F.3.A.R. is a first-person horror shooter developed by Day 1 Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive. While the shooting is competent and being able to play as the Point Man’s brother, Paxton Fettel, adds variety to the experience, F.3.A.R. does little in the way to elicit any actual fear in the player. The series has always been about tactical shooting, and it’s something that this game does well. The series has also had a focus on story, on building an environment that’s not only scary, but enigmatic. F.3.A.R. fails to build a narrative and instead provides a quick gaunt into co-op multiplayer with heavily emphasized online play. The latter being the one caveat to the experience, F.3.A.R. feels like a missed opportunity to explore the deeper aspects of the Point Man and his existence.
Fucking Run is Fucking Fun, and pretty intense. In the online mode, you and a squad of three other players have to traverse a level while fighting for your lives. If one of the team members succumbs to their wounds or is left behind the entire team loses. Most of the time, you’ll have players who will look out for you since they want to – well – win. Twice, I had someone fall behind and, apparently annoyed, run into the wall of death right as we were nearing the end of the level. The online aspects of F.3.A.R. quickly become the game’s focus. The co-op campaign lets you and friend take turns playing as the Point Man or Paxton Fettle. Throughout the co-op, you and your partner keeps scores to become the “favourite son”, which determines what character ending you get. This competition breathes a little more life into the 4-hour campaign, but not much. The campaigns are identical save a few perspective changes. You’re better off playing the multiplayer modes.
The major problem with F.3.A.R. is the story and the perspective from which it is told. It makes sense in a game like Dragon Age, where the character is basically a representation of you, to have a silent protagonist. In F.E.A.R., the Point Man was like any of these silent protagonists. Without an identity, he was a conduit through which the player interacted with the game’s narrative. In F.3.A.R., the Point Man has a brother, he has a face, he has a motive and he has character. You keep asking, why the hell aren’t you saying anything? In the first game there was this ambiguity surrounding Paxton and the Point Man, and now in this instalment, where they are both advertised as main character, why leave one of the brothers without any definition at all?
It’s mind boggling when you have an interesting set of characters and you see almost no development in them. You feel as though the story was more or less throwaway when you have these mini achievements popping up every 10 seconds. The game is saying, hey we’re about the co-op multiplayer and that’s where you can find depth. To me the experience felt like a rather shallow grave.
Claustrophobia is scary. F.E.A.R. placed us into situations where you actually had to sneak across the room to kill the enemy soldiers. You had to flank, you had to misdirect the enemy, you had the use covering fire, you had to throw grenades and you had to use your enhanced reflexes. The Replica Forces would do the same to you pushing you back into corners and overwhelming your positions. In F.3.A.R., the player is given kill room after kill room without the need to utilise all of the aforementioned tactics. These are only a few of the problems with the game structure, what about the design? Why would you give a soldier an explosive backpack that – when shot – regularly explodes? How do the enemies “touched” by Alma lose the ability to communicate, but retain the ability to make high explosives they can strap to their chests? Why do soldiers amble about alone allowing you to take them down one-by-one? What is up with the design of the shotgun? The original F.E.A.R. wasn’t this haphazardly made.
When you attach a director like John Carpenter to a video game, the player should expect to at least see – even briefly – his influence. A veiled reference to In the Mouth of Madness is not enough. There’s a steep decline in the number of scares in F.3.A.R. compared to the first game of the series. The cramped environments of the first game allowed you to be directed towards the scary parts. You go down a ladder and Alma is there standing at the top looking at you. That’s scary in more of a disconcerting kind of way rather than an outright, “Boo! Check me out!” kind of way. F.3.A.R. suffers from a lack of a structure and direction that, if corrected, could have given the player an actually scary experience.
For example, in the Suburbs level there’s a television that proudly displays the words, “I Hate You” on its screen. Scary, in the right circumstances sure, but only if you see it. In F.E.A.R., the game’s lighting was used to not only obscure the scares, but also to enhance them. There was a point in the game where you’re travelling through a sewer, and Alma’s small shadow flickers in front of you. When you turned, the player saw only the tail end of her dress disappearing around a corner. You F.E.A.R.E.D. Alma, get the title now? Now that’s scary. Having waves of enemies popping out and running at you with explosives strapped to their chests isn’t scary, it’s just kind of pointless. Without the proper direction, the scares in F.3.A.R. are about as lost as it’s story, which brings me to my next point.
F.E.A.R. was scary. It had the small, cramped environments filled with horror after horror filled room, and Norton Mapes. There was a mystery surrounding the appearance of the small girl in the red dress, and each time you thought there would be a lull in the action she would appear increasing the tension the player felt. What made F.E.A.R. unique was its unsuccessful blend of horror and first-person shooting, and the word over there is not a spelling error. F.E.A.R. is not a horror film, nor is it truly scary, but it tried something new that titles in its generation had only attempted a few times previously. F.3.A.R. feels like a step backwards. It feels like Day 1 Studios saw all that made Monolith’s game fun and exciting, and decided that it was their project now. But F.3.A.R. if you are looking for fun and not scares.