Pick up gun. Shoot everything that moves. Rinse and repeat… It’s the standard formula for a vast swathe of first and third person shooters out there, each with their own unique little twist on an otherwise very familiar (and very profitable) formula. We’ve been following the hype around the F.E.A.R. franchise’s third instalment, and a whole host of other FPS titles for some time now, waiting for something special to stand out from the pack. Some have, others haven’t. Does F.3.A.R. have what it takes??
The short answer is yes, yes it does.
F.3.A.R. has been developed by the team which handled the original game’s disastrous port, Day 1 Studios, but don’t let that put you off, this is a very different beast. F.3.A.R. stands out from its predecessor in many ways, but not all the changes are entirely welcome. In fact, the game has a myriad of minor disappointments, but thankfully what makes it so highly recommended is that it always overcomes them to be just so damned fun to play.
True to its name, the F.E.A.R. series has always been about chilling atmosphere and the kind of scares you would hope to get a first date’s heart racing. But this is perhaps F.3.A.R.‘s biggest weakness. Overall, the game succeeds in creating a very chilling atmosphere that helps to draw you into the game world, but having built up the tension, the game never really delivers the kinds of scares or pay-offs you expect. I mean it when I say the game does have great atmosphere and tension, but there is just something incomplete about the horror experience.
Likewise, whilst the story is effective, in some ways it too feels like a step-back from the successes of previous titles. To make the most of the horrific world of Alma and her psychotic brood, Day 1 Studios and Warner Brothers brought in the acclaimed writer Steve Niles to pen the story, and legendary horror director Wes Craven to consult on the scares themselves.
The story is an engrossing and satisfying conclusion to the first two titles, which ties in all the major players. However, most of the story itself is now told through cinematic cut-scenes between missions, with very little that takes place within the game mattering much except that you desperately have to get from A over to B and kill everything that moves in-between.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the variety and pacing of the game, and it shows. The whole single-player campaign will take you about 6-8 hours on a first play through, and the developers have clearly attempted to make the game feel sufficiently different from its predecessors. Each mission takes place in a distinct locale and each has their own unique feel, with the supermarket and suburban settings standing out as particularly chilling. Once completed, you have the ability to play through again with a completely different character possessing some very unique abilities.
Some old enemy types are gone, replaced by a new host of horrors courtesy of both Armacham and Alma’s demented imagination. The impressive AI is back, so expect soldiers to not only duck, dive, take cover and attempt to pin you down or flank you, but now they even announce to their team mates where it is you are hiding. Thankfully an excellent cover system à la Killzone 3 is present, but even more effectively so, to keep you moving from obstacle to obstacle as you pick off the guys with guns.
F.3.A.R. doesn’t have the most exciting array of weapons to choose from, and you’ll spend most of the time wielding one of the game’s three machine guns, but each weapon is satisfying and well-balanced. Maybe, just maybe, less really is more.
The health and armor bars and pick-ups have been replaced by the seemingly-standard recharging health of most other first-person shooters. It works, and keeps you in the action, but I do find myself hoping that more titles try to do something new in this area.
One of the best additions to the game is a the new rewards system. The game dishes out points for various accomplishments or styles of play, like a trophy system within a trophy system. Without trying to give too much away, this actually becomes important later on, but it also allows you to level up your character both on and offline, earning the capacity for more techniques, ammo, health, and slo-mo. Most of which are vital to completing the online maps.
Graphically, F.3.A.R. is a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, the game boasts decent visuals that are worthy of the current generation of first-person shooters, but it’s the style that you’ll remember far more than the detail. What really does make it stand out and enrich the experience is the sound. This is a game to be played with either a very expensive set of headphones or 5.1 speakers. You won’t regret it, unless you have a weak heart.
So is that about it? Nothing really distinctive in there? Far from it. Now that those basics are out the way we can get down to what does make F.3.A.R. a bit special. Playing online.
Don’t pick up F.3.A.R. if you’re looking for your next Deathmatch or Capture the Flag experience. Actually, wait… I think you should, because you’re not going to get it, you’re going to get something different, and enjoy it even more for it.
F.3.A.R. has broadly three different types of multiplayer modes. First off, the entire single player campaign can be done cooperatively with a friend, but *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT* one of you will be playing Paxton Fettel, the antagonist and brother of Point Man from F.E.A.R. who is now backing up his sibling with his ghostly psychic powers that include healing, suspending and possessing enemies. *SPOILER ALERT OVER*.
Playing through the campaign again on Insane with a buddy not only adds a great new dimension to the game, and multiple endings, but the developers have thrown in a ‘Generative Scare System’ which means that certain elements are different on subsequent play-throughs, helping to keep some scenes fresh and surprising.
Split screen works fine, but these days you need to get online with a headset to make the most of it.
The other four games modes are all built around four-player matches, two of which are cooperative and two oppositional. Contractions is a type that’s becoming very familiar, as you and your team try to survive 20 waves of increasingly difficult enemies. F*ckin’ Run demands that you and your team manage to blast your way through hordes of enemies whilst being chased by an all-consuming Wall of Death.
Soul King is an unusual and fast-paced game where each player spawns as a weak but manoeuvrable Spectre which can possess any of the spawning computer-controlled enemies, the goal of which is to kill and claim the souls of as many downed opponents as you can, dealing with human and AI enemies alike. Soul Survivor casts one randomly chosen human in the role of the Spectre who is fighting alongside spawning enemies to take down all the human controlled F.E.A.R. team, ‘corrupt’ them, and bring them over to the Spectre side.
To put it bluntly, we haven’t had as much fun battling it online with a headset since Battlefield: Bad Company 2. To survive the Contractions and F*ckin’ Run maps you are going to have to work together and by the end you’ll know each inch of the map off by heart. Whilst Soul King was my least favourite, it makes an interesting break from the intense strategy and concentration of the other types. Soul Survivor, once you get your head around it, is a very unique and challenging type that combines the pacing Soul King with the team-work of Contractions.
F.3.A.R. didn’t give me the scares or horrific edge that I got from F.E.A.R 2 or Dead Space, but what I did get was a very satisfying single-player shooter with a surprisingly unique and addictive online set of game modes, so much so that I’m now eagerly awaiting the first map pack more so than most other new games.