I haven’t written a review in a while, so I thought maybe I’d give my impressions of F.3.A.R or Fathirar or what henceforth I will call Fear 3.
For a game with an aesthetic response right there in the title, it does little to evoke fear. Day 1 Studios tries hard and I want to gently pat them on the head and say “Good effort” but there seems to be a clear delineation between “scary parts” and “shooty parts”. The “scary parts” are marked by a lack of enemies and overall creepier music. But once you realize there is no danger in the “scary parts”, then it becomes like a tame theme park haunted house. You walk around and admire the workmanship and cleverness of the designers.
But good survival horror (if that’s even the genre they look to nudge into) doesn’t give you a chance to breathe and enjoy the scenery. Or if they do, it’s only to lower your guard for when they choose to shock you in a “safe” area. About three quarters of the way through the game, they seem to start to realize this and they start throwing enemies at you in a way where you can’t camp behind cover and methodically advance. I was excited by this, but the rails came off when I realized the AI of the enemies was a bit too stupid to provide for any interesting encounters–the monsters bite at your ankles mostly so you just unload shotgun round after round at them until they go away or you die. Playtesting must have revealed that they had no clue how to balance this thing as there is a difficulty slider on the respawn screen so you can nudge it to suit your own level of flow.
I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself through the entire campaign but for periodic surfacing of some truly great tactical set pieces. About once per mission there appears an encounter where you truly have to use the environment and the weapons at your disposal cleverly to progress rather than either Ramboing or playing cover tag.
If these moments happened more often, my blood would have been pumping. Regretfully, it seems like a rogues gallery of early 00s bad design and technical decisions. Enemies will pop in from nowhere. Doors lock behind you constantly to load further parts of the level (I just blew up a helicopter with this surface-to-air missile, yet I can’t open this door that just automatically closed behind me?). Invisible walls block progress where you aren’t “allowed” to go yet. Enemies clip through closed doors. Scripted events trigger too early meaning you don’t actually get to see the helicopter crash or the monster come through. Even enemies that are invincible because they are part of scripted events and can’t be killed until you walk past the line that triggers the event.
Inexplicably, these bugs and mistakes are paired next to excellent looking levels with masterful indirect control. You almost always know which way to go and it is usually because of a well-placed light or other non-obvious marker. Of course, a lot of the cool-looking things were in Half-Life 2, seven years ago but games can’t all be Half-Life 2.
You’ll get sick of the same monsters appearing over and over again by game’s end. One of the best enemies is some sort of Dr. Manhattan-esque blue guy who can create portals and walk through walls. These guys can set up some pretty good moments, but they don’t go far enough. In fights with them, you should always be vulnerable next to walls as they can just teleport behind you and grab you. This would make being out in the open the safest place, a direct reversal from the dynamics set up in the rest of the game.
The story is pretty nonsensical, but I’ll admit I didn’t play the first two iterations. For some reason, they stick with the silent protagonist (nee Gordon Freeman) but they place him in cutscenes where it would be natural for him to offer some sort of response. Even a nod or a grunt. Instead, he looks stone faced at whoever is talking to him. I guess I shouldn’t ask for much when the character doesn’t even have a real name. The game hints on a theme of mistakes and favorite sons but really doesn’t develop on either. One mechanic at the end of the game takes it into consideration as which brother you played throughout the game, but since they don’t really tell you that, you will probably have the Point Man ending.
There’s an exploitative points system that gets you to do stupid things like hiding in cover when no one is around to gain points. When you complete levels you unlock the ability to play through the game as the evil brother Fettel who can possess enemies and make them fight each other. This is much more interesting than silent commando protagonist! But since it is just an unlock option, few will play that way. Why not have made Fettel levels and Point Man levels where you can set up interesting pieces with your possession abilities? I almost wrote something about Fettel’s voice acting being almost as bad as Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid, but looking at his biography it turns out he was Vulcan Raven in that series, so I understand perfectly.
The multiplayer shows signs of being compelling, eschewing the normal deathmatch/ctf types for some objectives that are a little more interesting. I didn’t dive too deep into it, but there were some mechanics I really liked in there. One mode has you possessing NPC enemy players and battling NPCs possessed by other real players. That’s clever. One mode has you running from an ever encroaching wall of badness, which strangely reminded me of a minigame from Fuzion Frenzy. Something tells me co-op would be a blast, but I’m so tired of the game after going through the single player. If the game was primarily about Fettel or provided a separate co-op campaign, you’d see it jump a few points in my book.
Overall though, it is a game about guns and little else. If you are tired of gun games like I have been lately, then this won’t do anything to change your view of the hollowness of gun games. If it was released in the crowded Christmas season, it would have been instantly forgotten. Luckily WB Games is smarter than that. There are plenty of things to like, but they are surrounded by frustrating same-y filler. Unless you are willing to forgive a lot of sins, you will be more distracted by FEAR 3 than drawn into its world.
Oh! I almost forgot! There is a level that takes place completely within a near future Costco!