The F.E.A.R. games have an incredibly interesting relationship with Monolith Productions other big game series, Condemned. While Condemned was a more down to earth game with some quasi-supernatural elements to it, it focused more on creating an atmosphere of gripping terror and a lesser emphasis on the combat. F.E.A.R. on the other hand used its balls to the wall supernatural elements for jump scares to create a game with a huge focus on combat and occasionally an atmosphere of some unease. Even with creepy little girl Alma, they've always kind of lacked in the real scares department.
F.E.A.R. 3 or F3AR seems rather proud to continue this trend. Working as a cooperative game instead of the single-player gun fests we have gotten used to pushes the horror all the way down to the ground and it actually works really well.
Fa-Three-Ar tells us the story of the Point Man, on the run since the events of F.E.A.R., being rescued from Armacham by his brother Paxton Fettel. The two escape from what appears to be South America to hunt down their mother Alma. These characters have an oddly toxic relationship, mostly due to Fettel being crazy / dead and the Point Man being mute. It sounds interesting, and it works as a good excuse to have the two work together, but the story (and the two endings) are both quite bland. If you were expecting any resolution to things like Genevieve Aristide's fate or Stokes from F.E.A.R. 2, well prepare to be disappointed; only Beckett is addressed.
But since this is mostly an action game how does the action hold up? Well it's pretty freaking awesome actually. All of the guns we've become used to throughout the F.E.A.R. games are here, notably the super awesome Penetrator, and you'll have your grenades and melee attacks to round things out. Also of note is the active cover system used in this game is an incredibly good first-person cover mechanic, giving you a lot of power to hide from your foes or to wait for your health to recharge before mantling over cover to slaughter your foes.
As is par for the course in the F.E.A.R. games the enemy A.I. is pretty damn smart, alternating between charging your position, flushing you out with grenades or flat out charging you when they think they have cover. This is doubly important thanks to the new mechanics working in your favor they're not just ground beef for the grinder, they present a real threat. All of the above paired up with the co-op just rounds out the package.
Speaking of co-op this is where the game really excels. The Point Man uses his iconic slo-mo to obliterate his foes but Fettel is a truly interesting beast. He can levitate enemies, blast them with a powerful energy blast, throw explosives (ranging from fire extinguishers, barrels or even dropped grenades) and blast enemies with powerful melee attacks. That's all if you don't feel like possessing someone which enhances his deadliness even more.
When the two are paired up Fettel gains even more powers, such as the ability to cover the Point Man with a damage absorbing barrier, or unleashing shockwave blasts that destroy every enemy in the area. Oh and his possessing people? Yeah you can do that and then have the Point Man use slo-mo so that the two of you can gun down every enemy in a room in dramatic bullet time murder. And since there are even more enemies when playing in co-op you will have plenty of chances to brutalize foes.
There are some hiccups in this otherwise excellent game though, most of which are based around gameplay design decisions. As per every F.E.A.R. game there aren't a whole lot of different enemies, which is mostly fine. But there are some serious balancing issues at play here and they drag the game right down to the ground every now and again.
In addition every now and again the game creates a bit of a boss fight, throwing really tough enemies at you in succession or just swarming you with grunts. In these areas, which come with little warning, the difficulty spikes so severely that they can be nigh unwinnable if you don't prepare yourself properly. They try to balance it out by giving you a lot of weapons in these areas but if you don't come in at least semi-prepared it gets hellishly hard far too suddenly.
Also the game really isn't balanced for Paxton Fettel in single-player which leads to some highly frustrating sections. Since he's so squishy when he's not possessing someone he can be killed by a sudden difficulty spike which happens regularly for him. You need to play him in a highly aggressive manner, speeding through levels and killing enemies, but when the "calm areas" come up you will often lose your body just in time for another brawl to occur. Interval 07 is especially bad for this.
Unfortunately when F3AR tries to delve into scary territory it botches it hardcore. Most of the time "scary" consists of a creature scampering past your field of vision or appearing and disappearing. The majority of these aren't even of Alma although her appearances are no scarier. While of these events are randomized, happening in different places at different times, none are scary especially when you consider that some areas are designated "calm spots" where no enemies attack, just hallucinations to mess with you.
When the creature that is stalking you finally decides to attack it occurs in segments that are more frustrating than scary as you try to use the Point Man's slo motion to fend off the beast. Even worse, Fettel has to run for his life as he has a hellish time doing anything to fend off these attacks without the Point Man to help.
Multiplayer is also a strong component this time thanks to the gameplay changes and the interesting modes on hand. Gone are the crazy gunfights of the first game and the bland run-and-gun of the second, replaced by a variety of strange modes.
First is Contractions, somewhat similar to the Horde Mode Gears of War made popular with the exception of Alma wandering the field to do not so nice things to you if you look at her. Next is F****ng Run, which may be the single greatest game mode name ever. This mode tasks one to four players to do just that run for your damn life, fool! A wave of destruction is chasing you and if it catches you, you die. So fight the enemies in your way but keep moving or die. This mode is a laugh and a half if you've got a good, or at least entertaining, group of friends to play with.
Soul King makes everyone a Spectre that can possess people. The goal is to possess the NPC's running around and kill them, and the other Spectres, for their souls. The person with the most souls is the Soul King and the target of everyone on the field. Soul Survivor on the other hand has one person as a Spectre who must possess a body to kill each of the other players (up to three). As each player falls another Spectre is added until all have been taken down.
One place you can definitely say hasn't been slacked on is the graphics department. This is a rather detailed world with plenty of stuff to look at, even in the background scenery. All of the character models are interesting to look at, especially the few demonic creatures and notably the cultists, and the particle effects / explosions just look awesome. When a Phase Commander walks through a wall he disappears in a small electric storm and leaves a residue on the wall that seems to ooze and glow. It's awesome for the eyes.
The sound design on the other hand is incredibly lame. The music, when present, is soft and subtle which fits the game. Unfortunately, in the absence of real scares, we have to settle for "creepy" music most of the time. You know the sort as you're walking around you hear screams, crawling and all that sort of stuff until you go into the options menu, turn off the music and realize that there's absolutely no threat at all. It's not even a sound effect most of the time, just part of the music. Lame.
In this installment we have not just a lack of scares but a complete fumbling of the idea of a scary game. The game is at its best when its being an awesome action game instead of trying to create jumps scares as you fumble in the dark. There are a few spots in the game that work for building tension, such as the store in Interval 03 and the part in Interval 04 when you're navigating the houses of those who "survived" Alma's psychic attack and are little more than crazed, cannibalistic cultists now.
A lack of scares doesn't mean that this game isn't an incredibly fun and competent video game. It's got some great gun based violence on display, fun cooperative action and two unique characters to round out the mix. Really the only drawback that should stop you from buying this is if you really hate games with gimped split-screen gameplay or are expecting a tense, nail-biting horror video game.