It’s late at night. The lights are off so that the only illumination is the glow of the TV attempting to transport me into the worst nightmares. It’s so quiet that only the screams of terror and the spooky audio cues from the game are audible. I’m traveling down a dark hallway, my flashlight flickers in and out. I catch a glimpse of a shadow moving across the wall, but maybe it was just my imagination. I bust through the only door which is stained with blood and face off against my waiting foes. Oh sweet, I leveled up again for killing 4 guys in slow motion. That’s pretty much a perfect encapsulation of what the experience of playing Fear 3 is like. It’s a solid and fun shooter, but it’s practically fighting itself on the horror front.
Fear 3 dumps you straight into the story assuming you played and remembered the previous two games. I actually appreciated the relative lack of “previously on Fear” from the opening. There’s enough shown to get your up to speed if you are new to the series, but not so much to get you off to a boring start. You return to controlling Point Man, the character from the first game, and you are broken out of prison by your deceased ghostly brother Fettel, who you shot in the head. The brothers form a tentative alliance in order to reunite with Alma, their mother.
Fear 3 delivers on a unique narrative that simply isn’t some variation of commando team A must defeat ethnic terrorist group B before C happens. I liked the story overall, but it isn’t without problems. Point Man is a silent protagonist and the game doesn’t do a great job of either displaying the emotions in his face (he basically holds the same scowling look the whole way through) or providing a good secondary character through which you can essentially see yourself, like Alyx from Half-Life 2. There’s also very little to discover in the course of the game. If you played the previous titles, you’ll pretty much know exactly what’s going on and what led up to it. Learning that you and your brother may not have been raised under the best conditions is hardly a reveal when you know what happened already with Alma. That you didn’t know exactly what was going on was what made the first Fear so memorable for me, forcing you to piece things together through audio recordings, voicemails and clues.
As loose as the story can be, Fear 3 makes up for it with really great gameplay. The game is actually intended to be played cooperatively, with one player controlling the speedy Point Man and another in the driver’s seat of the NPC-possessing Fettel. Point Man can hang back and stick to cover, popping out to use slow motion to line up shots, but I found it way more satisfying to toss a stunning flash bang and sprint up the enemy, using the characters improved reflexes to annihilate a group of soldiers at close quarters. Fettel doesn’t have access to slow motion like his brother, but he can lift and hold soldiers on spectral lines, fire off psychic blasts and possess enemies, turning their them against their comrades. Fear 3 puts everything at your fingers tips for you to effortlessly butcher squad after squad of soldiers in a variety of ways.
I would have liked to see a few more weapons though. Baring a few almost scripted giftings, you’ll mostly only see the same four weapons: the pistol, submachine gun, assault rifle and shotgun. Shotguns are practically a staple in my Fear arsenal for those up close slo-mo kills, but why bother putting in exotic weapons like the Penetrator, which lets you pin enemies to wall with high velocity spikes, if you’ll quickly run out of ammo and need to abandon them?
The levels generally support this varied approach, allowing you enough room to flank if you like or plenty of cover to hold up behind. It can be slightly confusing to figure out where the game wants you to go sometimes. It can be silly running from door to door looking for the one you can interact with, though if you get off the beaten path you are usually awarded with an ammo cache or soul to sync with, one of the games many side objectives. Objectives are mostly tied to the specific character, so Point Man might get some to kill enemies in slo-mo and Fettel will get points for possessing enemies for extended time. Getting enough points will level you up and unlock characters bonuses.
With a paltry four player limit and no simple deathmatch style maps, developers Day 1 Studious really looked to give a Fear twist to all the multiplayer modes. Soul King and Soul Survivors both operate using the possessing mechanic, requiring you to take control of NPCs to either rack up kills and souls or attempt to bring down and corrupt a Fear squad. Soul King can be especially frenetic because dying causes you to drop your souls, so every second of the match feels like it’s important, even late in the game. Fucking Run and Contractions offer more typical team based fare that foils nicely to the other two modes. In Fucking Run you must outrun a wall of death, if anyone on the team dies you lose, and Contractions plays similarly to other survival game types like Gears of War‘s Horde Mode or Call of Duty‘s Nazi Zombies. If you are more of a cooperative player than competitive, these are the modes for you. I did run into a few problems with the games Quick Match option with it seemingly stalling out and the only means to cancel being quitting back to the dashboard, and it might be a bit of a nitpick but searching for games can only be done by the specific map. I’d much prefer the option to search by mode type first before a map.
Fear has always been marketed as being a combination of first person shooter and horror, and while this has been questioned to varying degrees in the past, it really slips in Fear 3. A lot of the new ideas brought in might fit perfectly well in another game, but they hurt any sense of horror it might be going for. Splashing “Ranked Up” or “Big Spender” mini objectives across the screen jars you straight out of any atmosphere the game might have built. Regenerating health makes it much harder to generate tension when you are such a bad ass murder machine, you can shrug off damage like it was nothing. Fear 2 also had regenerating health, but it was removed before launch for precisely this reason. Fear 3 still nails the first person shooter side though and the great gameplay somewhat makes up for its limping horror elements.
Bottom Line: Perhaps Fear 3 is horror for the squeamish, but if you’re looking for something to scare you enough to keep you up at nights, you best look elsewhere. However, if you are in the mood for a fun and solid shooter with a creepy aesthetic, Fear 3 delivers a viscera filled romp that’s worth checking out.
Recommendation: At least rent it for being a game with solid gameplay, a unique story and good cooperative action. If you really dig that the multiplayer modes deliver something new I could see it being a purchase. Just leave the kiddie security blanket and night lights in the attic, you probably won’t need them.[rating=3.5]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
Justin Clouse wasted so many shotgun shells on Alma freaking him out in the first Fear.