When it was announced that Day One Studios was taking in John Carpenter and Steve Niles on their development team, I knew I had to get FEAR 3. Did Day One and these two horror masters create a PC shooter game that’s worthy of the PC first-person shooter franchise? This FEAR 3 review details what they did right and where they floundered.
A summary of my FEAR 3 review:
- Innovative multiplayer features
- Top-notch, solid first-person shooter experience
- Guns sound just right
- The "lean" system is back and has been improved
- Story expands on the relationship between the Point Man and Paxton Fettel
- AI has been improved relative to FEAR 2
- Level designs are great but not phenomenal
- Replica forces now (generally) look more like those in the first FEAR
- Singleplayer campaign is too short
- A lot of plot loopholes
- Multiplayer connectivity issues plague quite a handful of players
- Shipped with a jitter bug (fixed)
- Least scary of all the FEAR games
- AI still inferior relative to FEAR 1
- Bland graphics relative to today's standards
Out of all the FEAR games, this latest installment to the PC horror shooter series had the most hype surrounding it. The developers touted new features such as “Divergent Co-op” and “generative scares.” And while these do bring innovative features to a genre swamped by derivative gameplay, it’s clear that their execution could have used a bit of tweaking here and there.
The biggest change I’ve noticed was that the game has been designed to be a multiplayer-centric game. The first time I saw the score page after I finished the first level, I was stupefied. The phrase “favorite son” appeared on the bottom portion of my screen. For a split second I had surreal visions of Engrish making its way into an American PC game developer. “Why is the game flashing ‘favorite son’?” I spluttered. Without spoiling anything, suffice to say I realized hours later that this would be an important part when playing a complete campaign playthrough with a friend.
And play with a friend you will, if you are to experience the full spectrum of gameplay options FEAR 3 offers. The Divergent Co-op system throws in a second player into the fray, one with abilities unique from the first’s. As everybody probably knows by now, that second character is Paxton Fettel, the first PC game’s antagonist. I don’t want to spoil how he managed to assume an incorporeal form but he’s now a ghost in the sequel. The Paxton Fettel player will be able to utilize a wide range of attacks. These are:
- Psychic blasts
- A short-range attack that literally crushes enemies
The other prominent feature this PC horror sequel touts is the “Generative Scares” system. Rather than scripted sequences, FEAR 3 scares players by generating random paranormal appearances.
Unfortunately the above features do introduce several problems. The “Divergent Co-op” and the “Favorite Son” systems necessitate that the campaign be short enough so that two players can finish a playthrough at a reasonable amount of time. There’s just little point in the latter if players make the campaign an on-and-off affair; chances are, later sessions will be played with different friends, making the system a detached, impersonal event. Thus, FEAR 3 is only 4-7 hours long, depending on the difficulty and the gameplay preferred by the participating players---players who prefer a run-and-gun style while playing on “Easy” should blaze through the campaign while tactically-inclined, cover-hugging players on “Insane” would beat the playthrough in 7-8 hours. Compared to its prequels, FEAR 3’s cut-down campaign is a jarring shock.
The “Generative Scares” system also suffers. While it does have its uses---I did jump a couple of times at unexpected sightings---I find that it is largely ineffective. It’s a cool feature but it's not as good as scripted events. Sure, scripted ones will lose their potency after one or two playthroughs but the generative scares are just too bland in my opinion; Alma appears beside you for a second or two and then vanishes. It’s creepy but not as frightening as a scripted event complete with a music clip and other sound effects.
To make a point, FEAR: Perseus Mandate was panned by several fans but it was scarier than FEAR 3:
To be effective in horror, one has to infuse a game with an element of uncertainty. When players realize that these sightings are just that, sightings, they soon lose their fear of them. To be honest, I was completely disappointed with all the John Carpenter-Steve Niles hype. As a “The Thing” fan, I expected much. I don’t know what happened. Maybe there was a miscommunication? Was it all hype? Ideas couldn’t be coded into the game? All I know is that sadly, this is by far, the least scary of all the FEAR games. (Except for the FEAR 2: Reborn DLC; that game didn’t even try to be scary.)
The horror in FEAR 3 suffered. This is one game where the line “don’t fix what isn’t broken” applies. Where are the voices? Paxton Fettel’s “What’s the first thing you remember?” and Harlan Wade’s “You will be a god among men” certainly lent the first game an ethereal, sinister tinge. Gone too are the trademark discordant piano chords. Why didn’t they implement those with the “generative scares”? Certainly, the jarring music would have made people jump.
Several major characters are missing too. This is another disappointing point. One would think the writer-director duo would have capitalized on the rich pedigree of the franchise but instead, they released the game with a plethora of loose ends. Let’s hope a slew of DLC gets released in the coming months to give the series a proper closure.
On a positive light, FEAR 3 does delve into the relationship between the Point Man and Paxton, bringing to light what happened between (and to) them before the first Syncronicity Event. This story direction surprised me; I didn’t expect that they would delve that far back into the canon. Kudos to Day One and Niles for this.
But what’s a FEAR 3 review without a discussion of the PC first-person shooter’s technical aspects?
First off, the audio. As has been mentioned in my FEAR 3 First Impressions review, I am very pleased with the gargantuan leaps Day One Studios has made regarding the weapons’ sound effects. FEAR 2’s SMG was such an aural nightmare that to this day, I still frown whenever I think about it. FEAR 2’s Andra submachine gun’s weak SFX really jars you from the experience. Fortunately, FEAR 3’s weapons sound just right; even its submachine gun feels powerful (while not being overly so).
FEAR 3 is also one solid shooter. While not as intense as the particle-heavy firefights in the first PC FPS, it does offer players a gameplay experience that’s several notches above its immediate prequel. The reintroduction of the lean mechanic certainly trumps FEAR 2’s gameplay.
My first FEAR 3 review already discussed that the lean mechanic has also been improved upon by the introduction of a Mass Effect/Gears of War cover system. With this, players can “snap” onto walls, crates, and boxes. They can then push the forward button (or any of the strafe buttons) to pop momentarily out from cover, squeeze a burst of fire, and then quickly duck back in. Day One Studio has also improved upon this aspect by introducing mechanics that allow players to:
- Jump sideways into nearby cover
- Vault over and advance
- Vault over and immediately turn around, effectively taking cover on the other side. (This is useful if you find that the AI has outflanked you.)
Yes, FEAR 3’s AI knows how to flank again, thanks to some of the game’s level design that allows for such maneuvers. Though the AI is still significantly weaker than that of the first FEAR, this improvement is a very welcome one. Superior audio, competent AI, an innovative cover system----this FPS game does deliver an awesome first-person shooter experience that ranks right up there with some of the best ones.
There are however, flaws.
In an odd twist of design decision that’s anathema to the horror industry, Day One Studios has implemented a regenerative health system. I suppose it goes with the cover system---in order for a game with a cover system to be challenging, damage inflicted by enemies must be ramped up. Failing to do so would make the game a cakewalk for experienced players. This increased difficulty, in turn, entails that the developer employ a convenient way for players to replenish health. It’s a tricky situation that requires balance. In this regard, the shooter game’s developers stumbled----introducing a regenerative health system does away with the sense of imminent death that most horror shooter gamers love. This is also one aspect that takes away FEAR 3’s scare factor; how can you be afraid of things that wish to hurt you when your lifemeter is always full?
The cover system and regenerative health system combo also has an impact on the gameplay. Sure, the AI does flank. Sure, it throws grenades, vaults over obstructions to get away from you, runs from one crate to another, takes cover, and pops in and out of it. However, the AI also takes advantage of the cover system.
This is supposed to be good right?
In a way yes, it does show that the AI is competent. However, throw in the fact that you have regenerative health and they do not makes every firefight one-sided. I would have rather that Day One mixed and matched their AI behavior---some might doggedly seek cover, while some might actively run from cover to cover and advance on your position. This combination would have made for effective fireteams that shower you with suppressing fire while their teammates slowly advance to your location. The regenerative system would have been rendered weaker. Still useful, but weaker.
As it is, the firefights in FEAR 3 boil down to “shoot-take cover to regen-shoot again” affairs. Don’t get me wrong, the game IS difficult---difficult enough that I would say this is the ONLY FEAR game that makes the use of SloMo a necessity (another high point for the developers by the way)---but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the AI is immensely outclassed in every firefight.
Take note however that some players have launched a handful of “why is this game so difficult?” threads, making this aspect a very subjective point.
The game’s graphics isn’t bad but it’s not something that would win awards. There are levels that exhibit good texturing (like the corridors of brick walls and that Rio de Janeiro level) but most of the game has this flat feel to it; walls and floors for the most part look too smooth. This flatness even becomes more apparent in the cutscenes where the characters look almost like something Pixar would have rendered. Paxton Fettel looked more dangerous in the first game. To the developers' credit though, the Rio and the prison levels were some of the most impressive I’ve seen. I just wish the developers created more of those; the later levels really just didn’t present the AI with flanking options. Those that did were able to pull it off only because of the large numbers of mall booths, conveyor belts, and crates---things that don’t make for diverse levels.
FEAR 3 also has the most innovative suite of 4-player multiplayer modes and they’re great fun. These are:
- F***ing Run --- An aptly named mode, this has players running from a massive cloud wall that kills anything it touches. The catch (of course) is that the players have to run through a gauntlet of enemies. If a player goes down, he can be revived by his teammates.
- Soul Survivor --- Similar to other “zombie infection” games, this has players ganging up on one player who’s tasked with “turning” the other players. Of course, there are also AI-controlled baddies running around.
- Soul King --- A deathmatch-style mode that has players killing other players and AI-controlled soldiers alike for possession of souls. The player with the most souls at the end of the time limit wins. The catch is that if you are killed, you will drop the souls you’ve collected, making the last minutes of a match a hectic, tense experience.
- Contractions --- A 20-wave survival mode that has players barricading a safe house. Each successive wave brings in more difficult enemies. After each wave, players can go out and forage for ammunition and guns. They also have to fix the barricades lest the next wave find weak points that they can storm through.
Unfortunately, as of this time of writing, I have---along with more than a handful of players----time and again experienced problem with F***ing Run and Soul Survivor---the game runs into a “Game Cannot be Launched. Players do not have the required content” error. Seeing that this game doesn’t have a DLC yet, this is clearly a bug.
The multiplayer matchmaking also doesn’t work for some players. It can easily be circumvented though by joining a FEAR 3 Steam group and doing manual invites. The community is friendly enough so this shouldn’t be a problem.
FEAR 3 is a bundle of hits and misses. This becomes apparent if you visit forums where large divides separate groups of fans. One one side there are those who praise the game for being one solid, awesome shooter that’s worth playing again and again (and it IS); on the other, there are those who lament the fact that the franchise has taken a nosedive where the narrative and the horror aspects are concerned.
Your enjoyment of the game depends on which side you mostly gravitate towards and if you’re willing to ignore its bugs and shortcomings. As it is, FEAR 3 is still one satisfying first-person shooter that’s worth taking a look.
Tilt: 7.0 - Connectivity issues hurt the game. The FEAR universe is a good place to romp in and kick butt.
Graphics: 7.0 - Bland (but not abysmal) graphics in most of the game's levels impairs the game's aesthetics; some of the textures (the zombies for instance) are downright terrible.
Audio: 8.0 - Though the music of the original FEAR is going to be missed by many, the sfx for the weapons are great.
Gameplay: 8.5 - FEAR 3 is one rock-solid shooter.
Replayability: 9.0 - Innovative multiplayer modes ensure that you'll keep this in your hard drive for several weeks, if not months.