Review: F.E.A.R. 3
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The first F.E.A.R. is a genre-straddling classic, combining intense and engaging firefights with some jarring scares. The second F.E.A.R. tried to follow that act with more refined graphics and gameplay but lost something in the translation, managing only to be a competent shooter with incompetent spooks. Following that downward trajectory you will find F.E.A.R. 3, an even stranger mish-mash of concepts than its predecessors. It makes a surprising attempt at keeping true to the lore of the series while further refining the gameplay into something almost unidentifiable as a F.E.A.R. title. While not terrible on its own, this discordant mess proves hilariously stupid to play through until it stops being hilarious.
If you’re willing to put time into F.E.A.R. 3 then I’m going to trust you’re already done with 1 and 2, because we’re taking a crashing helicopter ride into Spoilertown. Alma’s psycho-nuclear emergence at the end of the first game has left a lasting mark on the city of Fairport, turning the skies red, the residents mad, and the ghosts angry. She’s also in the family way, if you remember the insane ending of the second game, and her labor pains are literally tearing the city apart. In the middle of all this appears The Point Man from the first game, along with his dead ghost brother Paxton Fettel, to do… something?
F.E.A.R. 3 has a lot of problems but one that drives me crazy is how pointless the whole game feels in terms of narrative. It opens with Fettel helping Point Man break out of an Armacham-run asylum and escape through the favelas of… somewhere just to return to Fairport to watch Alma go horror-monal on the city. Point Man seems to want to stop her, Fettel just wants to hang out with Mom, but there’s nothing that really drives the plot anywhere. Your useless teammate Jin from the first game shows up and Point Man is very strong and silently concerned about her, and SHE wants you to stop Alma, so… okay? These dudes are her sons so at this point I’m really unsure why any of Alma’s zombies or demons or hellspawn-things want to eat their faces anyway.
Beyond that though, it’s quite a spectacle to see how insane the series has gone from it’s origin. In a perfect world we could have kept the moody halls and sudden scares of the first game, but there’s a certain mad appeal to fighting techno-magical soldiers through a disintegrating, blood-soaked city to stop an apocalyptic ghost baby from being born. I’m not kidding about the soldiers, either. Armacham’s still got the powered armor and high-tech weapons from before but added phase casters, field commanders who can open portals for themselves and other troops. It feels like a bridge too far for the already-strained credibility of the series, and honestly they’re annoying as fuck to fight, too.
Firefights should be the strong part of any F.E.A.R. game, and while they’re more dynamic here than in the second game there are new factors that can often make them more frustrating. F.E.A.R. 3 loves to chuck you into arena situations with enemies spawning in all around you, rather than giving you squads to ambush or defined battles to weigh in on. Some of these enemies fall more on the aggravating side than interesting, like the crazed citizens who take tons of hits to drop and love strapping bombs to themselves to show you how much they care. Phase casters can drag fights out far beyond what is reasonably fun, and new riot shield enemies seem to exist just to take the enjoyment out of going melee on hapless soldiers.
Your weapons have again been remixed, and again they’re more interesting than the bland F.E.A.R. 2 versions but feature new limitations. The assault rifle, for example, is way more powerful here but fires in three-round bursts. You can get dual uzis for wasting large groups of runners but they drain ammo way too fast. And the shotgun is back to 1-or-2-shotting foes but suffers an appalling redesign that makes it look like a gas station sushi display. You’re not even going to get to play with some of these much because your ammo reserves cap out at absurdly low levels and you lose all your weapons at the end of each level, which is going to be agonizing unless you’re the kind of person who pistol-starts every map of DOOM.
All of this pales in comparison to the major changes in the gameplay, though. Gone are medkits and health bars, replaced with regenerating health. I’m not a hard-liner against regenerating health by any means but it’s a knife through the heart of any game with horror leanings, removing any and all tension from monster attacks and big brawls. There’s also a cover system that gave the developers cause to fill levels with chest-high walls and place enemies far outside normal engagement range, further limiting slo-mo melee shenanigans. Biggest of all, though, is the rating system that constantly pops up accolades for killing X enemies with Y weapon, or staying in slo-mo for Z seconds. This system earns you points to level up and unlock new bonuses like more health or holding more clips or other quality-of-life elements that should have been in from the start.
You may have realized this by now, but the compartmentalized levels and limited weapons and regenerating health and rating system all combine to make a score attack game set in the F.E.A.R. universe, instead of whatever you’re imagining F.E.A.R. 3 should be. These elements put the emphasis on gamey mechanics that detract entirely from the ham-fisted attempts at horror that the developers still tried to include. On top of that, you can play the entire game co-op with one player as deadly ghost guy Fettel (or you can play him solo after beating a level as Point Man) who possesses and explodes enemies with reckless abandon. There are also multiplayer modes where you battle waves of enemies or outrun death clouds or perform other random tasks to score points.
None of this is actually bad, mind you. The shooting still works in a Call of Duty way and the monsters add some variety and the backdrop is absolutely wild Akira-style apocalypse stuff. But it’s so far from what F.E.A.R. and even F.E.A.R. 2 are that it’s almost shocking they share the name. I know the effort was put into linking the stories but that hardly matters if you’ve jettisoned even the most basic levels of tension from the game design. It’s fun in a goofy, mindless way but not in the ways you’re probably here for. Also I lied a little before, there are some seriously bad parts near the end of the campaign with some awful bosses and forced arena fights.
The graphics are very fitting for what this game is, sharp and colorful but with a certain cleanness that makes it all feel like a knock-off of what it’s supposed to be. Sound design is fine as well, and they got the actor for Fettel back to do some terribly out-of-character quips at the player, but if you’ve made it this far that’s the least of your concerns. Don’t go into F.E.A.R. 3 expecting horror or tension or brilliant gunplay or anything that made F.E.A.R. F.E.A.R., really. If you’re going to show up at all, come either for the score attack aspect of the game, the completely bugfuck story spiraling off the others, or just some competent shooting. Maybe they were aiming for something more with this one, but I tell you now that competent is as high as they got.