Continuing my sweep through my ever-growing game to-do list, I played F.E.A.R. 3 (or F.3.A.R. if you’re willy-nilly about alphabetical ordering). Yes, it was because of the Humble WB Bundle. I wouldn’t have paid more than a few dollars for it. That turned out to be a good idea as it’s not very good. It’s not very bad either. It’s just forgettable. What was I talking about? Oh right, F.E.A.R. 3.
If you’ve played the first F.E.A.R. you know exactly what you’re gonna get: a first-person shooter with a slow-mo ability and horror elements. Of course, exactly what classifies as horror is up for debate. F.3.A.R. enters this debate and falls completely on its ass while all the real horror games laugh and point.
Well at least that’s how I picture it.
F.3.A.R. has a fairly strange idea of horror. A monster (or ghost or whatever) appears for a brief moment, accompanied by involuntary slow-mo and an orchestra making loud noises. At this point, you can’t do anything to the thing, so you know it can’t do anything to you, and this realization ultimately makes the experience fall flat. I usually find the only frightening parts in video games to be the ones where you can actually do something about it, be it shooting the thing as in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., hitting the thing as in The Last of Us or running away from the thing as in Amnesia. To genuinely terrify, what’s effective is when you feel like this entire mess is your own damn fault and you’ll just have to somehow unmess yourself again. That creates both motivation for getting out of the situation alive and sets up some tension because you’re unsure of what exactly you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s just not the same when the game slows down time, plays some scripted sequence and practically yells “Boo!”.
There’s a part in the first F.E.A.R. (or was it Perseus Mandate?) where there’s a medkit on top of a ladder in an otherwise plain courtyard. Everything goes as planned until you’re going back down the ladder, at which point some guy is standing right on the other side of the ladder and starts talking to you. It sounds laughably ordinary, but it took me completely by surprise and made me jump back from the computer so hard I practically launched myself through the wall behind me. Good! Serves me damn right for getting that medkit.
Now imagine what would happen if that same part had been in the third game. It’s not a medkit as F.3.A.R. has regenerating health, so let’s make it a weapons crate instead. When you first get on the ladder, time slows down. A man appears behind the ladder. Well, he doesn’t just appear, he materializes from a cloud of fire and smoke in slow-motion. Also, it’s not a man, it’s this thing to the right, and it’s growling instead of talking. An entire orchestra plays every possible note at once. You can’t jump off the ladder. Then the ladder breaks, and the thing grabs you and screams at you while you have lost control of everything. It then disappears and drops you to the ground where you spend a few seconds getting up. And it wouldn’t be an optional ladder, it would be the ladder to the next level. Good thing a door on the other side of the room has opened up.
The gunplay in the game is bog-standard (apart from the absolutely hilarious ground slide) and generally works fine. Oddly enough, it includes a cover system. Maybe it’s important for higher difficulties, but I played through the game on normal without ever using it and only died a few times throughout. The obvious problem here is that it’s a first person shooter. FPSes and cover systems go together about as well as toothpaste and lemons because you can’t see when the enemy pops out of their cover without first popping out of yours, and then all you’ve gained is not being able to move as freely. And that’s not really a gain in my book.
Point Man is not pleased.
It seems like F.3.A.R. is co-op focused, perhaps just to remove every last trace of horror the game might have had, because nothing kills the mood quite like you and your buddy cracking jokes at how Point Man looks more like a cartoon character than a human being. Never is the co-op more obvious than in the final cutscene where (spoiler alert, but this isn’t exactly BioShock) you and your ghost brother (who is the other playable character in co-op) presumably have to fight over which ending you get. I say presumably because if you’re playing it alone like me, there’s a cutscene leading up to a fight, and then there’s a cutscene saying that you’ve won. Okay then.