Halloween is too much fun to contain in a single day so, throughout the month of October, First-Person Perspective will focus exclusively on spooky, scary or otherwise holiday-related games.
These four columns will make up . . . OKTERROR.
The people at Day 1 Studios, the developer behind F.E.A.R 3, have likely watched Alien and Aliens many times. They have probably looked at the monster designs, thought about what makes the aliens creepy, and decided that the uncomfortable feelings the sci-fi/horror staples evoke are the product of a fear of the human body — specifically, our reproductive systems.
The Alien movies (especially H.R. Giger’s nightmare fuel design work) worked themselves under their audience’s skin by leaning into our subconscious discomfort with visceral perversions of genitalia, sexuality and pregnancy. Suggesting this interpretation is nothing new — people decoded the horror behind chest-bursting pregnancy creatures, dripping ova and phallic alien tongues decades ago. Day 1 has only focused in on one specific aspect of that fear and directed it more specifically toward the maternal.
I wasn’t expecting to get much out of F.E.A.R 3, aside from a few cheap chills.F.E.A.R 3 focuses on the two sons of the series’ staple spooky girl, Alma Wade (herself the product of Japanese film horror homage), as they attempt to find their mother before she can give birth to an evil little baby. This baby, if born, will finally allow Alma, now a ghost, to cross over into the physical world via her progeny. The player character — either Paxton Fettel, the (now spectral) antagonist of F.E.A.R, or Point Man, the first game’s (now greasy-haired) protagonist — must find the father of this child to retrieve information that will lead them to their mother. If that sounds complicated, it’s because the plot points that lead to this juncture are many and sort of obtuse in nature.
The journey toward Alma is filled with not-so-subtle hints as to the grander themes of the game. The two main characters are understandably scarred as the result of their awful upbringing (raised in an isolated lab by their abusive father/grandfather) and their Odyssey-style quest to their childhood home serves as a sort of prolonged psychotherapy session. Fettel’s pointed remarks and Point Man’s glowering silent protagonist facial responses — F.E.A.R 3’s take on conversation — are frequently directed toward their mountainous mommy issues, a deep-seated issue that serves as the backbone of not only the trek across the game’s levels, but as the basis for the scares it contains as well.
As Fettel and Point Man battle their way through rival soldiers, Alma’s labour pains quite literally, begin to tear the West coast city of Fairport apart. Her unsettling shrieks, frequently heard when the sky blasts out an orange shockwave like a detonated A bomb, are the sounds of a woman struggling to give birth. When she appears, Alma is portrayed as a lanky, enormously pregnant naked woman. Her skin is a patchwork of bruised and pallid tones, a touch that causes an unsettled feel because it so neatly combines pregnancy’s promise of new life with the repulsion and mortal fear we all feel toward a corpse.
F.E.A.R 3 understands well that distorting these maternal themes — riffing dark on a universal part of the human condition — creates a unique type of creepiness in much the same way that Alien played with its audience’s sexual vulnerability. All of us were brought into this world by our mothers and the psychology of parenthood is almost always complicated and messy. By twisting these elements of our minds into strange new shapes, dripping with menace and gore, the game is able to out-creep its predecessors by leaps and bounds.
Day 1 Studios’ decision to lean so heavily into maternal horror could be interpreted as pandering to the typical videogame buyer demographic (adolescent males), but the way it’s presented is universal enough that it crosses boundaries of age and gender, creating something that is likely to resound with a wider audience.
I was never truly frightened by F.E.A.R or F.E.A.R 2, but the third entry in the series managed to get under my skin in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Sure, much of it is unsettling rather than outright scary, (the exception being a handful of “jump scares” that are more annoying than anything else) but its success in finding and exploiting a common soft spot in our collective psyche is extremely effective and well worth discussing. I wasn’t expecting to get much out of F.E.A.R 3, aside from a few cheap chills. That it managed to genuinely freak me out while playing and that some of its best scenes are still stuck in my brain a week after finishing it, I think, is a testament to Day 1’s understanding of horror.