This game disgusts me.
End of a trilogy
The story of F.3.A.R. is an absolute, inexcusable travesty. For all their faults, the first two games created a solid foundation for a dramatic horror story. We followed the tales of the unnamed FEAR operative, Paxton Fettel, and Alma Wade, we learned more about them and how their lives intertwined, and F.E.A.R. 2 left us on the mother of all plot twists. Now it was time for Day One studios to take the wheel and complete it, which they did with such incompetence that it’s almost remarkable.
After the events of the last two games, the protagonist of the first game now finds himself in a prison being interrogated by Armacham personnel, who have yet to accept that he is still a silent protagonist. The freshly resurrected Paxton Fettel then breaks in and frees his dear brother, after which they set out to find Alma whose power is growing out of control after the events of F.E.A.R. 2. Meanwhile, Armacham is still attempting to “cover-up” the incident, oblivious to the fact that an entire city has been nuked, monsters roam the street, and they are literally waging war in busy civilian centers. One would say the opportunity to brush this all under the carpet has long since vanished.
That a completely different studio was forced to cram out a continuation is obvious in how little passion for the series’ universe is displayed. Characters that were a big deal in previous titles, such as Genevieve Aristide or Michael Becket, are either entirely absent or completely mishandled. The plot is instead about the two brothers, as between-mission cutscenes flashback to their childhood as Paxton reminisces about their hardships. It sets up an admittedly interesting dynamic, as the two boys were pitched against each other, given different training, and ultimately became rivals now forced to work together. It makes you interested in seeing if their relationship can be mended or if their respective paths forever doom them to fight each other.
The problem is that one of these two brothers is the silent protagonist, which entirely negates this drama that is meant to be central to the narrative. He has a face now, but he’s just an angry soldier dude that goes along with whatever Paxton wants to do and glares at things. An utterly baffling decision, because Michael Becket does have dialogue now, so clearly they had no issue with characterizing a previously-mute player character. On that note, Becket is entirely mistreated in this story; he is there for like 2 cutscenes and then thrown out like old garbage. I didn’t expect his involvement to be deep at all, but even the obvious red shirts in games prior were treated better than this.
The story also just feels entirely flaccid. There is little reason for the course you follow and the fact that this is meant to be a multiplayer game makes storytelling an awkward point. Most levels try to avoid it entirely for most of their run, only to interrupt the action with forced slow-walking bits where they try to restore the drama. Most of these revolve around The Creep, a manifestation of Harlan Wade who is now suddenly relevant again. While F.E.A.R. 1 presented him as a guilt-ridden father, this game rewrites him to be your typical mad scientist with a God-complex.
This also means that series antagonist Alma now has to be a scared little girl whenever faced with The Creep, ignoring the fact she had no problems wasting Harlan the first time around. The entire series has been the ongoing story of Alma’s violent revenge and everybody trying to stop it inadvertently working right into her hand. She outsmarted and overpowered F.E.A.R., Armacham, Dark Echo, and we are now led to believe that all of that was just so she could be a helpless damsel in distress.
The story also features two endings depending on which of the two sons was “the favorite” by judging them on their score in various playstyles. Both the endings are terrible, anti-climactic, and dampen my enjoyment of the series as a whole, but it also has to be said that this is the worst way to end a co-op game. After hours of working together to overcome its combat encounters, “losing” at the end because the game’s math decides the other player was better is Mario Party levels of friendship-breaking.
Story score: 1/10
Follow the trends
A central complaint I had in regards to F.E.A.R. 2 is that it attempted to mimic other games, as opposed to continuing the original’s innovative course. F.3.A.R. goes one step further and doesn’t just follow trends, it also fails at incorporating some of the utter basics of game-design.
As a shooter, the game isn’t horrible, but feels like one of the bottom-feeders of the last console generation. It’s a co-op driven FPS with your basic arrangement of pistols, (semi-)automatic rifles, shotguns, as well as a sniper and rocket launcher for bigger problems. The power weapons of previous games are almost entirely removed. The Hammerhead barely features in the game at all and there is one laser gun that can kill a bloke if you give it a minute or so. The gunplay is basic, but mostly functional, and the games does permit itself to feature some tricky encounters with mechs and supernatural enemies.
Beyond that, the game is a convoluted mess. It grades you on how aggressive you play and the first few unlocks you get are upgrades to your bullet-time and a slide-tackle that knocks enemies out almost instantly. At the same time, it introduces cover-mechanics and regenerating health, meaning your character dies in absolute seconds when exposed. Even in cover enemies, have little trouble hitting you, while you deal with reduced sight, an inability to properly throw grenades, and stiff controls as you try to eventually untangle yourself from the wall again.
The AI in F.E.A.R. 2 might not have been as good as in the original game, but here it might as well be absent. Monsters and weaker enemies just exist to mindlessly charge you and soldiers are your basic FPS enemies. The only reason the game gives you any trouble at all is because it spawns enemies from all corners of the arena, rendering cover useless. Add in the sluggish controls, oversized gun models, and tiny FOV, and keeping good oversight in battle is just a struggle.
Then there is Paxton. He is an alternate character and, because he is a ghost, he has to possess enemies in order to fight properly. He has a weak projectile attack and can lift people up, but seizing bodies is absolutely the way to go with him. You really feel that combat encounters are scaled for multiplayer, but the scoring feels unfair, as the player who is Paxton just has more opportunity to play recklessly. Enemies can hardly deal with him and while player 2 is tearing things up, player 1 is stuck hiding in cover waiting for their health to recharge.
But while this multiplayer aspect is central to the game, its execution is poor. If Pointman uses his bullet-time powers, it slows the game down for Paxton too. Meanwhile, it’s incredibly annoying to be trying to deal with enemies, only for Paxton to show up and possess them instead. The players are also dependent on each other, as the death of one instantly ends the game for the other. And the levels are confusingly laid out, as it’s entirely unclear what doors are just decor and which ones can open. There are so many dead-end paths and fake-outs, which is frustrating to navigate with another player around, which also shatters the horror atmosphere some levels try to create.
Gameplay score: 2/10
About that horror atmosphere
While it’s clear to me that Day 1 Studios had no clue what to do with the story and gameplay, I do have to commend them for getting level-design, atmosphere, and sound right. The first two games were a little too keen on offices and secret underground labs, whereas F.3.A.R. aims to recreate the feeling of the school level from its predecessor.
The adventure takes our two anti-heroes to various locales, such as an old warehouse where a cult dedicated to Alma has redecorated the place or the ruins of a suburb that looks nice until you head into the houses themselves. It does feel disparate, like there is a clear divide between levels that are intended for scares and which ones are just battle arenas where you fight soldier dudes and mechs. Some transitions are also strange, like a forced horror scene in a house ends with you and Paxton waking up in a playground and having to fight more soldiers, with no indication of how you got there or where it even is compared to your previous location.
Character models are also a step up for the franchise and voice acting is again nice. Cutscenes, in particular, look great and are well-directed. It’s just a shame that the multiplayer focus, again, sours this aspect. There is no getting frightened during supernatural scenes, because you and your buddy are both goofing off and wanting to get back to the action already. Scenes end up looking strange, especially in split-screen mode, as jump-scares happen from the wrong perspective for either one of the players. And the fact that cutscenes always happen from the perspective of the Point Man is obnoxious if you are playing as Paxton.
Presentation score: 7/10
Excluding the competent level-design and a few well-made encounters, F.E.3.R. is about as obnoxious as you’d expect from a game that willingly exchanges letters in its name for numbers. It tries to be F.E.A.R. for a younger, cooler generation, follows trends, and disregards storytelling. It’s a mess that I will never consider playing again.
- A handful of atmospheric, creative stages.
- Quality cutscenes.
- Paxton’s gameplay is a unique take on first-person shooters.
- One of gaming’s coolest horror villains is now a scared damsel in distress.
- The game completely forgets to include Genevieve Aristide.
- Michael Becket is treated terribly despite being the more interesting player character.
- Point Man is still mute, despite the story requiring him to be more emotionally involved.
- The two different play-styles work against each other in multiplayer.
- F.E.A.R. is a cover-based shooter now.
- Enemies just spawn in anywhere.
- Horror sequences don’t work in multiplayer, becoming frustrating time-wasters instead.