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GAME REVIEW: F.3.A.R. (PC)

I'm a pretty big fraidy-cat. I'm not talking about the kinda guy that's spooked out by The Ring or was terrified of Chucky or Jason or Kreuger when he was growing up. I had to run screaming out of the theater in the middle of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The opening sequence of Batman Returns made me wet my pants - I had to excuse myself and hide in another theater that was showing a rerelease of Pinnochio, which was equally as terrifying. Fuckin' whales, son! They'll eat your dad!

Needless to say, I haven't played a lot of scary games in my time. Dead Space (and 2) are about close as I usually get. I certainly don't wait in line to play any of the Silent Hill titles - or any other Japanese horror games, for that matter. (Murdernator recently remarked, astutely, that American horror is about "Please don't kill me please don't kill me please don't kill me" whereas Japanese horror is more to the tune of "AGH KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME". I didn't jump into the first FEAR game partly for its Ringu-esque antagonist, even though it was acclaimed as a solid title. The existence of FEAR 2 went unnoticed by yours truly. But the trailers for FEAR 3 that debuted at last year's E3 piqued my interest. Not only did it seem to have some solid first-person shooting action, but some atypical "ghost" mechanics and a surprisingly robust fiction. I decided to steel myself against whatever terror F3AR might have to offer up - and perhaps begin the battle against the demons of my childhood.

AGH KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME


F3AR picks up the story started with the first two games, wherein an evil corporation, ArmaCham, has used powerful psychic named Alma to birth super-powered entities. Now Alma is pissed off and pregnant and wrecking havoc against the mortal world as she struggles to bring her hellchild into existence. The player - one of two brothers spawned by Alma in the previous games - not only has to put an end to mind-witch Alma, but also has to contend with the armed forces of ArmaCham. While I have no trouble at all with the idea of an undead psychic pregnant sorceress bending the reality of the world to her will, the sheer military capabilities of ArmaCham, like so many other "corporations" in these kinds of stories, is absolutely astonishing. Who does the bookkeeping for a company that has a military division, bioengineers, psychic consultants, and terrifying websites?

You know where the real money is? Phonebooks!


F3AR's shooting gameplay is pretty solid considering that it's cover-based first-person action. The player has access to a relatively small subset of guns which aren't based on much in the way of realistic armaments, but each serves a different, distinct purpose - shotguns for close quarters, rifles to pick off targets from afar, et cetera. The cover is pleasantly sticky and the environments provide a wide range of mobility options. As one of the sons of Alma, the player has access to some supernatural capabilities, the most noteworthy of which is a bullet-time mode that can be used to buy some time to drop enemies. The player's regenerative health isn't called out as a psychic power in anyway, but I enjoyed the idea that my supernatural heritage is what enabled the hero to absorb so many bullets and keeping fighting. Hundreds of shooters use this same mechanic but fail to reinforce it with any kind of logic or rationale. Playing as a supernaturally powerful gunfighter was oddly satisfying.

And for my next trick - die! Die!


Storyline is a driving factor behind these games. It's lightweight, usually doing little more than book-ending chapters, but it's effective and urgent enough to keep you on your feet. The game takes you through a fairly well-trod series of shooter levels (jail, lab, highway, suburbs, peasant rooftops, et cetera) but the horror themes that're laid overtop of these areas help keep them fresh and fun. Likewise, some unintrusive platforming elements help break up the action. It's not award-winning drama, but it's enough to hold my interest, even without having experienced the previous chapters. Unfortunately, it does wind up feeling extremely linear, with little to offer in terms of replay beyond "Once again, but harder!"

I think ... the story is ... go to ... the bad place ... you know what, I'm going to go home instead.


While F3AR's very name is meant to inspire feelings of trepidation and phobia, I didn't find myself terrified very often while playing it. As I mentioned previously, I'm not a big fan of being scared, but I can appreciate atmosphere. The game did a spectacular job of creating a solid horror-themed atmosphere without relying on jump scares and brutality. The environments hold up well, but one dismaying aspect of the game is that virtually all of your enemies fall into the category of faceless mercenary soldiers. The game's few monsters seem a touch more horrific for their rarity, but even when zombie cultists show up somewhere around the halfway mark, it gets boring fighting nothing but other people when so many more ... "creative" possibilities are available, given the fiction.

At least they're not wearing snow gear.


F3AR rewards the player for actions taken in a satisfying, albeit game-y way. In the tradition of Call of Duty MP, or Splinter Cell: Conviction, virtually every action that the player takes is quantified and rewarded with points. There are rewards for headshots, taking cover, reloading, changing weapons, going into bullet time, feeding off of the souls of the fallen - virtually anything and everything. These points feed into an experience and level system that grants the player additional health, sprint speed, bullet time duration, you name it. While it's an immensely gratifying and satisfying way to play the game and be rewarded for it, the nature of the feedback given to the player has the effective of pulling you out of what's meant to be a powerfully scary experience. The two styles don't sit perfectly well next to each other.

Rewards - not just for skee-ball any more!


The hero's brother, Paxton Fettel, was the villain of the first game in the series and makes a return in F3AR as a playable character. Fettel is a psychic ghost of some kind (having been killed by his brother at the conclusion of game one) and so has a drastically different skillset than the main protagonist. Energy blasts, enemy possession, and levitation are all tricks available to Fettel - and these showcased powers were some of the stuff in the original trailers that had me interested in the game in the first place. Sorry to say, however, that playing as Fettel is only available in one of two ways - a playthrough of the missions that you've already unlocked with the main dude, or when playing cooperatively through the game with another person.

Want to do this? Like you saw in the trailer? Well, don't expect it as soon as you buy the game!


I was eager to try Fettel's powers for myself and made it through about 80% of the storyline before I cracked and tried the first mission over again as Fettel. While gimmicky, the powers weren't quite cool enough on their own to merit playing through a linear storyline's mission. Ironically, in my attempt to play as Fettel, I accidentally overwrote my main save file and found myself unable to progress in the campaign without replaying back up to where I'd already advanced. There's a mode that allows you to replay the missions you've already unlocked which might allow me to get to the end, but my disappointment overrode any plans I had of making an attempt.

And for my next trick: Die, save files! Die!


I'd like to take a crack at the co-op version, since the game seems like it's probably at its best when two people are tearing through the levels. Hopefully someone will pop up on Steam with a copy sometime soon.

Warning: Eye-elbows do not provide additional benefit or ability. Eye-elbow may not be available for use until you've beaten the game once already.


F3AR was ultimately a fun, satisfying experience without a whole lot to offer on repeat performances. Ultimately, however, as much as I liked the game for itself, it didn't deliver on a lot of the material that made me pick it up in the first place - psychic powers in an FPS. I could see myself picking it up again for the chance to play with someone else, but overall I'm okay with leaving it be as something that entertained me for a weekend. It turned out being a lot better than I was prepared for it to be, and I'd count myself as excited for the possibility of another, better one in the future. Sadly, it did nothing to help me conquer any of my other fears, so I'm going to go hide under my blanket until Guillermo del Toro stops making movies.



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