by Tauriq Moosa
Most of us remember that when the original F.E.A.R. game came out, it was one of those gaming yardsticks. If you could run it, a hush would follow your confirmation of this fact. F.E.A.R. was considered beautiful, evocative and enthralling. Who didn’t love being able to see your character’s feet and hands on ladders – limbs most FPS titles refuse to grant protagonists (I’m looking at you, Half-Life!). The use of bullet-time (am I allowed to use that word without Max Payne shooting me?) made gun battles epic; the story was dark, creepy but not disjointed enough to be discarded; and who wasn’t finally convinced that the most terrifying thing in the world is not a new Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ movie but little girls with long hair?
It worked. The sequel, Project Origin, was also fantastic: turning up the graphics quality, making a more coherent story, tweaking the gameplay, and – infamously – ending with your character being raped by an adolescent, naked and bleeding ghost-girl. And now we have landed up with a new entity in our laps: the third, canonical story about Alma and her offspring in FEAR 3 or F3AR (see what they did there?).
*Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t completed the first two games, read at your own peril. Story elements from those first two will be revealed here.*
FEAR 3 takes place about nine months after the end of the first, which ended with a beautiful explosion. Armacham Security is interrogating Point Man, the highly original name of the first game’s protagonist. Obviously, Alma, the evil little girl (yes a tautology I know, haha), has grown more powerful and is now destroying everything around her. Fettel, Point Man’s “brother” – in that both are biological projects derived from Alma – swoops in and saves Point Man. And the two form an awkward alliance – I say awkward because I don’t know what word describes the realisation that the other person killed you and will gladly do so again, despite you saving him. Maybe the German’s have a word for it.
Anyway, in FEAR 3, we learn more about the background of each character and the story is neatly outlined but may prove difficult for some to follow. However, since the story was penned by the amazing Steven Niles, of 30 Days of Night (the graphic novel), and John Carpenter, you can be almost guaranteed an amazing story. You probably won’t understand it at first – I certainly didn’t, but then I don’t understand rugby – but if you keep a tight hold on what’s happening, you’ll be wonderfully rewarded.
Before we move on to gameplay, I must say that FEAR 3 has one of the best intro sequences I’ve seen for a long time; beautifully done, it gives you a good feel for what you’ve stepped into. My only problem is the irritating horizontal, black borders that are in every movie-clip. I assume they’re are meant to give it a weird cinematic feel but don’t – it just ends up feeling like you’re missing something.
Guns and Creepy Hands
There’s no need to explain the gameplay setup. It’s a modern day FPS, where you switch weapons with a roll of the mouse-wheel, and so on. The cover-system is one of the best I’ve used: at first, it’s weirdly sticky but, if you learn to use it effectively, you can clear out entire rooms without using Point Man’s abilities. It feels realistic, claustrophobic and debris flies off the relevant points of your cover creating sparks and dust. There are plenty of moments of exhilaration when you clear out entire rooms with a few bullets to spare or turn on Slow-Mo as you blast a shotgun into a soldier’s face. And yes there is gore: it’s always great when games recognise that ‘shotgun blast’ plus ‘petty human flesh’ does not mean a backflip, in every bloody instance. It means a shower of blood, where the limbs say: “Screw this!” and detach.
The A.I. marines work quite well: getting into cover, lopping grenades, flanking, covering each other. They do their job. However, they can be remarkably stupid. For example, if you stand in front of a door and close it, they will come in one-by-one, like merry campers to eat Mr Shotgun’s fiery surprise. So it’s not perfect, but then I don’t think anyone’s really impressed by A.I. these days. I haven’t seen an improvement in A.I. since Pacman’s ghosts recognised that when the music alters and Pacman changes colour, it means its time to flee. Little has changed since then. (And in fact Pacman’s ghosts are smarter than Ms Sheva “Stand-and-be-eaten” Alomar from Resident Evil 5).
The controls are easy to manage, though I recommend you have a gaming mouse and change Slo-Mo to Mouse 4 or 5. This makes it easier to perform the cool slide-tackle, instant Death Kick of Doom™ from Point Man.
But, ah! There’s more. Not only can you play as Point Man, we also have the wonderful ability to play as his weirdly-named brother Paxton Fettel. Fettel might sound almost exactly like Mark Hammill’s Joker, but don’t be fooled. Fettel is his own brand of maliciousness and brutality. After completing a single-player “Insertion” (i.e. FEAR’s pretentious names for Missions), you have the option to play it from Fettel’s position. See your brother is with you the entire time, guiding you and helping you sometimes. He saves Point Man’s life right in the beginning of Insertion 01 and 02, in fact. Fettel can possess other hapless victims, control them and when he’s done, he can make them explode in a shower of gore and glory. It makes it more difficult, since he’s vulnerable when he does not possess a body and there is a time limit to how long you can possess a body. This makes a very interesting game dynamic.
I’m not too convinced by Fettel’s missions: they’re fun and a nice change, but Fettel even says the same lines which are meant for his brother, during mission play. This makes it seem strange and disjointed. It seems Fettel is a cool element for multiplayer and they decided to kind of embed him roughly in the single-player. Sure, they’re cut-scenes where you see both brothers and do see from Fettel’s position – so they did make an effort – but it’s not smooth, or sexy, or carefully thought out. I don’t blame them though – that would’ve been a game unto itself. The same way we had Crysis: Warhead to show what “Psycho” did while you played as Nomad, it simply would be ridiculous to expect Day 1 Studios to have done that, too.
As it stands, it’s a nice addition but not essential to the experience. It’s fun to play as Fettel, with the dynamic of having a limited time in a body, and controlling it in such a manner that you have to strategise even when you have a gun and ammo. It certainly would change the dynamic of the current genre of FPS: over-supplied, marine-solider type killing everything that moves faster than snails.
Terror and Solidity
One of the first things that should strike you is the variety: gone are the days of fighting in eerie abandoned offices and buildings. Now we have weird prisons, slums, sewers, an abandoned mall that looks like the mall in Dawn of the Dead after the zombies have taken over, and other fun places. It’s a wonderful mishmash of ideas, all flowing elegantly into each other. In each, there is a different kind of terror or fear trying to get under your skin: whether it’s the knowledge that the marines are calling in a mech to take you out or being stalked by crazed cannibals who keep dolls of Mommy Dearest, the game paces itself nicely using tension.
Because the controls feel solid, you really do care about what happens to Point Man and Fettel. The solidity is such that when you kick open doors or leap over covers, you almost feel it in the mouse; something the developers must be congratulated for.
What’s not completely solid, however, are the graphics. We are all spoiled after the beauty of Crysis 2, but still: F3AR’s graphics are not pretty enough to warrant a second-look. They are mostly just above average. There are moments which do engender awe and wonder, but no many. Of course, you’ll be distracted by the game itself , so, actually, it’s not a big deal that every eyelash and water-drop is not rendered perfectly.
The Part Where We Mention Multiplayer
Of course there is multiplayer. There are some great games to play with other human creatures. There are four modes all taking alternate views of traditional multiplayer modes: Soul King is similar to Deathmatch, but where you are a phantom that must possess bodies to kill others. It’s got that added Fettel-Factor which makes playing him great fun. F**king Run has you and friends showing affection for each other by fleeing from a moving wall of death. However, this only reminds you of one thing: you don’t need to run faster than the wall of death; you just need to run faster than your friends. Soul Survivor is another highly inventive mode where Alma possesses everyone and when possessed the person turns on his squadmates. The killed then end up fighting for Alma, too, alongside the possessed. ‘Contractions’ is your bunker-zombie mode: waves of enemies destroy barricades, that must be repaired and so on. We all know the usual formula but it’s always fun. Of course, being FEAR, Alma will make a dramatic and creepy appearance occasionally.
The multiplayer is great. As usual, most of us South Africans don’t have fast enough internet connections to fully enjoy a lot of this, until local servers are up and running.
While not perfect – it’s no Red Dead Redemption or Silent Hill 2 – FEAR 3 is still an excellent game, well-worth investing in. It is almost essential if you spent time completing the first two games, but newcomers who go over the backstory will find a great experience too. The single-player is excellently handled, the fighting solid, the variety in gameplay, environment and story is wonderfully thought-out and mature and multiplayer will add to its longevity.
Solid, excellently handled. A very good but sometimes irritating cover-system. You feel completely in control of your powerful protagonist.
Design & Presentation: 8.0
Some amazing atmosphere. Not perfect graphics but that’s hardly essential since the gameplay is so good. The gritty blood and darkness that comprises every aspect of the FEAR-franchise is even more vividly on display here.
Essential if you’ve played the previous two and highly recommended otherwise. The multiplayer is a unique take on the boring staple diet we’ve been fed ever since FPS’s were invented. The story is so encompassing, you will also want to find out how it “ends”.
F3AR/FEAR 3 is a high quality game. If you’ve played the previous two, you must have this one. It is wonderful to have a mature concept, packaged into a solid game. We should all be relieved that games companies are not Wii-ing all over our hard-earned cash in order to get as many people paying; instead there’s a nod to our maturity in that we can handle horrible, gritty stories which evokes themes of horror many of us love.