Once again, we play a game I have a history with. I actually bought it at launch, excited to see how one of my favorite series would end, but ultimately, had to shelve it for a while. You see, when I bought it, I did so expecting a friend of mine to do the same and the two of us would tear through this game in co-op mode. My friend held back, however, as his computer basically melted down the week before. And the moral of the story is don’t ignore your computer acting wrong because you know it’s probably just the roughly 60 viruses you got on it surfing porn. It never turns out well, and to the best of my knowledge he left PC space after that.
As for me, this game then sat on my shelf for the next 2 years, till Max joined up with this site. We both had the game and decided we would tag-team it for some October fun. And while we thought better of that, well… I’ll talk about that in the review. Come on in.
Story: F.3.A.R.’s starting point may be a little confusing to anyone who played the previous 2 F.E.A.R. titles, as you really do not have the best idea of how you got to the place you are at, and the fact that the original game had 2 expansions that were outright ignored story-wise while the second does not involve Point Man at all really doesn’t help this situation. When we left off Point-man (for the game has never given him a name), his team was picking him up just after the city was nuked, and Fattel just showed us all (via an expansion DLC to F.E.A.R. 2) that physical death is simply not the end for him anymore then it was for Alma.
Now, an undefined amount of time has passed since those games (but not too much time, as we can assume by certain events revealed later and at the end of F.E.A.R 2) and Point Man has been captured by Armacham, a high tech company who seem to be at the heart of the problem (and one of the core villains of the franchise) and being held for interrogation. The problem is his brother in his new ghostly form found him. And being aware of something big about to happen, the brothers escape to go back into the city where this all started.
But what city? What all started? What the fuck is actually going on here? And this is the big issue with the story telling of F.3.A.R. It assumes you have played bothl F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2 before you picked up 3, leaving a lot of details out that would make the story make any sense at all. Without playing the originals, you do not know why Point Man would even be captured. You do not know who Fattel is or why this ghost brother is hanging around with Point Man. You will eventually know what the core event going on in the story is, but you will have no clue why it is happening, what makes Alma so special or really any idea of what is going on at all.
With the exception of episodic games where the design is to tell pieces of the story like a season of a TV show might, a game really should have it’s own self-contained story, even if it was designed to be a trilogy from the start. F.E.A.R. was not, as shown by how Point Man through the series changed from being an unnamed empty shell for the player to the main character with a story of his own, so this 3rd game in the series really has no excuse for this kind of writing issue.
Still, for fans of the franchise who have seen it through from the beginning, the story, while not offering any real twists or turns at all from what the previous games offered, does finish well with one of the most satisfying trilogy endings I have seen in a video game…. period. I just wish the game could stand on it’s own two feet as well. Instead, it feels more like this story was written to be a full-length DLC for the second game then for a game all it’s own.
Graphics: Graphically, I can say nothing bad about this game. In the sea of AAA titles that exist, it’s graphical quality will not stand out from anything else really, but that is not to say the game does not look great. The environments are nicely detailed and look the part of the run-down/war-torn city you will be playing most of the game in. Characters too, all look very good. While never trying to be too real with humans, the game manages to avoid uncanny valley, leaving you with the impression of visual that really is par for the current generation of consoles.
However, just as the graphics fit in, this also means they rarely stand out either. Nothing in this game short of the final scene for how bizarre it is, will make you jump back and go “whoa.” It simply doesn’t have that ability visually. The mechs all look great, but stalky and very much the same. There are actually an exceptionally few amount of enemy types, but even that really doesn’t stand out, as I only really noticed after I stopped playing. Plus they are used well enough that you really don’t notice this till you look back at the game after finishing it.
Simply put, F.3.A.R. toes the line and really could be shown as the definitive image of how the PS3/360 generation of first person shooters look. It is nothing special there, but it is also nothing to be disappointed in.
Sound: Sadly, the sound in this game is much like the graphics. There is really very little in the sound effects that does more then toe the line of what is expected in a multi-platform AAA title. The game will sound good but it will offer almost nothing that stands out as exceptional. It even has the quint-essential lineup of commercial music in it’s sound track, including titles like Danzig’s “Mother” and the Marilyn Manson version of “Sweet Dreams.” The result is a game that you will forget about audio-wise almost as soon as you let go of the mouse since it’s so much like everything else the genre is offering across all the major platforms.
However, in this case, I have to say almost because there is one saving grace through the game… Fattel. Peter Lurie was absolutely PERFECT in this roll, and be it his line delivery in cutscene, one-liners during the game, or even just his sinister as all hell laugh, he absolutely owns the part and you will find yourself just eager to see what the ghost-brother has in store for Point Man, Alma, and possibly the world.
Gameplay: F.3.A.R. is an FPS horror title where the key word is not horror, but shooter. You will be running down corridors shooting up anything and everything that moves, half the time because you know if you don’t take advantage of the situation it will bite you in the ass, the other half after already being bitten. And with the keyboard and mouse backing you, you should be able to handle it all feeling like an absolute bad-ass for the most part.
When you are not in corridors, you will find yourself in arena-like setups and usually with a closed door behind you and no way to proceed till everyone is dead. Yes, this game pulls that old trope out of the closet. But at the same time, the frantic action holds up in these arenas, be it against waves upon waves of enemies or a boss fight, these arenas generally feel challenging and satisfying.
But not always… there are a few fights throughout the game that suddenly ramp up the difficulty with little warning that this is going to be hell. Usually these moments involve a mech vs you without one and scrambling to find cover while you are chased around by something that has a chain and/or rail gun, but you have little in the way of weaponry that can effectively take it down. In these moments, the game goes from challenging to frustrating until you finish them off.
But at the same time, I honestly believe this is that odd game you are supposed to play on easy your first time through due to the way you power up your character. In previous F.E.A.R. titles, you would only be able to upgrade your health and time you have in slow motion, and you did so by finding injectors that were color-coded for each. In this game, this functionality is gone in favor of a leveling system. As you play the game, you will have the option to bring up a panel listing off challenges you are in the middle of for the chapter you are in. This list includes things like “kill X guys with Y gun” or “use slow-motion for X seconds” or “get X headshots” as well as others. Completing these challenges earns you experience points that will level you up. Not the character, you. Your level carries over to every game-mode you play and can be earned in all of them. Each level earns you a new perk including the ability to hold more ammo, more grenades, more slow-motion, more health and even new melee moves. There may be more, but as I write this I am level 16, so I have not seen everything the game has to offer here.
These perks become instantly available when you earn them, but permanently become part of your profile for the game when you finish the chapter/multiplayer session you are on (and get your points for actual kills in game, time taken to finish the level, ect.), and can make a huge difference in how hard the game is.
That said, this is hardly the only thing different between this and other multiplatform FPS games. In addition, F.3.A.R. attempts to do a hybrid of FPS/3rd person gameplay with a cover system. Hitting Q while against a wall will cause you to stick to it, allowing the arrow keys to be used for a quick way to lean out of cover and take shots at whoever you need to. In addition, the game will let you roll between cover while in this mode, making for a more dynamic fighting system in the game. Sadly, as the game moves on, it becomes less necessary or possible to take advantage of this, but it definitely makes it’s mark on the opening chapters, and will definitely be useful as you start out.
And finally, we have the big stand-out features this game sold on: the ability to play as Point Man OR Fattel and co-op gameplay. Sadly, co-op, for all the push this game has to use it, falls short as you know immediately the game is not showing you all the cut-scenes as you and a friend run through the game, so unless you played through on your own first, I highly recommend not playing this mode of the game. It’s not that there is a lot to miss in this game, but that the game will make it obvious you are missing details.
As for playing as Fattel, well, there are two ways to do this: 1) play co-op as player 2, and 2) play a chapter you finished as Point Man. Option 1 will be the easiest to do, but like I said, you will miss story and the game makes it too obvious to ignore that you will, so I recommend it if you want to run through the whole game with a friend and ghosting around AFTER you have finished the campaign on your own. Option 2 is your only choice if you have no friends who want to play this with you.
Either way, Fattel is worth the wait! When playing as the ghost, you can no longer pickup any guns of any kind. Instead, your weapons are a plasma blast with infinite ammunition, a force push for melee, and a beam you can use to string an enemy up and possess them. In addition, this beam in co-op can be aimed at the other player to give them a shield, making Fattel an exceptionally versatile character.
Once you possess an enemy, you will notice the slow-motion meter ticking away since this is your power instead. When it drops to 0, your host will explode and expose your ghostly form once again. Then, just like slow-motion, you will have to wait for it to build up before you can use it again. You can also turn it off and conserve points for later as desired, and in addition instead of picking up ammo, you now get to see these screaming mouths over the dead. Picking these up increases this meter, allowing you to stay in your host longer (in fact there are time-based challenges for this to get XP on your profile).
All in all, playing as Fattel is treated as either a co-op treat or a reward for finishing the chapter you are on, and while I generally do not like seeing the big feature a game sold on locked away for any reason since a lot of people will buy the game just for it, I have to agree it is worth unlocking.
Bugs: While I myself did not see any bugs in my play-through, I did witness a few Max had while he played. It always game down to small graphical things, however, like a vision of Alma that was supposed to break down into ashes never quite doing so, and even for him it was rare.
Overall: Sometimes you really do play a game that turns out to be just a little bit more then meets the eye. F.3.A.R. is definitely one of these games. At first glance, it really does look like just another current generation FPS title that takes up so much of the space on shelves these days. But if you actually spend some time with it, it turns out to be something of a unique take on the mechanics side of that coin. I wouldn’t recommend this one for everyone, but if you are a fan of faster paced and tactics based FPS games, it’s definitely worth your time to give it a shot. If you have been with the family since the start of this story, then you definitely need to get your hands on this one. As I said in the story section, few games have this satisfying an ending… and even less trilogies of games.