FEAR 3 Review: It's hard to scare a grown man with an assault rifle.
A better name for F.3.A.R. would be Shoot It in the Head: Slow-Motion Edition (or really anything that doesn't try to use a 3 as an E in an acronym). While this intense but not scary FPS from developer Day 1 Studios plays like a horror game, the Fear series has always been more Jon Woo than Stephen King. As the bafflingly named Point Man, you can go into bullet-time to blast the living hell out of whatever lurks around the corner. This undercuts the tension, slow motion gunplay is the game's best asset. When it's stripped away, as in the new multiplayer modes, the game is simply a shooter in goth kid makeup.
Fear 3 picks up where the series left off in 2009. Once again, you're the genetically engineered super soldier, Point Man. The game is now insisting that's your birth name, and since your mother is basically the little girl from ?The Ring,? I guess I can buy it. Anyway, she's knocked up with some kind of demon baby, and you and your cannibal brother Fettel are tracking her down. The execution is clich? ridden, down to the decade-old Japanese horror aesthetic, but this time around there are some serious production values to lend it some gravitas. The game has sharply rendered cinematics with extended first-person sequences to rival Half-Life 2. Day 1 got some outsourced horror help with these, hiring John Carpenter (director of ?The Thing,? ?Halloween?) and writer Steve Niles (comic 30 Days of Night) to turn up the creepy. That they did, mining the whole ?hunting down your pregnant mother? thing for as much Freudian weirdness as possible, and giving Fettel plenty of nasty, creative kills.
Fear 3's audio meets the industry's highest standards. The soundtrack is heavy on tension and relatively light on loud, cheap scares. The game's voice acting is all around grade A, with believable soldier chatter and strong delivery from the leads. Still, Day 1 really should have considered voicing the protagonist. It gets a bit silly when characters monologue at the Point Man for ten minutes, and all he does is nod and look grave. Fear 3 is no slouch in the visuals department either, though the color palette could use some variety. Metallic green is as omnipresent as dirt brown in Modern Warfare. Still, everything is brilliantly textured and lit as precisely as a horror game should be.
Next to inflated production values, the biggest addition to the Fear formula is multiplayer. There's a co-op mode where another player can join the fray as Fettle. With spells instead of guns, he plays like Bioshock or Clive Barker's Undying. While you can solo as Fettel, I wouldn't recommend it. His powers work best in support of the Point Man, stunning enemies or levitating them out of cover into convenient blasting range. For a short time he can possess enemies, which allows him to fire a gun, but all in all he's got a serious case of little buddy syndrome, and works best as a sidekick. Still, co-op is the way to play Fear 3, and if you've already beaten the game, having a partner makes it worth a second slog.
Fear's co-op is far more worthwhile than it's other multiplayer outings, which are undernourished clones of popular game types. There's ?Contractions,? (a reference to the demon-spawning earthquakes created by your mother's monstrous pregnancy) which is basically CoD's Nazi Zombies with a hint of Horde Mode from Gears. Then there's ?F***ing Run,? where player's sprint to the exit before they're swallowed up by a ghostly wall of death. It's genuinely tense, but too much like a truncated take on Left 4 Dead's co-op campaigns. There are a few more modes, and none of them are bad, but they're no more than a weekend's worth of distraction for one reason: no bullet time. I know, I know, bullet time in multiplayer seems downright impossible, but slow-motion gunplay is every Fear game's main attraction, and without it the multi is a disappointing sideshow.