easy targets for Point Man, and he can cover Point Man with a protective shield.
The gameplay dynamic between the two different characters adds, at the very least, a thin layer of depth that’s not present in most co-operative first-person shooters. However, if you decide to forego playing with others and want to solo the campaign, you can do that, too. In fact, the eight-or-so hour experience feels as though its difficulty was balanced for the solo player in mind. The game feels just about right on your own (as there will be no AI-controlled partner backing you up), but bring in a buddy and plowing through the game becomes a breeze. Given the game’s significant focus on co-op, the lack of difficulty balancing for it feels somewhat odd.
If you’ve played a multiplayer-focused first-person shooter anytime recently then you probably have a pretty good grasp on the Call of Duty-inspired meta-game held within most of them. Gaining nebulous points, earning experience, and filling up meters has become just as much of an integral part of the shooter experience as firing bullets and reloading guns. FEAR 3 takes this a step further by heavily integrating these elements into the campaign. You earn points and level up by completing various challenges, such as getting 20 kills in a row, or staying behind cover, or picking up ammo. It’s the kind of meta-game that rewards you for pretty much everything. As you earn points and level up, you gain perks such as increased total health and larger ammo clips. This system, which also ties into the multiplayer, remains generally pretty inoffensive and, in many cases, may be the motivation you need to play through the campaign multiple times, adding some potential replay value to the game.
With all that said, I think the most important aspect of FEAR 3 is also the best: the shooting. The different guns feel unique and, for the most part, it’s just plain fun and satisfying to fill enemies with your bullets.
I guess the word I would use to the describe FEAR 3’s multiplayer is “interesting.” Rather than opting for a traditional deathmatch-style multiplayer, FEAR 3’s modes seem more derivative of something like Gears of War’s Horde Mode or Zombies in Call of Duty. In fact, one of the modes, called Contractions, is nearly identical to the Zombies mode. You and up to three other players must defend against waves of enemies while boarding up windows and collecting weapons.
Another game mode is called Fucking Run. Yes, its name might feel like a desperate attempt to be edgy, but the mode actually does a great job of mixing up your traditional shooter gameplay. You and up to three other players must make it from point A to point B while outrunning a wall of death and, at the same time, combat enemies. It’s a welcome change of pace from the shoot, duck behind cover, repeat formula of most shooters.
FEAR 3’s long-winded combat scenarios are often broken up by hauntingly quiet strolls through creepy hallways and uninviting buildings. One level in particular, set in an abandoned department store, is particularly effective at messing with you as you walk through rows of eerily glowing TVs and a refrigerated butcher’s room with slabs of meat hanging from the ceiling.
Whether or not you’re like me and pay attention to who develops the game you’re playing, you’ll be hard pressed to find any major inconsistencies between FEAR 3 and previous games in the series. And while the additions of features like campaign co-op and survival-based multiplayer are not unwelcome, it’s the core aspects of FEAR 3 that should be the reason you play this game. The reign of Day 1 Studios as the team behind FEAR can officially be deemed a success. Now can someone please sign them up for a new Condemned title?