I felt that Fear 2 was the victim of some overly critical reviews when it arrived in early 2009. True, it wasn’t the best FPS ever, perhaps not even as good as the original Fear, but I thought it was a decent shooter all the same. Here’s hoping, then, that the promising Fear series hits its stride with this, the third instalment of the spooky FPS.
Fear 3 (no, I’m not going to change the E to a 3. It’s not going to happen) is set directly after the events of the second game, but this time sees the return of the sons of Alma, the silent but deadly Point Man and the talkative and psychotic wraith, Paxton Fettel. Both are playable this time, either solo or co-op, and each presents a whole different play style.
After the climax (no pun intended) of Fear 2, which saw insane and powerful spectre, Alma, effectively rape protagonist, Michael Becket, Alma is with child and is, at the time of Fear 3, about to give birth. This birth, as you may expect when a monstrously twisted and powerful ghost is involved, is not going to be good for the world, and Point Man and Fettel soon break out of an Armacham prison and head back to Fairport. However, can the two brothers put their differences aside for the good of mankind, or will their relationship be as rocky as ever?
Fear 3 follows the series template and is an FPS with horror undertones, but unlike the second outing, brings a whole lot of new content to the table, chief amongst these the dual protagonists and the addition of co-op play.
When you begin the solo campaign, you’ll only be able to start off as the original Fear protagonist, Point Man. Here the gameplay is very familiar and is typical Fear stuff, complete with the usual ability to slow down the world for brief periods, as Point Man’s heightened reflexes kick in, letting you take out enemies with ease.
The core gameplay is typical FPS fare, but this isn’t a bad thing, as the actual shooter mechanics are rock solid. Weapons feel meaty and pack a real punch, aiming is precise and feels right, and the overall feel is spot on.
This is enhanced further, thanks to the inclusion of a new active cover system. Often a clunky mess in most FPS titles, here the cover system, which allows you to stick to cover and then pop out and shoot, is great, and although not always necessary, it’s a real benefit and works brilliantly in tense firefights. Some cover is also destructible, so you also have to be careful where you decide to hunker down.
It’s not just weak cover you have to worry about, though. Fear has always featured above average enemy AI, and Fear 3 is no different. Although there are many psychotic enemies that simply run at you screaming, soldiers and other more intelligent enemies will always try to get the one up on you, often sneaking around behind you or flanking you from all sides. It’s impressive stuff at times, and although there’s a lot of corridor-based shooting, which doesn’t really allow for this AI to breathe, you always feel that you’re up against more competent foes than you find in most similar titles.
What’s more, the environments are a big improvement on previous Fear titles. Fans will, no doubt, remember the amazingly repetitive locales from the first Fear (and Fear Files) and these were improved upon in Fear 2, with some interesting locations. Fear 3 improves this again, and you’ll fight through some well designed and interesting locations, such as the opening prison, a dilapidated supermarket, the suburbs, city streets and more. Everywhere packs in the atmosphere, and there are plenty of standout moments and hectic fights.
As you fight through each mission, you’ll also make use of the upgrade system, another new addition. As you complete various CoD-style challenges, such as getting twenty-five kills with the SMG or killing a set amount of foes in a row without taking damage, you’ll earn XP points. Earn enough and you’ll level up, and are granted stat boosts like more slo-mo time, extra ammo capacity and more health. Points can also be collected by establishing ‘psychic links’ with specific dead bodies you’ll find hidden around the levels, and you’ll also get XP for completing each area.
It’s a welcome addition that rewards skilful play and works well. And, once again Fear has avoided turning the one time innovative slo-mo ability into a gimmick, and it’s again a central feature that you need to use effectively if you’re going to succeed. Combine this with some great weapons and you’re onto a winner. And that’s before we even get to Fettel…
I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost
After you complete a level as Point Man, it opens up for Paxton. If you so wish you can then play the level back again right away as Fettel, or you can wait until you complete the whole campaign as Point Man and play through the entire thing again as Fettel. Why would you want to do this? Because, in a stroke of near-genius, Fettel brings an entirely different style to the game.
Due to Fettel’s ghostly nature (after he was shot dead by Point Man in the first game) the game mechanics differ greatly from the more traditional gameplay of Point Man. Fettel is a spectre and so, in his normal form is unable to pick up weapons or fight in a normal way. Instead he makes use of his ghostly abilities to possess his foes, taking control of their bodies. By simply grabbing a foe with Paxton’s tether ability, you can jump into an enemy and then fight as normal, using weapons and taking damage.
This possession only lasts so long, though, and a meter shows you how long you’ve got to stay in corporeal form. To extend this you can pick up red skulls left behind by dead foes, but eventually you’ll need to leave your host and find another after Fettel’s possession meter has recharged.
As a ghost, Fettel isn’t really able to fight that well, save sneaky back attacks and some melee capabilities, but he does have an energy projectile attack and can also use the active cover system.
What this leads to is a far more tactical style of play, as you have to carefully choose when and whom to posses, and you always have to be wary of your remaining tine in a host body, lest you be left without solid form in the midst of a battle.
Sadly, there’s no element of stealth present, though, and possessing a foe doesn’t allow you to blend in with your assailants, as they can miraculously detect you instantly. But it’s still a great mechanic, and one that complements the solid FPS play.
This dual character setup practically makes for two games in one, and playing the campaign through as Fettel makes for a totally different experience, and great replayability.
Fettel and I
Even with such a solid solo experience, Fear 3 doesn’t let up, and also features some great co-op play, both online and off, even via split screen. You can play through the game with a friend, and can take both characters into the fray at once.
This allows even more unique gameplay elements to come to the fore, and when playing co-op, the dynamic changes again. The Point Man player remains largely the same and is the main combatant, but the player using Paxton can augment the other by distracting foes, stunning and levitating them and even casting a defensive shield around Point Man. It’s a great setup, and provides some unique co-op gaming.
Fear 3‘s online component is also pretty solid, and boasts a couple of great standout modes. Arguably, the most entertaining of these is F**king Run! This mode puts players together as a team and gives you the goal of outrunning Alma’s wave of death whilst fighting off groups of foes. If a teammate falls, others can revive him, but the wall of death never stops (although there are some safe rooms), and if you’re caught by it, it’s game, set and match.
Another great mode is Soul Survivor. This sees one player take the part of a ghost, whilst the other players fight AI foes. As the ghost, you have to posses these AI foes and kill the other players, and then stand by the body to turn them into ghosts like you. Once a ghost, these players must fight on your side.
The other modes include Contractions, which is a wave-based co-op mode that throws enemies at your team in groups, similar to CoD‘s zombie mode, complete with repairable barricades, and Soul King, where all players start as ghosts and have to posses enemies in order to kill the other players.
It’s a strong online component, and one that really is different from the myriad of cookie cutter CoD clones that permeate Xbox Live and PSN.
There’s no denying that Fear 3 is a very strong FPS that’s packed with great gameplay and some truly novel and well-implemented features. It’s a big improvement over the previous outing, and one that deserves some praise. That’s not to say it’s perfect, though.
The Fear series has always prided itself on its ability to put the shivers on its fans, and previous games have strived to keep players feeling scared and expectant that something it always around the corner.
Try as it might, Fear 3, on the other hand, although often creepy, is never scary. I’m not sure what’s happened here, especially as the story and direction was helped by John Carpenter (Escape From New York, The Thing, Assault On Precinct 13, etc) and Steve Niles (30 Days Of Night), but Alma has lost much of her presence, and there are far too many so-called scares that take the controls away from you, becoming nothing more than cutscenes. What’s more, although welcome, the move to co-op robs the series of its fright night content, and taking on the game with a friend disperses any creepiness.
As well as the general lack of horror, which is odd in a game call Fear, often the game is a little on the predictable side, and you’ll almost always know when you’re about to be attacked. Yes, there are plenty of monster closet moments to make you jump a little, but level design tends to telegraph a fight or pitched battle, so there are few unexpected moments.
Still, the great visuals, rewarding FPS play, and the masterstroke of Paxton Fettel’s mechanics are more than enough to elevate the game above its predecessors, even the classic original.
Fear 3 is a marked improvement in the series. It takes a great campaign, well-rounded multiplayer and unique co-op and weaves a classy FPS with plenty of replay value, and hopefully, a long lasting online component. It may have lost its horror teeth, but as a game, it’s a winner.
You can rent or buy F.E.A.R 3 at Blockbuster.co.uk.