When the first F.E.A.R. burst onto the PC-gaming scene, people were blown away by its graphics and enemy AI, leaving its psychological horror elements as a tasty icing. Since that time, the franchise has continued to lean on its graphics and AI, opting to change things up mostly through the narrative. Over the course of a sequel and some add-ons, the franchise has expanded by retelling the story from a few different vantage points, which in in F.E.A.R. 3 now includes the perspective of Alma’s two sons, Point Man and Paxton Fettel.
The change leads to several new gameplay tweaks, including the nice addition of separate paths if you play co-op with a friend — which you absolutely must do with this game. You can also unlock Fettel as a playable character once you beat each mission in single-player mode. But the biggest addition to the franchise, at least in terms of “franchise freshness,” is the addition of meta-game-like Challenges. We’ve seen types of these things before, most notably in the Halo franchise, but they’re generally for competitive purposes. In F.E.A.R. 3, the challenges are largely an individual thing, but they somehow keep you playing hours longer than intended.
For instance, early in the game you suddenly see an icon appear telling you how far you are on your way to getting 10 kills from active cover. Immediately your interest is piqued, and you find yourself obsessing over finding more opportunities to eliminate enemies from active cover. Ditto with the melee-attack challenges, or the challenges tied to killing enemies by shooting exploding barrels. None of the challenges is a massive feat, but they’re interesting enough to spice-up the experience and are nice touches to what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward “hallway” shooter.
These personal challenges are as important as they are fun, because the enemy AI — something that’s traditionally been a strong suite for the F.E.A.R. franchise — seems to have taken a dip in F.E.A.R. 3. Enemies definitely call out your location and tell their friends where you’re going, and occasionally they’ll try to flank you or move to higher ground to get position. However, more often than not they’ll make some idiotic moves such as dashing right past you — even in the middle of a room — to move to their predetermined cover point. Enemies will also continue to fire blindly at your location even as you bolt from cover, run around their cover and slice them with a knife. I’d like to think I experienced this so regularly because I’m an FPS badass, but I’m positive it’s not. More than likely, it’s a sign of poor AI being mixed with good dialogue, because the intelligent things they yell aren’t backed-up by equally intelligent actions.
F.E.A.R. 3 includes eight missions totaling about eight to 10 hours of gameplay. The missions cover some pretty diverse areas, from a prison and slum to a harbor and loony bin, and the diversity of architecture matches the maps’ eclectic visuals. Depending on the mission, F.E.A.R. 3 does open up somewhat for a bit of “exploration” down meandering alleys, but the overall experience is very linear. That’s par for the F.E.A.R. course, though, so the comment’s not meant as a detractor.
A great horror film is defined by its audio, and the same holds true for psychological horror games. This third entry in the F.E.A.R franchise upholds that tradition both with great surround-sound effects and incredibly atmospheric audio. Between the surround-sound and its lighting and shadows, F.E.A.R. 3 provides a solid multimedia experience, even if some of the “gotcha” effects do seem a bit cheap from time to time.
But again, if you play F.E.A.R. 3 with a friend cooperatively or dive into the creative (and creatively named) multiplayer modes, those cheap instances and poor enemy AI can be overlooked. That’s not to say they’re not worth mentioning, but they’re also not worth belaboring beyond the previous sentence. F.E.A.R. as a franchise has started to lose its luster, and it certainly isn’t scary anymore, so the co-op and competitive multiplayer, as well as the Challenges, are fresh and welcome additions in F.E.A.R. 3.
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Score: 7.5 — Nice multimedia as expected, but the AI has taken a dip. Fortunately, the multiplayer elements and Challenges keep things fresh.
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3