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F.E.A.R. 3 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 6/24/2011

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When developer Monolith farmed out a sequel their horror-themed first person shooter F.E.A.R. to a new studio, few people seemed to have much faith that the franchise had much left in it. Usually, taking a hot new property and sending out development duties to a relatively new and unheard-of studio is a recipe for doom, but F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was just good enough to keep the series going. Now, Day 1 Studios has a third game in the series, and things are really starting to pick up.

F.E.A.R. 3 continues the story of the first game's main character, awkwardly named Point Man, and his brother Paxton Fettel - the villain from the original. They're brothers and now they're having to work together, although the tension's kind of high because of that bit where Point Man killed Fettel at the end of the first game. Still, they work together well, as each character has a particular strength for dealing with enemy soldiers, and Fettel even gets to use some abilities that have very rarely been seen in first person shooters up until this point.

Now, the single player game is structured as such that once you finish each chapter as Point Man, you unlock the ability to play through it again as Fettel. But F.E.A.R. 3 also has a variety of multiplayer modes, including a full cooperative campaign that winds up being the key to playing as Fettel right from the start if you want, too. The shooter action is just as solid as you probably remember out of the F.E.A.R. franchise, with great special effects for Point Man's unique bullet time ability, and pretty damn good AI - and even better level design that really allows the enemy to avoid your direct assaults, then slowly flank and surround you.

Of course, there's also the horror scenes, something that I haven't always been a fan of in this series. For me, separating the action scenes from the few flashes of horror - ones that mostly involve Alma suddenly appearing - still creates a disconnect, one that has always been a bit of an issue for this series. Only rarely can the scary things actually do you any harm, although I do have to say that Day 1 Studios have also done a better job of simply creating a creepier overall atmosphere to fight in. While the original F.E.A.R. mostly set its gunfights amidst boring office buildings and warehouses, this third game has done a much better job of giving us a wider range of environments to fight in, with at least less of a jarring difference in tone whenever it becomes obvious a horror bit is about to start.

Then there's the mech. The EPA is back in some high-intensity action scenes with tons of enemies at a time, and while I felt like these levels were used as a slightly desperate way to break up the pace of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, they've really come into their own in this third game, making for what I'd easily now consider a key element of this series.

My time spent with the 360 and PC versions of the game have given me very different experiences. You might expect the PC version to be a lazy port with bad frame rates and strange bugs, but you'd be wrong - it's got everything you need, including a solid online functionality that gets you into games pretty easily. The game works nicely over Onlive, too, although I suggest you avoid the game's two competitive gametypes and stick with the other three cooperative modes.

The 360 version trades off quite a bit of visual fidelity in order to maintain a solid frame rate, so while it plays well, don't expect it to win any awards for its eye candy. Still, every gameplay mode is available in all of the ports, and while I wasn't terribly impressed with the extra four-player cooperative modes Day 1 kicked in - they essentially serve as quick mock-ups of Left 4 Dead and Nazi Zombies - the cooperative campaign is definitely worth looking into.

Many gamers, myself included, figured that the F.E.A.R. franchise was on a tailspin after the ho-hum expansions and mildly disappointing second game was released. But WB has really turned this around, bringing the fun and excitement back to the story, along with adding a nice selection of cooperative play to keep the fun going for quite a while after the story's done. If WB and Day 1 keep this up, they might even surpass the brilliance of the original game with their next entry in the series.

Overall: 8 out of 10



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