When Monolith's F.E.A.R hit the store shelves back in 2005, its combination of creepy atmosphere, conspiracy-flavored story line, cagey enemy AI, and innovative, time-warping weapons helped it stand out from an overcrowded PC shooter marketplace. It eschewed Doom-style monster-in-the-closet scares in favor of a slowly building psychological horrorshow, featuring the spooky little girl Alma Wade and a battalion of super soldiers telepathically controlled by Paxton Fettel.
Though the original F.E.A.R was later released on consoles, F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin (2009) was built for the Halo and Gears crowds from the get-go. It moved the already convoluted supernatural suspense story further along its labyrinthine path and introduced a few new weapons, enemy types (such as mechs), but despite its graphical polish, F.E.A.R. 2's gameplay engendered more than a little feeling of non-supernatural deja vu.
Unfortunately, that patina of ennui isn't likely to be washed away by F.E.A.R. 3, which is a perfectly competent and at times very effective shooter, that's ultimately denied top-tier status by gameplay, atmosphere, and effects that have become overly familiar to fans of the series.
Even for those who have played the previous games, their expansions and DLC, the plot of F.E.A.R. 3 is by now so heavily freighted by its various twists, turns and convolutions as to be relatively incomprehensible, certainly more so to players arriving fresh to the series. (Briefly—and spoiler free—your old enemy is now your ally, and in a gameplay-extending effort, you can play any chapter of the story as either character from the past two games or simultaneously via co-op.) The story that took a turn for the very weird in F.E.A.R. 2 plays itself out in, I guess, a logical fashion.
The first game dripped with atmosphere and tension and was genuinely scary, not for the funhouse shocks but the way it messed with reality via sound and impressive shifts in visuals. The excellent pacing moved the story from what appeared to be a conventional shooter to something disturbing and dark. Unfortunately, the third installment too often opts for the easy 'scare,' and seems to have forgotten the subtle lessons of the earlier games. Although the combat is engaging and the weapons effective and satisfying, some of the more mundane firefights seem to last longer than they should. We've seen these suburban and corporate battlegrounds many times before.
In short, while the pacing sometimes feels off-kilter and the level design isn't going to win awards for originality, F.E.A.R. 3 is a decent enough shooter as long as you temper your expectations a bit. The graphics are decidedly not state of the art, lacking environmental detail and nuance but not, especially in the heat of battle, being distractingly bad (though some of the character models—especially up close—are pretty low-rent).Environmental sound plays a key role in the game and is done well, as are some of the creepier effects. Voice work has been relegated to “over the top,” but this game is not about subtle characterization. The score is generally forgettable, action game fare.
F.E.A.R. 3 does have some legs thanks to co-op,its two playable characters (each with a different ending) and a suite of multiplayer modes, none of which even hint at anything like a straight-up deathmatch."Fucking Run" and "Contractions" are basically riffs on the survival hook, while "Soul Survivor" and "Soul King" are more team-based encounters. I often had a hard time finding games to jump into.
F.E.A.R.3 is a thoroughly corporate, professional, competent example of game design and execution. If that sounds like damning with feint praise, so be it. The game makes no major missteps, but neither does it surprise, innovate or evolve the genre in any significant way. Way back in 2005, F.E.A.R. took some chances and gamers took notice, but the new-car smell is now long gone. However, anyone who is invested in the increasingly obtuse story will enjoy seeing it through to the end, and shooter fans will have a enjoyable, if unremarkable, time.
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